Observations of an Expat: America’s Original Sin

America has developed its own version of Original Sin. It is called the Critical Race Theory and is proving to be yet another toxic debate topic dividing Black and White and the growing chasm separating America’s right and left.

Original Sin was propagated by St Augustine in the 4th century. It maintained that every human was born sinful and spent a lifetime fighting against it. The Augustinian philosophy was a major tenet of the medieval church and proved especially with the breakaway Protestant sects. Gradually, however, first the Catholics, and then most of the Protestants revised their thinking. Sin was washed away with sacrament of baptism and replaced with personal responsibility.

Critical Race Theory maintains that all Americans—or at least all White Americans—are born racist.

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Lib Dems win Telford & Wrekin Lawley by-election by one vote

The Liberal Democrats are celebrating a close win in the Lawley and Overdale Parish Council by-election.

Lib Dem Catherine Salter took 140 votes, to the Conservative’s 139, with Labour trailing a distant third on 69 votes. The independent candidate came fourth with 38 votes.

The focus of Cllr Salter’s campaign was engaging with and listening to local residents’ concerns about speeding, lack of public transport and poor finishing of new estates by developers.

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Ending profit making from the care of vulnerable children in Wales

Before my election to the Senedd I was a child protection social worker. I worked with some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society and those staff dedicated to giving them every chance to thrive.

That is why I jumped at the chance to table a debate on legislative proposal in the Senedd on Wednesday, just weeks into the first term. I used the opportunity to shine a light on the work that we must do here in Wales to create a genuine care system based on the needs, hopes, and aspirations of children and young people.

I used my voice in our national parliament, to speak up for the children, young people, and staff who are waiting for the Welsh Labour Government to act.

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Wera Hobhouse calls for Olympian steps to halt Xinjiang atrocities

In a Commons debate on Thursday, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse warned it would be unacceptable for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, senior diplomats and officials to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. To do so would give credibility to a regime that is accused of genocide in Xinjiang. Western countries had to take a stance against China’s human rights abuses.

Hobhouse told MPs is totally unacceptable that peaceful demonstrations during protests on the field of play or in medal ceremonies are barred by the IOC under the threat of sanctions. Given the ongoing human rights abuses, is it at all justifiable for the games to go ahead?

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Levelling Up – Revolution not Evolution

The Prime Minister gave his big speech on “Levelling Up” and as we discovered it is still a slogan in search of policies. The only positive was a half-formed idea around further devolution. If the pandemic has taught us anything from the separate policies of devolved First Ministers, Track and Trace to the spotlight on Metro Mayors, it is that effective policy can only be delivered at a local level.

Our current constitutional settlement is obviously lopsided between Nations and the English Regions. What’s worse, government fiat often dictates spending. It is time to recast our country and develop a model that works for the whole country. Every company knows that the closer a service is to the people it serves the more responsive it is. And yet the dominance of the Treasury and Whitehall means the government pays lip service to this idea. Local government is given responsibility but starved of funding. There is another way.

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Report from Federal Policy Committee, 14th July

We held the last of our summer meetings this week and now that the deadlines for motions for autumn conference have passed, we were able to focus squarely on thinking about our future plans. So there were fewer decisions, and mindful of FPC Meetings Reports Fatigue, I’ll try and be briefer than usual!

We’ve carried out Equalities Impact Assessments on all our recent policy papers. We now want to develop and strengthen this approach further and agreed a plan for doing this. Many thanks to Helen Cross, Lizzie Jewkes, Mohsin Khan and Tara Copeland for driving this forward.

We have started our programme of work developing policies on strengthening the UK’s relationship with the EU, with the long term goal of membership. Our first motion on this territory is coming to this conference and this week we discussed our longer term plans for this work. We plan to develop proposals on joining the EU’s free trade area, the Single Market, to bring to spring conference, with more to follow. Thanks to Duncan Brack who is working closely with staff in bringing this forward.

Finally we discussed our plans for future policy working groups. We kicked around various ideas on this, prior to taking some firm decisions in the autumn. Early priority areas here are likely to include prominently work on creating a fairer and more caring society (linking up to the party’s commitment to UBI, which we will be consulting party members about further at this autumn conference). This is likely to be a mixture of drawing together existing policy to present it in the right way, and developing new policy, with a firm focus on appealing to target voters. Supporting child development in the early years and housing and planning policy are also areas we are currently thinking a lot about. There will be further discussions on this, and work on others, in the autumn, which we’ll report about then.

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Up and down

At Lib Dem Voice we don’t usually cover the results of political polls, because they do fluctuate. Also, paying too much attention to poll results can have unintended consequences for our party’s campaigning. Liberal Democrats were riding high in the polls during the last elections to the European Parliament in 2019, and some people imagined that we could win a swathe of seats in the General Election later that year simply based on the polling data. Seasoned campaigners, however, know that we only win seats if we do a lot of work on the ground – the support shown in polls is never enough.

But we have to admit that it is exciting when our poll position makes a substantial leap from 6% to 13%. The Evening Standard  reports an Ipsos-Mori poll which shows that support for both Labour and the Conservatives has fallen by 4 points since their last poll. The Conservatives are still 9 points ahead, but net satisfaction of Boris Johnson and the Government have fallen to and -16 and -20 respectively. But the Liberal Democrats have jumped to 13%, and this is the first time we have been at that level since the 2019 General Election.

So what do we make of it? Undoubtedly our win in Chesham and Amersham produced this bounce. The party cleverly exploited the publicity immediately afterwards. The image of Ed Davey knocking down the blue wall with a small yellow mallet visually encapsulated our key message to the whole country very neatly – those who criticised it as a stunt clearly don’t understand how the media works.

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Federal Conference Committee Report – setting the preliminary agenda for Autumn Conference

Federal Conference Committee met via Zoom call on Saturday, 10 July for the agenda selection for our Autumn Conference 2021. The meeting was a lengthy one, which was in part due to the large selection of motions received. 

A few announcements before the report; as you may be aware Geoff Payne, departed the FCC in early May, and I am delighted to have been elected the new Chair of FCC. All of us wish Geoff the very best for the future. A recount was held for the vacant place on the Committee, and I am delighted that Keith Melton has joined as our new member of the Federal Conference Committee. Chris Adams has also been elected in the vacant Vice-Chair position and will take responsibility for the General Purposes Sub Committee. 

This Autumn conference will be held online, via our third-party provider, Hopin. You will be able to find more information about the virtual conference. If you are planning to attend conference, we highly recommend taking part in the interactive exhibitions and the fringes.

If you haven’t yet registered for Conference, I would recommend to do so here.

The FCC wants to pay its thanks to the continued amazing efforts of the Conference Office team and members who have worked so incredibly hard. You will see from the timings of Conference that it is slightly different to the usual format, and we hope that this will give more people an opportunity to attend virtually, but also it has meant that we have been able to increase the number of motions selected, we have allowed short breaks between sessions but have also worked hard to include as many of the motions submitted as possible. The agenda for Conference will be published very shortly.

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Munira Wilson: Coercion is not the answer to vaccine hesitancy

Last night, Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the Government’s Statutory Instrument which made vaccinations compulsory for care home staff.

Munira Wilson, our health spokesperson, had a right go at the Government for its approach, pointing out that the care sector had long been undervalued and the Government’s approach had let down so many staff and residents during the pandemic.

She said that, while Liberal Democrats were absolutely in favour of vaccination, we would not support making it mandatory. She said:

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LibLink: Christine Jardine: A sinister sign our human rights are in peril?

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine described something worrying that took place while she took part in a protest for Hong Kong democracy in Edinburgh:

A drone. Hovering a couple of feet above the heads of the group was a small grey machine, the single eye of its mounted camera recording the event and everyone there.

This was, it is important to stress, a Covid-compliant, socially distanced, perfectly legal outdoor gathering of a small number of people in Edinburgh’s High Street. Unremarkable even in these times, save for one thing. It was about the threat to democracy in Hong Kong

She asks if we take our civil liberties for granted:

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Tuesday by-election GAIN for Lib Dems

Good news from Wells:

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Carmichael: Why is the fishing industry having to fight its own government for survival?

Alistair Carmichael knows more about fishing than most, as you would expect for someone representing an island constituency.

He knows how our fishermen have been completely sold down the river by the Brexit deal.

Yesterday, he stood up for fishermen and those in related industries in a Parliamentary debate which you can watch here.

He outlined some of the eye-watering losses suffered by the industry as a result of the Government failing to deliver on its promises.

Here is his speech in the debate:

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Howard Sykes condemns “appalling” arson attack on Oldham Council leader’s car

In the early hours of this morning, a car belonging to Cllr Arooj Shah was firebombed. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.

From the Oldham Times:

A force spokesman said: “Police were called just before 1:30am on Tuesday, July 13 to reports of a vehicle on fire in the Glodwick area in Oldham.

“Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service attended along with police, and it was established that the vehicle was deliberately ignited, also causing slight damage to a neighbouring property.

“The fire was extinguished, no-one was injured, and officers are investigating the circumstances.”

Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Howard Sykes condemned the attack and called on people to stand together in the face of such appalling acts:

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Wendy Chamberlain hits out on cynical tests for overseas aid cuts

Wendy Chamberlain, MP for North East Fife attacked the government’s commitment to reducing the overseas aid budget below 0.7% in the House of Commons today.

It is a straight choice: do we return to 0.7%, as we were all elected to this place to do, or do we fail to be the global leader on this issue that the UK has been to this point?… the poorest will be hardest hit by these cuts. The reality of the covid pandemic is that no one is safe until everyone is safe… The fiscal tests for development spending presented today are the height of cynicism. They are designed never to be met.

The government, which has a majority of 80, won the vote by 35.

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Dick Newby writes: Are progressive alliances needed to win?

Ever since Boris won the 2019 General Election, there has been growing talk of the need for a “progressive alliance” to stop the Tories winning the next election.

Quite what this might involve is unclear. Some would like a national pact between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens so only one party would stand in each seat, and others want simply to promote greater tactical voting and other parties to scale back their campaigning where another party is the main challenger.

Helpfully, the by-elections in both Batley and Spen and Chesham & Amersham give us some insight into how this could work and how voters might react.

Chesham & Amersham: a victory for tactical voting

Let’s take Chesham & Amersham first, where the Liberal Democrats started in firm second place. We fought a vigorous campaign and proved early Green party claims that they were going to be the main challenger wrong. People who were traditionally Labour voters, realising that their vote could make a difference, decided to tactically lend their vote to the Lib Dems – including some Party members and activists.

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Pilates, comedy and an orchestra – Lib Dem virtual conference registration open

When you think of Lib Dem conference, you think of debates, packed fringe meetings with varying quality of buffets and events like the Glee Club.

These things are difficult to replicate on a virtual platform, but the Federal Conference Committee  has flagged up Pilates classes, a comedy night and a classical music concert with an orchestra as just a few of the attractions at this year’s digital Autumn Conference, to be held from 17-21 September.

Registration is now open, as FCC Chair Nick De Costa announced in an email to members:

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Willie Rennie stands aside as Scottish Lib Dem leader

After more than a decade in the role, Willie Rennie announced this evening that he is standing aside as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Watch his statement here:

He leaves while he is still incredibly popular within the party – and the tributes he has received from outside it show how valued he is across politics.

When he took over in 2011, he inherited a party that had been given the hoofing of its life in the Scottish Parliament elections, reduced from 16 MSPs to just 5.

The small group he led had a big voice, though. Over the years, the Scottish Lib Dems have been the go-to people on issues like education and mental health. Willie’s dogged persistence, challenging Scottish Ministers week in and week out on issues like police centralisation, college places, mental health waiting times, childcare and free school meals shifted government policy on many occasions.

He stared wipeout in the eye in the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 2016. If you had told me we would emerge with 5 MSPs from that election after the disaster of 2015, I would not have dared to believe it. But he showed what he could do with a bright and optimistic campaign which include him launching the manifesto while running down a soft-play volcano and being interviewed on a slide. When his photocall at a city farm was overshadowed by two amorous pigs, journalists were given a packet of Percy Pigs each at the next big event.

His commitment to improving the party’s diversity saw him ensure that we had all women shortlists for both 2017 and 2021 elections, a gender balanced team of spokespeople and serious money invested in diversity projects in each year’s Scottish budget. He put his own neck on the line to get these measures approved by Conference. He needed a two thirds majority and he got it by basically ringing everyone who had registered and talking them round.

And he has travelled the length and breadth of the country so many times supporting candidates at every possible level of election. He’s encouraged people to stand who have now been elected. He has led campaigning with boundless energy, enthusiasm and a huge smile.

I am incredibly sad to see him go, but I can understand that after 10 years of unrelenting graft, he relishes the chance to do something a bit different. He’ll stay on as MSP for North East Fife, of course – but don’t expect him to stop speaking out on th issues he has championed.

And as a campaigner who has been responsible for many of the party’s successes over the past three decades, his skills in that direction will be in demand.

So what now?

The Scottish Executive will set a timetable for a leadership election in which any of the party’s other three MSPs will be eligible to stand.

But for now, let’s look at some of the lovely things people are saying about Willie:

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Lib Dems say “Give firms right to require face masks worn by customers”

Following the Government’s update on plans to ease restrictions on 19th July, the Liberal Democrats have called on businesses to be given the legal right to require customers to wear face masks on their premises.

Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Business, has heard from businesses who want to protect young staff who have not received their second jab, and those who are clinically vulnerable, by ensuring face masks are worn by customers.

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“Invest in people and their communities”

This is the call of the Health Foundation charity in its final report this month from a long-running enquiry into the impact of COVID-19. Calling on the Government to address the root causes of poor health, the report makes clear that the investment required into people and communities will involve jobs, housing, and education, plus action to ‘level up’ health.

In the report, they say;

The pandemic has revealed stark differences in the health of the working age population – those younger than 65 in the poorest 10% of areas in England were almost four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those in the wealthiest. Recovery needs to prioritise creating opportunities for good health – a vital asset needed to ‘level up’ and rebuild the UK recovery.

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Wera Hobhouse speaks out on fuel poverty

Speaking in a House of Commons debate on fuel poverty on Thursday, Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath, said no one should have to make the choice between feeding their family or heating their home. The pandemic has made things even worse. People working from home faced an extra £16 a month on energy costs, adding up to £195 a year for those on poor value tariffs. She said the clearest example of the Government’s failure was the scrapping of the green homes grant only five months after it was introduced with only 6% of the budget spent.

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Remembering Srebrenica

Imagine, just for a moment, that you don’t eat for a month.

Imagine that for months, if you are lucky, you have one “meal” a day; meal meaning a watery soup.

Imagine that when or if you are lucky enough to board the plane, you have no idea where and when you will land.

Imagine that you have no choice, none whatsoever.

Imagine that you are taken, against your will, to a concentration camp, without knowing whether you will walk free again.

Imagine that you are unable, for months, to contact your loved ones.

Imagine that if you are lucky to survive, your traumatic experience lives with you forever.

Imagine that you have NO choice or freedom.

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World Review: A president assassinated, a president suing, a president withdrawing and Covid soaring

In this weekend’s review, LDV’s foreign correspondent Tom Arms talks of events in Haiti, a basket case of a country whose presidents tend to come to an untimely end, including this week President Moise.

Joe Biden is continuing to withdraw from Afghanistan. Donald Trump is suing Facebook. Both difficult strategies.

The delta variant of Covid-19 is causing cases to rise rapidly around the world, especially in countries with low levels of vaccination. Vaccinating Africa must become a priority to save lives in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

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Is Boris Johnson gambling on tonight’s Euro final to boost herd immunity?

Crowding together. Shouting. Singing. Welcome to the excitement of football. As England and Italy prepare for the Euro final, scientists are concerned that football is helping drive up Covid-19 infection rates by allowing potentially super spreader events such as the finals at Wembley and Wimbledon. It is predicted that seven million pints will be served during the Euro final tonight in pubs across the land. Health secretary Sajid Javid has suggested we might be heading towards 100,000 new cases a day. Did he take sporting events into account?

It’s coming home but could coronavirus also be coming home with the fans? Maybe Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid want that. Could the Euro final be a booster jab that gets us closer to herd immunity.

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York leads the way and becomes the first Good Business Charter city

York has become the first city in the UK to sign up to the Good Business Charter – a pioneering imitative that puts fairness, representation, diversity and a shared commitment to our environmental responsibilities at the heart of our economic strategy.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, City of York Council has had a clear focus on working closely with the business community, supporting small and micro businesses, and promoting our unique approach to economic development – the ‘York Way’.

Recently an independent evaluation of the Council’s £1.14m micro grant scheme revealed that since its introduction in March 2020, 294 local businesses were saved from closure and over 500 families and employees from falling into personal and financial hardship.

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By-election report from ALDC – Thursday 8 July 2021

This week’s by-elections present a very mixed picture, along with some crucial lessons in defending our held seats. With eight vacancies to fight, we stood in six, succeeding in one. We lost our one defence in East Devon, in what was a disappointing result. Nevertheless, good campaigns were fought elsewhere, and we can celebrate a good town council gain.

There two Green gains on Thursday, we stood in one and not the other. The lesson is it’s always better to stand for the sake of giving voters a real choice, rather than getting any misplaced ideas about deals and pacts.

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Observations of an Expat: Free and Fair Elections in America

America believes in exporting its Democracy. And it has sought to do so right from the start. Congress regularly ties aid and trade packages to political change in developing countries, too often ignoring local conditions.

For many years America was seen by other countries as that “Shining City on the Hill” first mentioned in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and later repeated by Puritan leader John Winthrop and, more recently, by President Ronald Reagan.

Its War of Independence inspired the French Revolution, liberation movements in South America and elsewhere in the world. The stirring words of the Declaration of Independence are mirrored in similar documents across the globe.

But changes in American electoral politics means that the rest of the world is now questioning America’s claim to the moral high ground, and those questions undermine the success and stability of democracy elsewhere in the world.

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The Triple Lock: An 8% rise is justifiable

The Government appears to have forgotten why, the predominantly Conservative, Coalition Government introduced the “triple lock” whereby the State Pension increases in line with earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever is the greatest.

It was an attempt to reverse the 30 years of erosion since Margaret Thatcher replaced the “earnings link” with a “prices link”. And after only ten years there is a long way to go to restore the pre 1980 relative value.

Prices are about the cost of static living. Earnings are about the standard of living and quality of life. As the economy grows so too do the expectations and necessities of life. For example, very few people had fridges in 1950; it would be difficult to manage without one today.

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Review – Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford Vaccine

Having written 150 blog posts on coronavirus since March 2020, and as a recipient of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, I was eagerly looking forward to the publication of this book. When it dropped into my Audible inbox this morning, I immediately began listening as I ploughed on with my daily business of a councillor while living in self isolation. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University. Dr Catherine Green is also at Oxford, where she is an Associate Professor in Chromosome Dynamics at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. Together they tell the story of how the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was developed in record time amid a pandemic that affected their lives as much as everyone else’s.

Their message is: “We went faster because we had to.” That was despite at times feeling the strain of “an unedified mix of science, politics and emotions.”

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Academic freedom and its enemies

On Monday 12th July the Commons will debate the 2nd Reading of the Higher Education (Academic Freedom) Bill.  This Bill, which closely follows the recommendations of two Policy Exchange papers and of Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, provides for the Office for Students (OfS) to regulate and enforce rules on free speech within universities, and establishes the new post of ‘Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom’ in the OfS.  It gives students, staff and visiting speakers the right to sue universities and student unions for alleged breaches of free speech, with fines to be imposed.  The OfS may also impose penalties.

This is a culture war bill.  The evidence that threats to free speech in universities are greater now than they were 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago is thin.  The Policy Exchange papers are heavily dependent on US sources and examples – yet another example of the increasing capture of English Conservative thinking by US Republican ideas.  Gavin Williamson decries an attempt to prevent an ambassador speaking at a university – but my wife as a Young Liberal demonstrated to block the South African Ambassador speaking in Oxford in 1963.  He deplores the withdrawal of an invitation to Amber Rudd by an Oxford student society; but I recall at Manchester University in 1968 students disrupting the Education Secretary when trying to speak at an official university event.

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Ecocidal thoughts

Embed from Getty Images

Ecocide, unlike Geocide, has yet to be embedded in international law.

Ecocide, as envisaged, would perhaps be reserved for extreme forms of our everyday Planet Abuse and directed at corporates and government leaders whose policies wreak so much damage.  Even so, the chances of such condemnation becoming law are minimal – and the chances of it acting as any deterrent, even less.  Like so much else in the hot air of climate debating circles, the notion of Ecocide is as purely symbolic as national flag waving or political greenwashing.

On the other hand, everyday Planet Abuse is more easily understood by individual citizens and communities.  For sure, there are challenges in tracking useful metrics: many places and people will see different priorities, and we are still a very long way from the general taboos that progressive societies try to muster for, say, Domestic or Racial Abuse.

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