Why I tried to amend devolution policy -and how I was misrepresented

At Autumn Conference I moved an amendment to F8 “Power to People and Communities”. Our amendment, concentrating solely on English regional devolution was opposed not by a rebuttal of its text and my speech but, sadly, by means of mischaracterisation and misrepresentation of what was written and said.

Since attending the Agenda 2020 session at Autumn Conference 2015 and then the East of England Regional Conference (which near-unanimously passed my motion “Fair Devolution for the East of England”) I have proposed additional criteria to the policy of “devolution on demand” – three little words encapsulating a seemingly straightforward and liberal approach but in fact opening a can of worms.

Quoting from my speech: “Civil Servants drawing lines on the map in dark rooms in Whitehall is a dreadful prospect. An entirely locally-led permissive solution, without additional qualification, is equally flawed because it implies self-selective, first-come-first-served devolution. Those first off the blocks will form regions within no framework and with no obligation to consider the ability of other neighboring districts to form viable regions themselves. We can have neither a top-down imposed solution nor an unmanaged, unfettered free-for-all. This is all about process, not about lines on the map. There must be a clear direction and goals: no areas disenfranchised or disadvantaged by the prior actions of others”.

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Jo Swinson’s speech to conference – in full

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2018 Brighton Conference – Reporting by Journalist

John Crace of the Guardian made a snide comment on Monday – in his piece about Gina Miller’s speech he said we took a “two-and-a-half-hour lunch break. Presumably, because there wasn’t much more business to discuss.”

I couldn’t disagree with him more – and that’s not just because I’m a member of the Federal Conference Committee. Of course, there was plenty to say on Brexit, where Tories and Labour are tearing themselves apart. However, we debated so many other important issues – how we enable people to thrive in a world of rapid technological change, how we address increasing inequality through wealth …

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Reaching out and making friends, just like Vince says

Yesterday, Vince Cable told the Liberal Democrats to reach out and appeal to the millions of voters who are alarmed at the extremes of British politics.

A wee while earlier, some Liberal Democrat members had been reaching out in a manner that can only be described as optimistic.

Not the Leader’s speech is an annual tradition that started during the coalition years. A group of the Awkward Squad would gather in a nearby hostelry, watch the speech on Twitter and work out at what point they would have walked out had they been in the hall. There is less cause …

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2018 Brighton Conference – Affordable Housing

This was my second conference as a member of the Federal Conference Committee (FCC). I had just joined FCC for the Spring conference and was really an observer. For the Autumn conference, I was involved from the start. The whole thing was well organised, and the team work well together (you have to give credit where credit is due). There were approximately 2400 members – more or less in line with previous year.

One note of sadness, I learned about, was the passing of Robert Adamson (Chair of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association).  My Condolences to the bereaved family. Rest in Peace Robert.

Other than the sad news about Robert I enjoyed the conference. I enjoyed the interaction with the members, late-night meals and the different parts of the conference I was involved in. Outside the hall, I did see a lot of homeless people which I found distressing. Listening to a journalist on the TV talking about the Lib Dems he speculated that our policies need to reflect the concerns people talk about in pubs. One of the examples he gave was affordable housing, interesting he didn’t mention Brexit. I had the opportunity to speak to Gina Miller, we discussed why she had launched her new website “end the chaos”, she said she did this after listening to thousands of people and was surprised to learn that majority of them didn’t even know what Brexit was. The website was set up to provide core facts.

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Vince Cable’s speech today to the party conference in Brighton – in full

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Journalistic consensus is that Vince said “exotic spresm” instead of “erotic spasm”

“Check against delivery” is printed at the top of every pre-released speech. Vince’s speech today was advanced emailed with the phrase “erotic spasm” included – referring to the dreams of extreme Brexiters.

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“Erotic spasm” infuriates Lib Dem conference goers

So, Vince Cable is apparently going to refer to Brexiteers being willing to trash the UK economy for the “erotic spasm” of leaving the EU. Is this really the best we could do when Conference has set out what our plans are for the Brexit endgame – withdrawing Article 50 if there is no deal or an agreement to extend it. We have so far been the grown-ups in the room. We shouldn’t reduce ourselves to being a Carry On film.

Every Conference goer I have met so far – and there have been quite a few – has reacted …

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Why are there giant snails around Brighton? #bemoresnail

Members hurrying from conference chamber to fringe meeting hall in Brighton have asked the question:

Why are there giant colourful snail sculptures dotted around Brighton?

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What’s happening at Conference today? The debates and speeches

Who knows what emergency motions we’ll be discussing today? Will we even have a Government by that stage? Will Theresa May still be PM?

The day starts without expectation of controversy but you never know in a party business session as we look at recognising the new Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality.

Policy debates today include promoting a fairer distribution of wealth, and a motion that sets out our demands for a better Britain.

And there will be keynote speeches from Scottish Leader Willie Rennie and Vince Cable.

09.00–09.20 Business motion: Renewal of Recognition of SAOs
Business motion: Recognition of AOs and SAOs

9:20-10:25 Emergency motions or topical issue discussions

10:25-11:30 Policy motion: Promoting a Fairer Distribution of Wealth

11.30–12.30 Policy motion: Demand Better: Liberal Democrat Priorities for a Better Britain

12.30–12.50 Speech: Willie Rennie MSP

12.50–14.10 Lunch

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Enjoying Conference? Fancy another one… in Madrid?

The Federal International Relations Committee is recruiting Congress delegates for the upcoming Alliance of Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) Party Congress later this year. For more information on this process, please contact us!

What? ​Delegation voting-member at the ALDE Party Congress 2018

When? ​8-10 November 2018

Where? ​Madrid, Spain

Who? Staff, parliamentarians, party members, activists, volunteers can apply

About the Congress

The 39th ALDE Party Congress, will take place from 8 to …

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Gina Miller, the next leader of the Liberal Democrats – not

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Gina Miller, businessperson and Brexit campaigner, just received a long and strong standing ovation, after delivering a spirited speech at the party conference in Brighton.

Ms Miller was quick to quash media reports that she might be angling to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. Those rumours have presumably been spread by people who know absolutely nothing about our party.

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The Independent View: time to support the UN nuclear ban treaty

Less than a year ago, the United Nations’ nuclear weapons ban treaty opened for signature. States from across the world are stepping forward to sign up to prohibit nuclear weapons – over 60 on current count. This is a giant step forward on the road towards global abolition. The treaty follows decades of grassroots campaigning across the world – CND has been calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons since its founding in 1958 and we are delighted at the development.

Over one hundred countries are likely to sign the treaty, but will Britain make the most of this crucial …

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Federal People Development Committee explains supporters proposal

Last night at 6:15pm I went to the truly vast Oxford hall within the Brighton Hilton. You could almost hold the FA Cup Final in the Oxford Hall, it is so big.

There was an excellent meeting, chaired by Miranda Roberts, which explained the supporters proposal.

Miranda is the chair of the Federal People Development Committee. She took us through the process. There was a briefing on a similar scheme in Canada and within the UK Which consumer organisation.

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What’s on at Conference today? The debates and speeches

Europe, housing, the economy, land tax and sustainable development are on the policy agenda today.

Anti Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, not even a party member, will be giving a keynote speech. She’s had some attention as a future leader of the party despite not being a member so her remarks are bound to spark media interest.

The other keynote speaker is Welsh Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds.

And there will, of course, be the debate on membership subscriptions which, with a big increase in the Federal Levy, may actually prove more controversial than usual.

09.00–10.00 Policy motion: An Affordable, Secure Home for All

10.00–11.00 Policy motion: Europe

11.00–11.20 Speech: Gina Miller

11.20–14.10 Lunch

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Controversial immigration paper passes but leadership defeated on key amendment

The controversial paper on immigration passed today, but the only one of the five amendments to it that was opposed by the leadership passed.

Earlier, Ed Davey had reached an agreement with Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary which made the defeat of the paper less likely. The leadership’s acceptance of their amendments meant that the policy on asylum seekers is pretty much what a liberal party should be offering.

The 90 minute debate was heated and passionate and saw some quality  speeches. Opposing the paper, Alex Wilcock, who wrote for us yesterday, …

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What’s on at Conference today? The debates and speeches

The controversial migration paper is the most likely opportunity to upset the leadership today. Many Liberal Democrats have expressed alarm at its negative language. Expect passion.

Other debates include ending discrimination in mental health provision, a longstanding Lib Dem priority and a paper on foreign affairs.

Also up today, Vince takes to the stage for the first time for his annual Q & A session. What other party leader would submit to genuine, unscripted questions from members for an hour in public?

There are keynote speeches from Sal Brinton and Jo Swinson.

As far as accountability is concerned, the Campaign for Gender Balance and the Parliamentary Parties come up for scrutiny.

09.00–10.00 Report: Campaign for Gender Balance
Report: Parliamentary Parties

10.00–11.00 Policy motion: Ending Discrimination in Mental
Health Provision

11.00–12.30 Policy motion: A Fair Deal for Everyone: Prosperity
and Dignity in Migration

12.30–12.50 Speech: Jo Swinson MP

12.50–14.10 Lunch

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That Lib Dem Disco setlist

It’s nearly time for the Lib Dem Disco to get underway.

Lib Dem Voice can reveal the setlists that our intrepid DJs will play. And they are amazing. And conducive to some serious dancing.

And we can also reveal the the compere for the evening will be our editor, Caron Lindsay.

So, without further ado, here we go:

Christine Jardine

 

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Time for hard headed realism on immigration

Liberal Democrats members have attacked the proposed Migration paper A Fair Deal for Everyone for reasons ranging from fairness, to morality, to family, to economics. But for a political party, it has another fatal flaw. Its well-meaning, wishful-thinking naivety is just terrible politics. It’s time to get politically streetwise with a bit of hard-headed realism. Let’s ask the tough questions, get back to evidence-based policy and demand better.

Meaning Well and Wishing Are Not Enough

I’m sure the people who wrote the paper and its defenders mean well. And I can see how they got themselves into this mess. Two of the deepest Lib Dem instincts might be put simply as ‘Stand up to bullies’ and ‘Why can’t everyone get along?’ And most of the time those go hand in hand. But at times like these, when the country’s split, hate’s on the rise and things seem to be going horribly wrong, cracks can appear between the two. The proposed Migration paper feels upset at how nasty things have got – and I feel the hurt of that too – and wishes, really hard, that everyone would be nice to each other again. ‘Why can’t everyone get along?’ And so it compromises: a bit for immigrants; a bit for people who hate them and want them all gone. But in the real world, wishing doesn’t cut it, and there comes a time when you have to choose standing up to bullies instead of hoping they’ll turn nice if you only half-encourage them.
In thirty years of the Liberal Democrats, there can’t have been many more wince-inducing juxtapositions than one month ago. On August 14th, Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable said unequivocally that, hard as it might be, there was no room for racism in the Lib Dems. On August 15th, Lord William Wallace – a peer I have a lot of time for and usually agree with – gave an apologetic defence of the proposed Migration paper by saying that we have to pander a bit to racists otherwise they won’t vote for us (I paraphrase, but not unfairly).
The proposed Migration paper has the point of view that policy and the British polity should be kinder and gentler, wishing that people were nice, assuming everyone means well deep down and really agrees with us, and if they don’t yet then compromises in good faith will help them agree with us, and if nothing else maybe they’d vote for us after we tell them we agree with them, really, just a bit, and please, please, don’t hurt us. I can empathise. The problem is that the evidence supports none of it. I believe the Lib Dems backing these proposals mean well. But I’m realistic enough to know that not everyone else means well, and that wishing won’t make it so. The fight to make Britain better can be won. But it will take a fight, and if Liberals don’t put up a fight, who will? It won’t be won by acting as if we’re non-combatants who won’t take our own side in a quarrel, saying, ‘If you don’t want immigrants then you have a point’.
I don’t want to take this unduly personally, but when the proposed Migration paper puts forward a well-meaning compromise and I realise, ‘I’m the son of an immigrant and had this proposed Lib Dem policy been around when my parents met I’d never have been born’, it loses its appeal. That’s the trouble with compromising between haters and the people they hate; it always makes things worse for the ones who are already getting all the flak, but never goes far enough to satisfy those who want them gone. The proposed Migration paper proposes as a moderate compromise that I shouldn’t exist. What would I have left to give on the next compromise?

Stop wishing. Look at the evidence. Ask the difficult questions.

Look back ten, twenty, thirty years: the attitudes and policies and hostile environment against immigrants that are now ‘mainstream’ were confined to a few vicious hatemongers like the British National Party and then UKIP. How did we get here?
Has compromising bit by bit to defuse racists worked or encouraged them? Has mainstream politicians talking about ‘valid concerns’ increased harmony? Has fanning flames extinguished them? Has encouraging xenophobia quietened it?
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Liberals need to be bold and impatient for reform

This Op-Ed is inspired by an article in the latest Economist, A Manifesto for Renewing Liberalism, which caught my eye because the author and I are in agreement that Liberals must be bold and impatient for reform! The only way they will prevail in society, the writer says, is “if their ideas are unmatched for their ability to spread freedom and prosperity”.  I could not agree more, my thoughts exactly.  Not freedom for some or prosperity for some, but freedom and prosperity for all of society in its diversity.

We as a party, and Liberals at large, have spent a huge amount of our energy in recent years on Identity politics and that was the right thing to do.  As a result, we have seen significant gains in reduction of discrimination on the bases of Gender, Sexuality, and to a lesser extent, Race, Religious identity and Disability.

Without completely abandoning identity politics, in order to regain our rightful place in the centre of politics, we must re-focus and now move with renewed vigour to fight for Universal Freedoms and Rights, including Economic Rights, first at home, but also abroad as we are by our nature internationalist.  It is good that we have been spearheading the fight to remain close to our neighbours with Brexit and must claim the lead as the party for a People’s Vote, a position that Labour and other pretenders are keen to claim.  We must use this to re-launch our universalist agenda on Freedom and Prosperity.

In recent years here at home, Freedom of Speech has increasingly been under threat, and people’s prosperity has been dependent on geography and class.  As the writer in the Economist suggests and I concur: “In all sorts of ways, the liberal meritocracy is closed and self-sustaining”.  This is true in society as well as in our party.  Success at one point brought complacency.

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The paper on migration, even amended, is not good enough

While there will be lots of chat about Vince’s plans for party reforms, the main controversy on the floor of Conference will be the paper on migration which is being debated on Sunday morning.

It’s a measure of just how controversial it is that there are FIVE amendments.

Even if they all pass, there are still so many structural problems with the paper. I wrote about some of the fundamental problems I have with it over at Liberator and my article is reproduced here with their permission.

It won’t cut it at the hairdresser’s

We should reject timid, half-hearted, apologetic immigration paper

I went to the hairdresser recently. And along with some nice caramel and copper highlights, I was served up some casual racism. 

Everyone in there loved Boris’s comments about the burqa and the niqab and laughed along with his deeply offensive metaphors. Just two days after the attack in Westminster I was told that Muslims didn’t really help themselves. I pointed out that men rape and murder women every day of the week, but we never, rightly, say things like “men don’t really help themselves.”

I pointed out how Boris’s comments, playing to the extremist right, were not consequence free. No, it’s not the fact that he’s had a tiny bit of heat from his own party. It’s the fact that every woman of colour, whether she is wearing a hijab or niqab or not, is more likely to be abused on the street as a result. 

I think that me taking on the arguments directly and robustly had an effect. At the very least it made them think. I looked them in the eye and told them they were wrong. In a very dignified and civilised way, but with confidence and assurance. 

This is not something to be timid about. We have to tackle this sort of prejudice wherever we find it. 

That’s why I and others will be doing all we can to ensure that the migration policy paper coming to Conference does not pass. 

The motion is an exercise in embarrassed shuffling and mumbling. Every vaguely decent policy (and there are a few) comes with an plaintive “but it’ll save us lots of money” caveat. 

It does not compare well with the ideals of the Preamble to our Constitution:

Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services.

There are two particular paragraphs, one in the motion and one in the policy paper, that have become the focal points for criticism. 

The first is in the motion. 

Our goal should be a positive, liberal consensus on immigration, partly by rebuilding people’s trust in the system, and that this requires us to listen and engage with those who do link pressures on public services and housing to immigration and to reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist.

We should never pander to those who scapegoat immigrants as the cause of problems because they are wrong. We should unequivocally argue about the benefits of immigration and show that the real failure is of successive governments to adequately invest in said public services.

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Vince invites progressives to join us ahead of Conference

Vince Cable will use his speech at the rally at the opening of Autumn Conference to make an open pitch to progressives to back us as the only movement in UK politics for them.

The intervention follows THAT speech in which he set out his ideas for reforming the party. Apparently, since then over 10,000 people have pre-registered their interest to become a party supporter – an average of over 1000 per day.

Vince said:

I want to make an open pitch to the people of this country who are fed up with the extremes of the current Conservative and Labour parties.

Whether you

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What’s happening at Conference today? The debates and speeches

It’s an intense first day of debate at Conference. Abortion, Windrush, animal welfare and power for people and communities form the policy discussions. The day ends with a debate on reforming the Party’s disciplinary processes. Have sufficient changes been made to satisfy those who referred it back in Southport?

Keynote speakers today are Layla Moran and Tom Brake.

09.00–09.05 Opening of conference

09.05–09.40 Report: Federal Conference Committee
Report: Federal Policy Committee

09.40–10.25  Policy motion: Improving Animal Welfare

10.25–11.15  Policy motion: Righting Wrongs: Restoring the Rights of the Windrush Generation

11.15–12.30 Policy motion: Establishing Real Freedom of …

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Lib Dem Voice at Conference

We’re looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible in Brighton over the next few days.

Tahir, Kirsten, Paul, Mary and I will be there. Tahir and Mary will also  their Federal Conference Committee hats on so will be very busy indeed.

Come and say hello to us if you see us around – and do come to one of the fringe meetings we are holding and sponsoring.

Everybody wins – how feminist and LGBT organisations work together on equality issues

First of all, on Saturday between 1 and 2 pm in the Sandringham Room in the Metropole, we’re trying to inject some kindness and light into the toxic environment facing transgender people at the moment. Every time you open the Times, or the Mail, or, most annoyingly, the Guardian, there’s some article suggesting that women’s spaces are somehow at risk if transgender women are allowed in them. Actually, it’s been the law since 2010 and it’s been fine, but a new government consultation on making the process of getting a new birth certificate easier for trans people has been used as a vehicle for the most appalling scaremongering. In Scotland, feminist and trans equality organisations have worked well together on these issues, and we’ll have representatives from Engender and the Scottish Transgender Alliance along with the wonderful Sarah Brown (fresh from her by-election campaign in Cambridge) and Party President Sal Brinton showing that when women work together, all women prosper.

Fake News

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It’s not enough to open up the party

Millions of people know that Britain is heading down the wrong path. Very few know what they can do about it. The Lib Dems have to become home for the despairing liberal millions. It’s now or never.

What’s so wrong with Britain today? Well, we can’t find room for even 3,000 child refugees for starters. We let freeloading multinationals take us for a ride. We’re not doing enough to stop climate change. Millions of families struggle to afford to eat. The young have to earn twice as much as their parents did to afford a house. Women and minorities earn less than white men for the same work.

Focus on this one for a second: the UK is so transphobic that last year a British trans woman was granted asylum in New Zealand. Seriously.

The list goes on and on – and that’s not even to mention Brexit.

Millions of people in the UK today are horrified about exactly these causes. We all know them: our family, our friends, our colleagues.

Take a second to count them – how many do you know? Ten, twenty, more?

Now ask yourself this: how many of them do you think would do something – as small as to sign a petition perhaps – to help tackle any one of those problems listed above?

Fewer, right? But still a good number. Let’s think of these people as liberal activists in the making.

Final question: how many would want to think of themselves as a card carrying Lib Dem? I’m guessing very few

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Power for people and communities

I am very pleased to be presenting the policy paper Power for People and Communities at Conference, having chaired the group that developed the paper.

The proposals set out a strong agenda for devolution and localism within England. We are arguing for greater financial autonomy for local authorities, STV in local elections, making it easier to establish Town or Community Councils in urban areas, strengthening the powers of local government over issues from education to health to planning, and also reforming the Social Value Act to encourage the use of public or not-for-profit providers when commissioning local services.

Judging by the amendments submitted, a focus of the debate will be on devolution within England. The paper develops and strengthens existing policy on this since the last major policy debate in 2014. We set out a clear ambition to achieve a comprehensive devolved tier within England, while recognising that the appetite for devolution is different in different areas and we need to take people with us.

Our approach is to enact permissive legislation to empower groups of local authorities to come together to establish devolved governance in their areas. We will proceed by consensus as far as possible, but will not allow one local authority to veto a coherent proposal.

The geographical makeup of the devolved authorities should reflect local opinion. The decision should reflect local views, traditional boundaries and community identification as well as economic units, current council boundaries and travel-to-work areas. In some areas this could be city regions, in others sub-regions or a whole region as one unit. 

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LibLink: Stephen Lloyd: Universal Credit was meant to make work pay – it’s causing nothing but grief, pain and anger

Our social security spokesperson Stephen Lloyd has been talking about how badly the Government has cocked up the implementation of Universal Credit for a while. We supported it in coalition but as soon as we were consigned to the back benches, depleted, the Tories ripped loads of money out of it.

He’s now written for the Huffington Post about what a nightmare this new system is.

And a crucial part of this incentive was the Work Allowance. This is the maximum amount a UC claimant can earn through employment, before their benefit payments are reduced. However in the Summer 2015 budget, with the

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The social market – a big Lib Dem idea

What people often struggle with when it comes to Lib Dem economics is not the detail of our specific policies – which voters frequently don’t have the time to dig into, in any case – but our economic vision. Labour has a Big Idea, nationalisation, which dominates its economic agenda. The focus on Corbyn’s renationalisation plans was out of proportion to their potential impact, because it fits with how people see Labour’s economics, putting more of the economy under state control in the hope that permanently benevolent governments will somehow manage to run it all for the public good. The Tories likewise have their Big Idea in privatisation, moving more and more of the economy toward shareholder-driven corporations, deregulation, and the profit motive, in the apparent belief that this will placate the magic efficiency fairies. What’s our Big Idea?

The answer, in my view, is the social market, the core of which is that businesses should be owned and run by and for people across society, as independent bodies working to do good things in their own way. Taken to its conclusions it’s a truly radical vision, requiring the transformation of how we hold and invest capital to make cooperative, mutual, and social businesses the new normal. Even taken over the short course of a parliament, it’s a vision that can provide deliverable goals, improving working conditions and pay as we democratise workplaces and help new social businesses enter the market.

The social market is far from the misconception of Lib Dem economics as blandly toeing the middle line between the two other parties. It’s what happens when we logically put our principles into practice, decentralising economic power directly to people in a way that’s sustainable, democratic, and socially just. So how do we get there?

Firstly, we have to make it clear what we’re leaving behind, and secondly, we have to put policies in place that make it clear that what are now considered ‘alternative’ business styles should be standard norms in a liberal future, and ones that we’re prepared to act to help people build and grow. That’s why at Brighton Conference I’m bringing forward Amendment One to F28, the motion on business policy.

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Scottish Conference passes groundbreaking policy on ME

A year ago, Emma Walker hadn’t got round to joining the Liberal Democrats. She finally took the plunge in November 2017 and since then has made a massive impact. She’s launching a pioneering recruitment campaign (of which more in due course) and at last week’s Scottish Conference, she proposed her motion on ME. ME Action Scotland were there and tweeted about the occasion. They think it might be the first time a political party has adopted a policy on ME in the world.

Emma has sent us her proposing speech, which you can read below:

Imagine if, sitting in your seat here at conference, you suddenly begin to feel ill. Your vision blurs, you head begins to pound, and it feels like you may be having a heart attack. Maybe you collapse or you can’t remember your name. Your body has essentially crashed. Although it may take weeks. months or even years for you to receive a diagnosis, you are now one of the 21,000 people in Scotland living with M.E. For so many this is exactly how it starts. What’s more – there is no test, no cure and no proven effective treatment.

M.E, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, is an invisible illness in many ways. People who have mild to moderate M.E often look well, despite facing crippling symptoms such as bone-aching fatigue, excruciating pain and the inability to tolerate light or noise. 25% of all Scottish patients are severely affected – which means that they are house-bound or bed-bound, which in turn means that they are easy to ignore.

Only an estimated 5% of people with M.E recover fully, and some doctors question if they were misdiagnosed with other fatigue conditions. A slightly higher proportion learn to manage their symptoms and some return to work, but M.E remains in their system.

In Scotland, M.E affects more people than Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis combined. Yet we do not have a single M.E consultant and there is only one clinical nurse specialist, here in Fife. Shockingly, it’s the most common cause of long term school sickness absence.

This illness is a stigmatised one and it is characterised as being the fault of the patient. That they are not trying hard enough to get better, or that their belief that they are ill is the reason why they are ill. Those children who don’t attend school are often marked down as ‘refusing attendance.’ Parents have been taken to court for not sending their kids to school even though they are ill. GPs often send adult patients away telling them that everyone feels tired now and again. In fact ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ is a term that is sometimes used for M.E. But it is so much more than that. We would rightly never limit our definition of dementia to ‘chronic forgetfulness’, so why do we limit M.E patients to one symptom?

Two pieces of research have influenced the field. The first, in 1970, was led by two psychiatrists who after simply reading case notes from an ME epidemic that had occurred in the fifties, concluded that ‘mass hysteria’ was the cause. The reason why they concluded that? “The high rates in females compared to males.”

It’s easy to shrug this off as outdated, misogynistic research but this research delegitimised ME as an illness. It created a hysteria narrative which has paved the way for the ongoing dismissal of patients. In fact throughout the 80’s and 90’s, M.E became known as ‘yuppie flu’ or ‘the lazy disease’.

In 2005 the PACE trial came along. It was another bunch of psychiatrists testing various treatments, mainly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Graded Exercise Therapy. The findings were published in 2011. The data suggested that 64% of patients were improved and 22% were cured by the practices of thinking differently and running around the block. Given that the vast majority of patients regard GET as harmful, doctors and patients with any understanding of M.E immediately disputed the figures, and demanded access to the raw data. It took five years, repeated Freedom of Information requests and a tribunal to eventually access the data.

Independent analysts ruled that the PACE authors’ flawed methodology had been based on their preconceived views that M.E was not a real illness.

13% of the study sample had been recorded as simultaneously sick enough to take part and already recovered! M.E patients who couldn’t walk as far as those with Class 2 heart failure were recorded as being fit enough to return to work.

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Will party reforms really lead to more democracy?

As anyone glancing down the Lib Dem Voice homepage will become rapidly aware, Vince has recently laid out his plans for the future of the Liberal Democrats, and party grandees and official social media accounts are pumping out a slickly coordinated and prepared promotional run of articles and ads. Whether this is remotely appropriate during a consultation on a draft paper, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader – but I wanted in any case to discuss the detail, so let’s cut the rhetoric and talk about the fine print that’s been conspicuously missing from recent articles. Do these proposals actually present a blueprint that will turn the Lib Dems into a much larger “movement for moderates”? And is that what we want to become?

It’s unclear either how the party will validate supporters effectively and efficiently, or how conflicts between member and supporter votes will be balanced if they arise in this two-speed system. The issue of tensions between Federal Policy Committee’s priorities motions and the proposed priority ballots for supporters has likewise been unaddressed, especially if HQ rather than FPC intend to write those ballot papers. A non-MP leader also raises the constitutional problem of how the parliamentary leader is then selected – if members are entirely cut out of selecting our parliamentary leader then we risk a worrying gulf opening between our policy-making members and our policy-delivering MPs. The right to choose our parliamentary leader is not one I think that Lib Dem members will be happy to give up lightly.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 18 Comments
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  • User AvatarOld Liberal 26th Sep - 3:49am
    No Michael1, it really is much more than just a very clear message and massive massive hard work as Kingston shows. It is having a...
  • User AvatarMichael 1 25th Sep - 11:58pm
    @OnceALibDem Um.... I appreciate the point. We did do well in Haringey – up from 9 to 15 - and held our ground in Ealing...
  • User Avatarfrankie 25th Sep - 11:06pm
    They must be improvers Glenn they wish to improve things. Unlike most Brexiteers who wish things to return to a by gone age. One set...
  • User AvatarAlex Macfie 25th Sep - 8:32pm
    Yes, take away the areas we gained and we made no gains at all. Funny that.
  • User AvatarIan 25th Sep - 8:15pm
    Take away Remain-central SW London and South Cambs and we made no gains in the local elections at all. It was right that made the...
  • User AvatarAlex Macfie 25th Sep - 8:14pm
    Michael 1: You write "[Clegg] had a very good 2010 election campaign" I disagree. We should NOT have lost seats to Labour in 2010. Simple...