The Ukrainian Offensive Hasn’t Failed.  We have Failed the Ukrainians.

Without a doubt, the Ukrainian Military’s recent counteroffensive has proved more challenging than the last one.  Ukraine’s ability to put together such counteroffensives and defend the wider country remains at the mercy of the generosity of military aid donors.  “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky pleaded.

However, the arrival of military aid has often been delayed for political reasons as much as logistical ones.  This counteroffensive for instance has seen the Ukrainian Military forced to determinedly advance without air cover.  This is despite the Ukrainian Government requesting Fighter Jets, such as F-16s, to be sent for their defence since the start of the 2022 invasion.  The delay in the arrival of equipment for the current counteroffensive gave ample time for the invading Russian enforces to entrench and defend the land they have stolen.  Some reports say it has even given them ample breathing space to counter some Western weapons such as HIMARS.  Western leaders have justified the incremental approach to giving such aid to encourage de-escalation.  Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin reading Western reticence as weakness, as he has always done, has proceeded on his same imperialist course. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that the short-term concerns of Western democracies, such as the US Presidential election next year, will mean that the alliance that supports Ukraine will ultimately fall apart.  This is why those democracies, especially European ones need to convene a long term plan to support Ukraine.  Bilateral and piecemeal military aid announcements were never sufficient to achieve victory.  If NATO membership is barred to Ukraine, then alternative security assurances need to be given to Ukraine.  A Memorandum of Understanding enshrining a commitment to support Ukraine could either be agreed between that country and it’s allies collectively or on a bilateral basis.  What is imperative is that European countries in particular plan for a future where the considerable US aid to Ukraine is potentially no longer available.  Brexit aside, the UK needs to be involved in any European discussions about supporting Ukraine in the long term to coordinate efforts.

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…and we’re back in the hall!

Tim Farron makes the first policy speech of conference this morning

The first policy speech of the first in-person autumn conference since 2019 brought a smile to my face and very positively answered the question “What is Tim Farron for?”

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Happy 25th anniversary Bi Visibility Day

Happily coinciding with the first day of our first terrestrial conference since the Ice Age, today is the 25th anniversary of Bi Visibility Day, also known as “Does this thing open from the inside?” Day.

Over on Stonewall’s website, their digital officer, George Alabaster, has answered the question “Why do we need Bi Visibility Day?”:

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Caron’s pick of the Conference fringe – Saturday

Conference kicks off officially today. The whirlwind of debate and socialising and fringe meetings is guaranteed to have at least three things in every slot that you want to go to.

Here’s my pick of the fringe for today, all of which can be found in the directory:

Saturday lunchtime 1-2:30

Federal Conference Committee invite people to suggest ways of improving disability access at future Conferences.

I suspect the New Liberal Manifesto’s meeting with Sir John Curtice on the need for the party to have bolder messaging will be very busy, so get there early. It’s chaired by Layla and Dick Newby, our leader in the Lords is also speaking.

Social Liberal Forum has Sarah Olney and others on a radical and liberal approach to economics

Saturday mid evening 20:15-21:45

I’m liking the collaboration between ALDES (Lib Dem Engineers and Scientists) and the Young Liberals to chat all things tech

Liberal History Group launch their book asking What have the Liberals ever done for us? Layla Moran, Wendy Chamberlain and Janey Little take part.

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‘Tutoring for the millions’: Lib Dems plan booster classes for almost 2 million children

Liberal Democrats will offer free small-group tutoring to 1.75 million children a year who struggle with their learning, the party’s education spokesperson will say today (23 September).

It comes analysis by the party shows that more than one in seven teenagers fall behind with English or Maths at secondary school. These 64,000 students meet government reading and maths standards at age 11 but then fail either GCSE English or Maths at age 16.

In her keynote speech at the party’s Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, Munira Wilson MP will accuse Rishi Sunak of letting down these children by “pulling the plug” on school-based tutoring. The National Tutoring Programme ends this year.

She will compare Sunak to Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist for consistently rejecting cries “for more” investment in education when he was Chancellor. Sunak rejected bids from Government advisers and officials for greater investment in COVID catch-up lessons, free school meals and new school buildings.

Instead, Liberal Democrats will call for tutoring to become a permanent fixture in England’s schools. Schools, sixth forms and further education colleges would receive £390 million a year for intensive small-group sessions for students who have fallen behind in class.

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22 September 2023 – today’s press release

Families in Blue Wall hit with £3,000 “Truss tax” in year since mini-budget

New research reveals homeowners in London and the South East have seen their mortgage payments rise by £3,000 in year since mini budget

The two ‘Blue Wall’ regions are the hardest hit, compared to an average hit of £2,000 across the country

Those on a 2-year deal who remortgaged in the wake of the mini budget saw their mortgage rate jump by average of 1.69% to 5.17%

Homeowners in London and the South East have seen their mortgage payments rise by a staggering £3,000 in the year since Liz Truss’ shambolic mini budget, new research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

The party said it showed that homeowners are still paying a “Truss tax” on their mortgages and suffering the consequences of years of Conservative chaos.

According to figures provided by the House of Commons Library, typical homeowners coming out of a two-year deal in the week after the mini budget last September would have seen their rate shoot up from 1.69% to 5.17%.

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Observations of an Expat: The Great Indian Escape

India is likely to escape the consequences of allegedly murdering a Sikh Canadian on Canadian soil.

And this in turn will have consequences for democracy and political structures in India, the sub-continent’s relations with the rest of the world, Canadian relations with its allies and the international rule of law.

Let’s start with the fact that the claim that Indian intelligence agents were responsible for the murder of Sikh nationalist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is – so far – an allegation. And that the government of Narendra Modi has dismissed it as “absurd.”

But, at the same time, it is inconceivable that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have stood on the floor of the Canadian parliament and announced that he had “credible evidence” that India was behind the murder given the dire repercussions of such a claim.

India is fast becoming one of the most important countries in the world. It has overtaken China as the most populous. Its economy is growing at 7.8 percent and is set to overtake Japan as the world’s third largest.

It has become a go-to destination for Western companies seeking to “de-risk” their investments in China. And as a member of the Quad Alliance it is a key counter-balance to Chinese influence in the world.

All this means that the US and its allies – including Canada – have been actively courting the Delhi government of Modi and this courtship has turning a blind – or at least blinkered – eye to its excesses.

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We should be proud of our approach to the EU

For many Liberal Democrats like us, rejoining the European Union is an article of faith and a top political priority.  Helen and her family were advocates of European integration in the 1950s; William joined the Liberal Party when Jo Grimond was arguing for joining the EEC, Harold Macmillan was struggling to persuade his party, and Gaitskell was moving to oppose the idea.

We’re now back at a similar juncture: outside, increasingly aware of the costs of exclusion, this time with Labour edging awkwardly towards a half-commitment to closer relations, the Conservatives divided between realists wanting to re-establish a degree of mutual trust and collaboration and a hysterical anti-European right wing.  We are the only party that has set out a road map for moving back towards the EU, in stages, including rejoining the Single Market, with the intention in time of rejoining the EU.

Many Liberal Democrats are unhappy that we have not come out for a faster path to rejoining than the stage-by-stage road map set out by the working group in last year’s policy paper.  The contrast between that strategic path, from re-establishment of mutual trust to association to eventual membership, and Starmer’s effort ‘to make Brexit work better’ without joining either the customs union or the single market, is clear enough.  But we need to recognise, as we re-assert that we are committed to moving back towards the closest possible relationship with our European neighbours, that the EU is itself changing rapidly, and that the UK cannot fully rejoin until public opinion has accepted the full consequences of doing so.

The Ukraine conflict and the need to respond both to China’s technological and industrial challenge and the USA’s commitment to an industrial strategy have shifted priorities within the EU.  After years of prevarication, further enlargement is now firmly on the agenda: to include Ukraine first and foremost, but also Moldova and the Western Balkan states.  That will necessitate major increases in shared funding, above all to pay for Ukrainian reconstruction.  It will also require painful changes in the way over 30 diverse states agree decisions, in a context in which Hungary and Poland have already shown the difficulties that recalcitrant governments can create for collective policy-making.

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Community involvement in housing is a great future for policy

In the interests of transparency,  I am not impartial (is anybody?). I am a volunteer director of a community land trust (not named as I am writing for the community housing cause in general). Also I am no longer a party member largely down to becoming exasperated with national party housing policies and the focus on being electable locally thus encouraging nimbyism. This policy could go further but is comprehensive and well thought out.

We cannot have arbitrary targets that are nationally set without paying the price. This cost was felt deeply during the COVID-19 pandemic with those in flats with no gardens, overcrowded with children and parents attempting schooling and working in 2/3 rooms. Local to me there was also a suggestion in my local area the unit targets be artificially met by implying micro pads could fill the gap in targets in affordable housing. This was of great concern as micro studios are worse than what many families are forced to endure in emergency accommodation. Most of our housing list is families; we don’t need commuter studios we need family homes.

However, today a leader I believed was part of the problem surprised me.  Ed Davey has suggested exactly what is needed in the heart of many local authorities: A community-led approach to housing. This policy could have gone further and spoken more of the role of community land trusts and the role they could possess e.g. access to Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 Funds. These are usually incorporated local not-for-profits accredited by the FCA, so why not? They also are also by and large are committed to co-designing affordable housing at the most local level.

However, the reaction of many seems to be to ridicule and attempt to call this out for something it really isn’t. The disposal of current targets that count the numbers and bottom line rather than the quality is something to celebrate not scorn. Social housing is sorely needed and the private rental market is broken.

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Dorothy Thornhill writes: A community-led vision to tackle the housing crisis

Housing and planning policy continues to provoke controversy across the country. The UK desperately needs more homes, particularly decent, affordable homes. But instead, too many politicians are only interested in point-scoring, attacking their opponents as either NIMBYs who will block any housebuilding, or in the pocket of developers who want to concrete over the countryside.

For years this Conservative government has paid lip-service to increasing housebuilding, but then repeatedly u-turned under pressure from their backbenchers, who simply don’t want new homes built.

It is in this context that the Liberal Democrats, at conference, will be discussing our new policy paper: Tackling the Housing Crisis. Our attempt to find a positive way forward in the face of a dysfunctional national debate.

The paper is positive about the need for new homes. It makes clear that councils should have  well-evidenced 15-year housing targets – ensuring that there is no backsliding from building homes. Yet it also goes further encouraging the expansion and strengthening of Neighbourhood Plans, including genuine engagement with local communities in finding innovative ways of providing more homes and the sustainable expansion of existing towns.

As the former Mayor of Watford I’m well aware of how urban renewal and bringing back residential communities to town and city centres can be a sustainable housing solution that drives regeneration. But this development can only work if it’s combined with investment in infrastructure too. The government’s controversial new infrastructure levy is said to address this, but it will take a decade to be fully implemented.

We also need to ensure that we deliver homes that people can genuinely afford. Affordability is the major issue that no one is addressing. That’s why our paper is positive about delivering more social housing. It doesn’t shy away from setting a target for these homes, empowering councils with more powers to borrow in order to build. It is scandalous that the delivery of social homes has been given such a low priority.

In England’s beauty spots the issue of second homes and holiday lets is also not helping. This paper tackles that tricky question. People are entitled to buy properties from themselves or as a way of generating an income, but in some areas the market is so seriously skewed it prices out local people. So where councils can demonstrate that these homes are having a negative effect on their communities then they should have powers to address this including new planning classes to limit their numbers if needed.

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Liberal Democrat conference will “fire starting pistol” on General Election campaign

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper has said the party will be using their Autumn Conference in Bournemouth this weekend to “fire the starting pistol” on its General Election campaign.

The Liberal Democrats are looking to build on their four historic by-election wins and major local election gains in formerly safe Conservative areas.

Liberal Democrat MPs will today hold a Blue Wall summit in Bournemouth with top candidates in marginal seats, discussing their strategy to win more Conservative seats and elect MPs who will act as local champions for their communities.

On Sunday, the Liberal Democrats will become the first party to adopt …

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21 September 2023 – today’s press release

Liberal Democrats call on Sunak to commit to maintaining fracking ban

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Prime Minister to personally commit to maintaining the ban on fracking after Liz Truss praised his watering down of key clean energy pledges and urged Sunak to lift the ban on fracking.

Liz Truss’s premiership ended last year following chaos around a Labour opposition day motion on fracking.

Liberal Democrat Climate and Energy spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse MP said:

Rishi Sunak seems hellbent on taking his policy cues from the worst Prime Minister in living memory, Liz Truss. There is no telling how far he

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The Independent View:  WASPI is relying on the Lib Dems to lead the way for 1950s-born women

It is now eight years since we set up the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI), to represent women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age was increased without proper notice.

As astute Lib Dems will know, the law was changed by John Major’s government in 1995, but neither his nor Tony Blair’s administration saw fit to tell women about these changes.

P60s were duly issued by HMRC each year, without a word about how women’s retirements would be affected.  The DWP website continued to say the state pension age for women was 60 until 2016!

Liberal Democrats have been the leading party on this issue, taking the trouble to understand what our campaign is really about.  Too often, ministers have hidden behind the completely false idea that we are arguing to reverse state pension age equalisation.  Quite obviously, that would be absurd.

Our campaign argues simply that women were – through no fault of their own – heavily disadvantaged by the Department of Work and Pensions’ successive failures over some two decades.  DWP’s own research in 2004 made clear that women simply didn’t know about the impending changes but still the Department did not get on with targeted mailings to those affected.

The impact of this incompetence and neglect is very real.  In a recent survey of 8,000 WASPI women, we found that three in five had already given up work or cut back on their hours by the time they discovered their state pension would not be paid when they’d expected it.

As anyone in our age group knows, getting back into the workplace at that stage in life is often nigh-on impossible, and as such women found themselves falling back on meagre savings to see them through the gap from 60 to 66.  No wonder one in three is now in debt and one in four has struggled to buy food or basic essentials in the last six months.

When we met with Lord (Dick) Newby recently to discuss the Liberal Democrat manifesto, he spoke for so many of us in saying it’s just unbelievable that this mess has yet to be sorted out.  Since 2015, more than 250,000 of the affected women have died awaiting justice.  Another dies every 13 minutes.

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Lib Dems for Ukraine

We have potholes. They have craters. We have a cost of living crisis. They have a cost of dying crisis. We have hospital waiting lists. They have a list of bombed hospitals. As I write this in Kyiv, Vladimir Putin is trying to kill me. Not just me but everyone in the Ukrainian capital.  To be fair, Russia’s hypersonic missiles, sorry, elderly Russian ironmongery, keep getting shot out of the sky. But the war in Ukraine is not over by a long chalk. The charge sheet of Russian barbarism gets grimmer by the day: targeting civilians, torture, execution, rape, castration.

The values of Ukraine are our values: democracy, liberalism, we don’t just respect the other – we fight for them. Together, we must stand against the Fascist International. Our job as Liberal Democrats is to keep up the pressure on the Conservative government and remind the rather too many people in the Labour Party that the word of Vladimir Putin is not reliable, to put it mildly. That’s why we are setting up the Liberal Democrat Friends of Ukraine.

Three policies stand out. We must support Ukraine with the military hardware necessary for the defeat of Russian fascism. We must make Britain as welcoming to Ukrainian refugees as the European Union is: if you have a Ukrainian passport, you can stay and live and work in Britain for three years, just as you can in Germany, Italy, France, across the whole union. We must burn down Londongrad and send Russia’s ill-gotten gold to help rebuild Ukraine.

I am no arsonist. But Londongrad – where Russian oligarchs hide their dirty money – is a danger not just to Ukraine but also to our own democracy. For far too long, the Labour and Conservative parties let Vladimir Putin get away with murdering people in Britain because they liked the sheen of Moscow gold.

Senior figures in Labour and the Tories have been far too close to the Kremlin and its proxies for comfort. Tony Blair made a catastrophic mistake when he identified radical Islam as a greater danger than Russian fascism. To secure cover for the “war on terror” he went out of his way to cosy up to Vladimir Putin.

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The UK needs to be a lot smarter to challenge the rise of authoritarian regimes

Chinese President Xi told President Putin at their summit in Moscow this year: “Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together”.

Repressive regimes – such as China’s under the CCP, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others – are linking up. Democracies around the world are being subverted. War is raging in Ukraine. China and Russia are in cahoots together, in particular enlisting many developing countries from the Global South to their cause through their disinformation and misinformation campaigns.

That’s why the FCC has agreed that I propose an amendment to the F23 pre-manifesto motion on behalf of the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) which calls for the UK to have a comprehensive strategy to challenge regimes such as that led by the CCP in China. My article in the latest Liberator gives the full background.

I also support FIRC’s emergency motion on China to be selected at the ballot for debate at autumn conference.  

Back in 2019, the European Commission was already calling China a “systemic rival”. This summer, President Xi’s intentions became even clearer when he boycotted the G20 summit, which unites major developed and developing economies, in favour of posing as the leader of the beginnings of an alternative world economic system at the BRICS summit as well as lobbying the Global South at the G77+China summit of 135 developing countries.

China’s new Global Development, Security and Civilisation Initiatives say that China’s development model shorn of human rights is more suitable for developing countries, that Western military alliances are a threat to world peace and that criticising the CCP is a racist assault on the Chinese people.

As many authoritarian governments grow wealthier, and the West’s clout weakens, an urgent new approach is needed if the post-Western global order for human rights and the rule of law is to remain centre-stage.

What Must We Do?

This party believes that the UK must always stand on the side of democracy, human rights, international law and multilateralism.

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China – national security threat?

I first visited Hong Kong in the summer of 1989, a few weeks after the massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.  At the time the people of Hong Kong feared for their future, whilst the rest of the world considered how to deal with a regime prepared to shoot its own people to remain in power.  Over the next decades I would come to work and live in China, receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2002 for developing the Economist’s business in China.   Whilst recognising that we were dealing with an autocratic state and rightly concerned at its human rights record, we considered that by engaging with China – and in my case helping Chinese businesses align their commercial practices with those of the West – we were helping to create a new partner in the global world order.

However, since Xi Jinping’s ascent to power over a decade ago, things have gone backwards. Instead of a partner China is increasingly setting itself up as an adversary to the West, set on undermining the liberal world order.  Within our own liberal family, some condemn our engagement back then with China – arguing that we should have foreseen what was coming.  On a recent trip to Berlin, I met up with an old friend who at one time ran the business operations of Siemens in China.    I asked him for his thoughts on whether we had got it so wrong back then.    He defended our actions, but with our knowledge now of China’s recent behaviour, we cannot carry on with business as normal.  Germany that has invested 10 times more in China than the UK and therefore has much more to lose, is having to face some tough decisions.

In recent years we have seen the Chinese Communist Party CCP prepared to resort to ever more extreme measures to maintain its grip on power.   In its repressive treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang – classed by many as genocide – to its crushing of Hong Kong’s civil liberties, to the oppression of civil society in mainland China itself – it has become ever more autocratic.  In today’s Hong Kong commemorating the victims of Tiananmen Square in public – a major public event up until only a few years ago – will now land you in jail.  People are afraid to criticise the government even in the privacy of their own homes. The CCP has clamped down on activities within China itself that it feels unable to control.  Shanghai Pride – an amazing weeklong celebration attracting thousands of LGBT people from across China – was closed down last year.  It’s main organiser having to flee the country or face arrest.  A similar fate has brought thousands of Hong Kongers to live in the UK.

And in our battle with Putin’s Russia which is primarily aimed at stopping the spread of liberal democracy, where Ukraine is the front line – China has aligned itself with Russia.  We should be under no illusion that should Russia succeed in its plan, that the invasion of Taiwan will be next on China’s agenda.

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Can Parliament take back control?

In a futile attempt to prevent Boris Johnson’s defenestration last year Jacob Rees Mogg tried to browbeat his ministerial colleagues by demanding that a change of Prime Minister required a General Election.  Johnson himself seemed equally deluded that he had achieved a personal mandate in 2019 to which no successor could lay claim.

Our constitution – at the moment at least – doesn’t work like that.  We don’t elect a President.  We vote for individual MPs who collectively give authority to an executive team, and (in theory) hold them to account.

But is it working like that ?

In recent months a range of commentators from across the political spectrum have identified a series of faults and follies, which call in question our democratic norms.  With some 53 years of parliamentary service between us we attempt a more comprehensive analysis in our book Can Parliament Take Back Control?, published this week.

Amidst all the other challenges which politicians will face after the next election the damaged relationship between Parliament and the executive may seem relatively less urgent.  Yet the insidious shift of power from the former to the latter in recent years may prove to undermine the very foundations of Britain’s democratic constitution.

In so doing, it could make it increasingly difficult to secure public support for practical responses to those other challenges.

This book highlights the various ways in which governments have neutered, side-lined and ignored Parliament to an extent which now demands a deliberate restoration of the balance of power.  We suggest that events since 2015, in particular, have caused slippage towards the “elective dictatorship” about which Lord Hailsham warned in his Dimbleby Lecture in 1976. Hence our subtitle:  “Britain’s Elective Dictatorship in the Johnson Aftermath”.   The text of the Lecture is reprinted as an Annex with the encouragement of the present Lord Hailsham.

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A fair housing target is a fairer democracy

Our Liberal Democrat London Mayor challenger Rob Blackie, wrote a great article on determination to meet housing targets. His first statement “Britain spends more on housing benefits than any other rich country,” hits the mark on the choice we can make: increase home ownership and maintain a fair democracy for Britain.

We can continue spending on housing benefits, but our current model has a few issues. First, our social housing strategy has shifted towards rental accommodation in the private sector. No longer are councils owning sufficient housing to provide affordable rentals. This meant shared ownership and social credits to rent privately were the only solutions. The former further distorts the market as, in essence, gives free public money to expand property developers into bigger landlords. This is the kind of market distortion faced in Berlin where most Berliners used to rent. They are effectively providing quantitative easing to property developers. The latter, private rentals, is funding an unregulated market to exploit the less privileged. Because of the security this had offered to the private lessor, they find it easier to simply offer a shelter without the necessary up-keep while monthly rentals are directly paid into their accounts by the council. It is effectively a secured, fixed-deposit investment for private lessors; so secured they have no incentives to upkeep the property they leased out. This is quite similar to New York City where the rent ceiling exacerbated the issue.

The solution can only be ownership. The responsibility of a citizen can be driven either through harsh and unjust punishment or through providing a sense of belonging. The logic is infallible because of social psychology. The state can employ harsh laws to imprison rule breakers with long incarceration or allow for the creation of individual opportunities where each has a stake in the society they can treasure.

A democracy can be built upon the rule of law. But a liberal democracy must be sustained through private equity.

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What have the Liberals ever done for us?

The Liberal Democrat History Group has just produced a new publication – What Have the Liberals Ever Done for Us?

From the very earliest days in the seventeenth century through to today, the Liberal values of liberty, equality, community, internationalism and environmentalism have underpinned what Liberal governments achieved in power, what Liberal and SDP and Liberal Democrat MPs fought for in opposition, and what Liberal Democrat ministers achieved once more in government.

This booklet is a concise summary of Liberals’ and Liberal Democrats’ greatest achievements over 350 years of Liberal history. Chapters cover human rights, fair votes, government reform, gender equality, international, economy, education, welfare, health and environment, together with a comprehensive timeline. As Ed Davey writes in the preface, ‘When you need to put your feet up after door-knocking, or to energise yourself for the next delivery round, read it to remember what we stand for and what we have done with the votes that people have lent us – and be inspired to campaign for even greater achievements in the future.’

We are launching the booklet at the History Group’s fringe meeting at Bournemouth, where Layla Moran MP, Sarah Olney MP, Wendy Chamberlain MP and Baroness Barker, chaired by Lord William Wallace, will choose their favourite Liberal achievements. The meeting takes place after the rally, at 8.15pm on Saturday in the Meyrick Suite in the Conference Centre. (Register here for Zoom access for those not at conference.) The booklet will be available to purchase at the meeting (at a special price!) and from the History Group stand in the exhibition (and, after conference, via our website).

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Politics should be about the people – it’s crucial we secure democratic reform

While Labour strategists will tell you that nothing can be taken for granted, the bulk of the media and much of the rest of the Westminster bubble has already declared Labour the winner of the next general election.

With still probably one year to go before the voters get a look in, it is striking how much the opposition is able to set the political agenda. Journalists remark on the sense in which the opposition now seems to be making the political weather, as if this happens entirely independently. To paraphrase Boris Johnson, ‘the herd has moved’.

Cheered on by wealthy donors, the two big parties will spend the next year battling it out over a tiny slither of the electorate, quickening the pace of democratic disenchantment. Yet behind closed doors, much of the (so-called mainstream) media herd has already staged its own private coronation of Sir Keir Starmer and is now engaged in jockeying for access to the party they are sure will form the next government.

And, on one level, you might think ‘fair enough’. But obscured by the media’s ‘laser-like focus’ on electoral conjecture are the voters. Politicians work for us, and yet somehow, too often, our interests are mediated through the presumed winners and losers of an imagined election.

The Mid Bedfordshire by-election is the same story in microcosm. All the focus is on the horse race, on which challenger has a better claim to the seat. Sidelined are the feelings of voters about the first genuinely competitive election in their constituency for a generation – one in which all voters can be confident their vote will make a difference to the outcome.

Opinion polling and surveys can help us fill in some of the gaps: we know that people feel as if politicians are all the same, that their vote doesn’t change anything. We know how, when presented with the option of an electoral system in which all votes count, or a House of Lords that is accountable, people are eager for change. And we know how repelled most residents of Mid Beds were by the contempt shown to them by Nadine Dorries. This is replicated across the country.

But if we are serious about doing something to address the sorry state of our democracy, the challenge is clear: how to work together to ensure the voices of the people do not get drowned out between now and the next election.

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20 September 2023 – today’s press releases

  • Latest inflation figures will be “of cold comfort”
  • Liberal Democrats call for increase to apprenticeship pay as dropout rates soar
  • Davey: Sunak is trashing the economy of the future
  • Over 1,000 sewage leaks in armed forces’ accommodation
  • Davey: This is not leadership from Rishi Sunak, this is putting the UK at the back of the queue

Latest inflation figures will be “of cold comfort”

The latest inflation figures show that inflation has fallen slightly to 6.7% from 6.8% in August. Responding to the news Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, Sarah Olney MP said:

This news will be of cold comfort for families across the country still struggling with sky high prices and mortgages because the Conservatives have crashed the economy.

Ministers still simply haven’t got a clue how to protect hardworking people’s wallets during the cost of living crisis.

Rishi Sunak should not pat himself on the back whilst this crisis carries on, the Government must do more.

Liberal Democrats call for increase to apprenticeship pay as dropout rates soar

Apprenticeships in shortage occupations have fallen by up to 73%, research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats reveal, while in some sectors three in four apprentices are dropping out before completing their course.

It comes as the party is set to adopt proposals to increase pay for apprenticeships to at least the minimum wage, as part of a new industrial strategy being unveiled at its Autumn Conference this weekend.

A collapse in new apprenticeships is contributing to the crippling skills shortages affecting British businesses, making it even harder for them to fill vacancies. House of Commons Library research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats shows that sectors listed in the Government’s official “shortage occupation list” have seen particularly stark falls in apprenticeships.

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Mark Pack’s September report to members

Many unexpected events, good and bad, have happened to our party during this Parliament. If you’d asked me in January 2020, I don’t think any of us would have expected that three and a half years on, I could write a report to members about how our first-in person autumn Federal Conference this Parliament was coming up and about our chance to secure, just after it, our fifth Parliamentary by-election gain from the Conservatives.

It’s been quite the journey since our last in-person autumn conference. That was also in Bournemouth but back in the very different political times of 2019. We’re on the third Conservative Prime Minister of that time and – at time of writing (!) – seven Secretaries of State for Education.

But most importantly for our party, we’ve made huge progress since then in rebuilding our organisation and starting a sustained, long-term recovery.

We’ve made net gains in every round of council elections this Parliament. Alongside our four new MPs, we’ve also won control of more councils – taking the number of Lib Dem majority authorities to a tally higher even than it was before we went into government in 2010. We have a new scheme to support the new generation of candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds and we have a much expanded network of staff supporting grassroots campaigners right across the country. New, and much better integrated, website and email tools are being rolled out and, after over thirty years of people saying the Federal Board and its predecessors was too large, we finally did something about it.

But there’s much more still to do, starting with the need to turn that run of four by-election gains into a run of five next month. Find out more on how to help Emma Holland-Lindsay and the Mid-Bedfordshire by-election campaign on her website.

Rebuilding trust in politics

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Liberator 419 is out

You can download Liberator 419 for free here:

Find out the latest news in Radical Bulletin, while our Commentary wonders what the point is of the Liberal Democrat policy process and Lord Bonkers gives his view of the world.

You can sign up to be notified when each Liberator comes out here:  or visit our stall at Bournemouth


Serious poverty can be found even in the outwardly affluent Chesham and Amersham constituency. Sarah Green reports


Is stressing a candidates’ local connections really the best the party can do? David Grace looks at the conference agenda and fears the worst


The NHS is in crisis, water and rail privatisations have failed and Brexit is destroying living standards. It’s time for politicians to take the gloves off, says Paul Hindley


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How a Universal Basic Income could make Britain more liberal

The news of a trial of universal basic income in Jarrow and East Finchley sparked a true watercooler moment. For a party like the Lib Dems, it is important to recognise what that means. It wasn’t a viral meme to like, or share, and it wasn’t a culture war issue that triggered rage, or anxiety. In conversations in staff rooms and pubs, in social media spaces from LADBible to Gransnet, people were talking about an idea. 

There are lots of reasons why. The cost of living crisis, obviously; the fear by every political party that they interrupt the Tories whilst they are making mistakes has led to a dearth of ideas; and, finally, the pandemic.  Arundhati Roy wrote in April 2020 “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

The idea is simple to grasp. It is money that is always there, if your life changes, or you want to change your life. It appeals to both optimists and pessimists. Post Covid, we all know that our lives can change in a moment. UBI supports those in need, with the dignity of liberal choices. 

This national conversation echoes the support we found on the doorstep and in focus groups. 

The trial will not tell us everything we need to know about basic income, but it will tell us a lot about damage the current welfare system causes. The gap between losing your job and receiving Universal Credit is a minimum of 5 weeks, and can be up to 12 weeks. Very few people can sustain that wait without getting into debt that is almost impossible to climb out of. Sanctions cause the same problem. Being unable to feed your family, owing money everyone you know, is bound to make you feel worthless and a failure. When a bill you cannot pay lands, you will panic. The cure is not antidepressants or mindfulness. The cure is money. The thousands of people queuing at foodbanks are not there because they need help to shop. They know how to do that, they just lack the means. 

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Supporters of Palestine and Israel must stand with the defenders of Israel’s democracy

Whether you are a supporter of Israel or a support of Palestine or even, like me, a supporter of finding a peaceful end to the decades old conflict, what is happening in Israel currently should worry you deeply.

When Netanyahu returned to the office as Prime Minister after the Israeli elections last November, he included a number of parties in his coalition who are either, not to beat about the bush, fascists or ultra-orthodox zealots.

Netanyahu’s main drive appears to be to end his on-going corruption court case which could see him sent to jail.  To do so, he seems to be wiling to pay any price, up to and including the destruction of democracy in Israel.  What the zealots & fascists have demanded, initially at least (there is a lot more as well), is the end of the right of the Israeli Supreme Court to be able to apply a test of “Reasonableness” to Governmental appointments, actions or new laws.  In a country with a single chamber Parliament and no formal constitution, this right of the Supreme Court is one of the few “checks & balances” in stopping any Government behave anti-democratically.

The law has passed the Knesset but has been referred to the Supreme Court to rule if it meets this Reasonable Test or not.  A number on members of the ruling Coalition have already said they will ignore any ruling from the Supreme Court that blocks this new law.  We await the decision from the Supreme Court (which met for the first time ever with all 15 members sitting as a single panel) in the coming weeks.

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Growth: We’re there!

I can’t find out when Gandhi said: There is enough for everyone’s need, and not for everyone’s greed,” but it must have been before 1948 because that’s when he died.  Yet, still 80 or so years later, rather than concentrating on better sharing of the world’s munificence, we are still looking for yet more economic growth as a free pass for “enriching” everyone without anybody paying the price.

The measurement of an economy’s growth via its GDP is largely a post 1945 obsession.  When he was the UK’s Chancellor R A Butler alerted us to the fact that, if we could achieve growth at the rate of 3% per year we could double our standard of living in 25 years.  Harold Wilson and the Labour party, in the campaign for the general election of 1964, promised all sorts of wonders, and they wouldn’t cost us a penny: they’d be financed out of growth.

Waring shots about this painless panacea were fired by the Club of Rome and its publication of “The Limits to Growth” in 1972.  The earth’s resources are finite and  more and more production risks poisoning  it .  It’s not a question of “Will the planet survive.” It almost certainly will, but not necessarily life as we know it, or perhaps any life at all.

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The return of Lib Dem Disco

It was an absolute honour to be selected as the PPC for Cambridge at the next General Election. I now walk in the footsteps of great Liberal Democrat MPs and candidates such as Julian Huppert, David Howarth and Shirley Williams.

These are big shoes to fill,  but at Autumn Conference these shoes are glittery platform heels… As Cambridge PPC, it is my honour to host the return of Lib Dem Disco! 

In time honoured tradition, we will be welcoming current and future MPs to compete for the crown of Lib Dem Disco King or Queen. This year we have a fantastic line up with:

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19 September 2023 – today’s press releases

  • OECD Report: UK economy is “stuck in the slow lane”
  • Revealed: Truss taxpayer handouts now reach over £40k
  • Sunak has failed to embrace the industries of the future

OECD Report: UK economy is “stuck in the slow lane”

Responding to the lastest OECD report, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Treasury and Business Spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

This damning report shows that under the Conservatives, the UK economy is stuck in the slow lane. We’ve had zero apology from Liz Truss for trashing the economy, and now zero plan from Rishi Sunak to fix it.

It’s time for a proper plan to grow the economy and tackle the cost of living. That means boosting apprenticeships to tackle skills shortages and helping exporters by fixing the government’s botched trade deal with Europe.

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Nearly 4.5 million children not seen by an NHS dentist in the past year

  • 4.4 million children not seen by an NHS dentist in the last 12 months
  • 22 million adults not seen by an NHS dentist in the past 2 years
  • Lib Dem Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper visits dentist in Mid Bedfordshire and calls for boost to NHS dentist appointments and a cut to VAT on children’s toothpaste

Over 4.4 million children in England have not been seen by an NHS dentist for at least a year, shocking new figures published by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The research, commissioned from the House of Commons Library, estimates the number of children who weren’t seen by an NHS …

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Bournemouth: a landmark Conference

Bournemouth is going to be a landmark conference for young people in the Liberal Democrats. This is the biggest opportunity in years for the party to answer the question on every young person’s mind as the general election approaches:

Is the party going to leave us behind?

With three key items on the agenda for young people, Conference will have three votes to decide what message it wants to send to the future generation of the party.

The first comes in the form of Federal Policy Committee’s (FPC) F31: Tackling the Housing Crisis policy paper. As James Bliss writes in Betrayal of a Generation, the Party’s sneaky attempt to abolish the national housing target, only two years after Conference committed to it, is a ‘signal and a big red flag to young people that the Liberal Democrats still aren’t for them’.

The Party could be choosing to send a strong message to young professionals that the Liberal Democrats are the party for them. Instead, the Parliamentary Party is insistent on subjecting the wider Party to the NIMBY policies that they hope will get them re-elected in their hyper-localist campaigns to be super-councillors. They are turning their backs on even pretending to be interested in championing liberal solutions to the nation’s biggest problems, in exchange for shoring up support in areas that are already orange.

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Recent Comments

  • Chris Perry
    It would be nice to hear from a few people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, please?...
  • Marco
    In my view we should keep the 1p rise whilst raising the income tax threshold to about £16000. Then we could present ourselves as a tax cutting party for low e...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Is it then in order to understand that there is enough money for banks to put some of it in reserve accounts but not enough money for all children to be well fe...
  • Peter Martin
    I seem to remember similar arguments some 40 or so years ago when computers, computerisation, and automation were starting to generate similar concerns. It didn...
  • Joe Bourke
    A 1p rise in income tax would be expected to raise about 5.5 billion across the year, about 2 weeks debt service costs at the current expected cost of circa 131...