UK participation in Eurovision 2019 in Israel would condone “outrageous human rights violations”

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I’m just back from Lisbon where I was lucky enough to have a stageside position for the Eurovision Song Contest last Saturday. Apart from a nasty stage invasion during Surie’s performance (with which she dealt brilliantly), the whole thing went without a hitch.

Portugal were Eurovision Song Contest entrants for 53 years before they won it in 2017. As a result, they were desperate to welcome everybody to their country and to put on a fantastic experience. That they did. Apart from anything else, Lisbon must have been the most LGBT+ friendly capital city in the world during the last week or so.

This was a “bucket list” trip for me. A one-off. Any temptation to become an annual Eurovision camp follower was cut short with the prospect of a 2019 contest in Israel.

From a musical point of view, Israel deserved to win last Saturday. The scoring system is, nowadays, fairly balanced between national juries and the vote of viewers throughout the 42 participating countries. So, they won fair and square.

On Sunday I was resolved to resist any 2019 Eurovision trip to Israel. While I might one day tour Palestine, Israel and Jordan as a triplet itinerary, visiting specifically Israel for Eurovision would feel like condoning injustice.

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Vince Cable talks about his mother’s mental illness, his father’s racism and overcoming prejudice in a moving and candid interview

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You probably don’t know that Vince Cable was on Radio 5 Live as the birthday guest on Sunday night because it’s not really been reported anywhere. It’s worth catching up on it though because it’s one of the most open, personal  and moving interviews I’ve heard him give. He’s mentioned the racism he and his first wife Olympia faced as a mixed race couple before but in this

Vince was 75 last week but he said that he was both physically and mentally fit – he was introduced as a dancer and black run skier. His age isn’t an issue, he says. He says he’s well received amongst audiences of young people and derided by older people.

He said there was a period in politics when it was important to be youthful, citing Kennedy, Blair and Cameron but talks about a blend of youthful innovation and experience is necessary.

Growing up in York to ambitious working class parents, he learned about aspiration and ambition. He says he was a bit lonely when his brother arrived at 11. HIs mother suffered post natal depression and spent some time in hospital as a result. He has talked before of the role of adult education in helping her recover from that. His brother was fostered for a while and his father had to look after him.  He said people were quite cruel about it and taunted him about is mother going to the “loony bin.” He says we’ve made some progress with that sort of attitude.

The idea of women working when he was growing up was frowned upon. He sees this as adding to his mother’s loneliness. His father was a very traditional person who had campaigned to stop women teaching and who believed in a hierarchy of races.

He talked of forming a “little liberal cell” in his house with his mum, who defied the instructions to vote Conservative she received from her husband.

It was playing Macbeth in the school play which helped him overcome his awkwardness as a teenager and he spoke of how his involvement in a drama group led to his first relationship – with Lady Macbeth.

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Evening with Vince Cable

Wokingham Borough local party invited Vince Cable to a question and answer session on Saturday 12th May 2018. It was good to see members from Wokingham, Reading, Newbury, Maidenhead, and Bracknell who came to meet and listen to Vince. Councillor Clive Jones asked wide-ranging questions with supplementary questions from the audience.

Some of the main points addressed by Vince were: –

  • Vince mentioned his meeting with the head of National Union of Students (NUS) and how the NUS talked about the neglect of further education (FE);
  • Vince highlighted the importance of vocational education and giving people a second chance;
  • FE education was different to University education as you pay cash up front for FE unlike for university courses when you start to pay after you start earning money. Vince also said that he was looking at how to reform both further education funding and university education funding and he hopes to have a proposal ready for the September conference;
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Fantasy Frontbench – University College London (UCL)

University College London has started a Fantasy Frontbench to debate major current issues. The first in their series was “Should Climate Change be UK’s Top Policy Priority?”. The guest speakers were Natalie Bennett (previous leader of the Green party), Ahir Shah (a comedian), Professor Mark Maslin (Geography professor at UCL) and Dr. Emily Shuckburgh (climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey). About 120 people attended including children from local schools.

Before the discussion started, the audience was asked the question, and the result was 52% for Yes and 48% for No (to which Ahir commented that this was considered an overwhelming majority these days).

Each member of the panel had two minutes to put their case: for or against the motion. Interestingly Natalie started with “Climate change should not be the dominant policy priority but be one in a combination of high priority policies” – after a gasp, the indicator went to 43% for Yes and 57% for No.

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How do benefit sanctions affect mental health?

There are few things more obvious than if you are deprived of the means to feed yourself, it’s going to be stressful and more than likely affect your mental health and not in a good way. This Mental Health Awareness Week, the excellent Scottish Association for Mental Health is collecting evidence to present to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions. 

People on benefits can lose up to all of their personal allowances if they are deemed to have not done enough to find work or have missed an appointment or have been sacked for …

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LibLink: Dorothy Thornhill: Harry Potter and my spell as England’s longest serving woman mayor

This month, Dorothy Thornhill stepped down as Mayor of Watford after 16 years in tole. She was always very popular and left a great legacy for her successor, Peter Taylor.

She wrote for the Guardian this week about her years as Mayor, which included supporting the establishment of the Harry Potter Experience.

She looked at the advantages of towns having a directly elected Mayor:

At one level mayors have no more direct power than council leaders. But they have more soft power. You are the mayor of a place, not just the leader of a council. The mandate from the public gives you

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Vince Cable’s message as Ramadan begins

I was standing at the bus stop yesterday morning in already warm sunshine wondering how on earth I’d cope if I couldn’t have anything to eat or drink before the sun went down which, in Scotland is nigh on ten at night. The answer is not very well.

I have nothing but admiration for my Muslim friends who take part in Ramadan every year. For them it is part of the annual routine and they just get on with it, however challenging that might be in our northern hemisphere long days. It’s important to remember that the majority of a quarter of the world’s population will be taking part in the fast.

I found this article on the Everyday Feminism site, about how to support friends during Ramadan, helpful. A lot of it is about asking people what would work best for them.

Vince Cable has recorded a message of support for all those who are fasting:

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Lib Dems lead in Portsmouth, confidence and supply with Labour in Trafford

Gerald Vernon-Jackson is back in charge of Portsmouth City Council tonight, leading a minority administration. He served in this role from 2004-14 so he certainly knows the ropes. He now leads a minority administration with Labour backing:

From the BBC

“I will work as hard as I can to make sure the city of Portsmouth always comes first,” Mr Vernon-Jackson said.

“We need to be building more council houses and affordable homes for local people… I want to make sure we make the city a better place in terms of transport,” he told the meeting.

He added that for family reasons, his leadership

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Do you want chips on your shoulder with that g…?

So I learned a new word yesterday, which may or may not be a racial slur against angry white men of a certain age who voted for Brexit.

Being a white man myself, approaching a certain age, occasionally angry about bad grammar, Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, Putin, the senseless loss of life in the middle east… – I felt I ought to know whether it is a racial slur or not. It doesn’t matter if I’m angry about different things – I needed to know whether to be offended. So I asked the source of my discovery: Twitter.

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On the effects of social media on young people

Moral hazard or moral panic? Is social media warping the fragile minds of our children or is it the end of the atomised individual and the rediscovery of community? Is it a bit of both, and what might be done to improve the mix?

Baroness Floella Benjamin writes of her work on these questions through the APPG on a fit and health childhood, and Norman Lamb MP explains how the Science and Technology select committee is also looking at this.

This interest is perhaps to be feared and welcomed in equal measure. Feared, because the knee jerk response to moral …

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Improving consumer knowledge in the energy industry

As a liberal, I am not in the business of banning many things. I subscribe to the idea that knowledge is power, and that by providing consumers with more information, positive outcomes can be achieved. For a market to be competitive, consumers must have information, and we know that competitive markets improve outcomes across the board.

In the food industry this has already happened. If you look on a packet of crisps, it will show you how many calories there are, how much salt as well as a whole host of other nutritional information. According to this report, the US is going to start labelling GMO foods with a smiley face. 

Because of this, consumers are able to make choices and we are seeing a downward trend in calorie consumption. However, we don’t do this in a lot of other markets, including the energy industry.

With the energy industry, it is difficult for consumers to get information about the product that they are buying. Consumers are using comparison sites, which help to an extent, but unless each utility company is researched, it is tricky.

This is where policy makers can come in, and it could act as a nudge mechanism for consumers.

YouGov surveyed 2,000 UK consumers and found that consumers would pay on average up to 10 per cent more for a sustainable product. The same report, which can be found here, found that 40 per cent of consumers already consider the sustainability of the product when they buy.

This is where we can reform the energy industry. Not with price caps like Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have put forward, which would only serve to reduce the supply from smaller energy providers. 

Instead, we could compel energy providers to produce some sort of guidance for the consumer regarding the sustainability of the product. Which countries are the main producers of the energy? Is it sustainable? What method of extraction was used to get the energy? That type of thing. 

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Data Spring Clean

With summer and GDPR just around the corner, now is the ideal time to tackle that old cobweb covered data.

So in the spirit of mucking in together we’d love the whole party to join in with a Data Spring Clean on Sunday 20th May 2018 . You don’t need bleach, a feather duster or polish. All you need is your computer, any data which is no longer of any use and possibly a shredder.

Before beginning check the Data Retention Rules available on the website.

Any data which does not meet these rules, is no longer within our scope to keep …

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Liberal Democrats must think big and long to thrive. Craving exit from Brexit does neither.

The Liberal Democrats are not in a good place. They haven’t been for some time, but there’s now a risk that recovery will never come. Since 2015, the party has failed to rebuild support. Tim Farron talked of a “Lib Dem Fightback” which proved to be anything but, now Vince Cable is declaring the Lib Dems a “well-kept secret” – not much of a boast.

The rise in membership has been a success story and the party had a very decent showing in May’s local elections. Yet the big picture is one of a rot left untreated. The local …

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Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #516

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 516th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (6-12 May, 2018), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

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The Lib Dem Press Office celebrates Eurovision

It’s become something of a tradition for the Lib Dem Press Office to offer a bit of a random and amusing commentary as Eurovision unfolds.

Here are some of the highlights:

One country making Brexiteer level of promise:

The thing is that unless you are watching this live, it’s not always clear what they are talking about. Anyone want to hazard any guesses …

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Labour discord over Lewisham East selection as Lib Dem Lucy Salek starts work

Lucy Salek is getting on with her campaign for Lewisham East after being selected by local Lib Dem members last night, just 3 days after the by-election was called.

Labour’s defence of the seat has not got off to the most harmonious start as there has been a row over …

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WATCH: Dorothy Thornhill on her 16 years as Mayor of Watford

One of this party’s finest female role models has just stepped down from her public role after 16 years of service in Watford.

Watch Dorothy Thornhill talk about her time as Mayor in this interview.

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Lewisham East candidate announced

The Liberal Democrat candidate for the upcoming Lewisham East by-election is Lucy Salek.

Lucy is currently the director and founder of an organisation supporting the global aid and development sector as well as Chair of the charity Action for Refugees in Lewisham. She has worked in the humanitarian aid sector for over a decade, working in a variety of roles, including as a volunteer overseas. Prior to this, she worked for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Parliament.

Lucy said:

I am really honoured to be able to represent the area in which I grew up and now live. Now, more than ever,

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WATCH: Christine Jardine’s speech supporting Leveson 2

Sadly, MPs narrowly rejected the chance to hold the media to account by completing the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry. Christine Jardine made a very powerful speech supporting the amendment for which she was attacked in The Sun, something we’re sure she’ll wear as a badge of honour. As a former journalist, she obviously enthusiastically supports a free press.

There is quite an amusing moment where she praises Ed Miliband and the camera cuts to him.

The text of the speech is below.

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Stephen Lloyd calls for action to help victims of domestic violence through Universal Credit

I’m really glad to see that Stephen Lloyd has written to Esther McVey to ask for action to reform Universal Credit to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to their own money.

The Scottish Party’s landmark Social Security Bill allows for the default splitting of payments between members in a household, but ideally we need to find a solution for the whole UK.

At the moment, the benefit is paid to one person, usually the man.

If domestic abuse is going on in a relationship, there is likely to be financial abuse too so it’s important to ensure that each …

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LibLink: Alex Cole-Hamilton: No such thing as a right to sex

Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has written a powerful column in the Edinburgh Evening News in which he takes apart the awful “Incel” movement’s bizarre and misogynist arguments.

He lays bare some of the stuff these people believe.

A warped political ideology has germinated in the dark chatrooms of this scene. There are lengthy and rambling discourses which amount to a deranged manifesto, preaching the need for a “global redistribution of sex”. This involves a sexual caste system where women will be forced to have sex with incel men as a punishment for being promiscuous or if they use too much make-up.

There’s no such thing as a right to sex, he points out:

Because there’s a fundamental difference between needs and wants. You need shelter, clean drinking water and access to healthcare, these are your rights. You may want sex, but no human rights lawyer is going to take the fact you aren’t getting any to Strasbourg.

Put simply, if something you want requires the enthusiastic consent of another, then you don’t have a right to it

And education about this is vital:

Whether we’re considering rape or harassment, we need to change our culture and that starts with how we raise our young people. We need to equip our children with an understanding of what an appropriate, respectful relationship looks like. Teaching young people about birth control and STDs is second nature nowadays, but when, as parents or teachers, we awkwardly ask them to carry a condom, we need to have the confidence to, in the same breath, make it clear that obtaining enthusiastic consent is just as, if not more, important.

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Lady Shirley Hooson: An obituary

Credit: Powys County Times

Montgomeryshire and the Welsh Liberal tradition will not see her like again

‘The end of an era’ is without doubt an over-used phrase when assessing much loved and respected figures who have died, but when Jane Dodds and I took our places in the China Street Welsh Presbyterian Chapel last Saturday, 5th May to celebrate the life of Shirley Hoosen (nee Hamer), that is precisely what we were witnessing.

Lady Shirley Hooson was the widow of the late Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire, Lord Emlyn Hooson, who served the county for 17 years between 1962 and 1979.

She dedicated most of her adult life to the service of her native Llanidloes, serving as a member of the Llanidloes Town Council for more than four decades, from 1974 to 2017, including a term as mayor. She stood down from the council just a few weeks after her 90th birthday, becoming an Honorary Alderman of the town, in recognition of her long and loyal service in June 2017.

Lady Shirley was also a longstanding member of Montgomeryshire District Council for Llanidloes from its inception in 1973 until its absorption into the Powys Unitary Authority in 1996, serving as Vice Chair of the Council. The demise of Montgomeryshire District Council was a matter of bitter regret to her, only surpassed by the threat of abolishing the historic parliamentary seat of Montgomeryshire, currently being promoted by the Boundary Commission.

Glyn Davies, Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire since 2010, was amongst those to pay tribute to Lady Hooson:

Lady Hooson and her great late husband, Emlyn, were wonderful people who gave much of their lives to Llanidloes and Montgomeryshire…She was a key support to him throughout his hugely successful political career. Over the last three years, after she had lost the ability to speak, I valued meeting her more than ever. We simply did not need words to communicate. Llanidloes and Montgomeryshire has lost one of its greatest ever champions.

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A mistake from the Coalition years that we must never repeat

I still think that we did the right thing to go into Government. We did a lot of good on mental health, the environment and education and we stopped the Tories from doing a whole load of nasty stuff that they proceeded to do the minute we were out the door.

However, we made some howlers of mistakes. It would be very strange if we didn’t. Some of them were completely avoidable. And one in particular, I can’t just let pass.

Recently, Polly Mackenzie, then a Special Adviser to Nick Clegg, was celebrating the Lib Dem plastic bag tax.

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Observations of an ex pat: Iranian ripples

Donald Trump has dropped a massive boulder in the world’s diplomatic pond. Its ripples will be felt in every corner of the globe and in some cases the ripples could quickly grow  to tsunami proportions.

Let’s start with the epicentre– the Middle East. The region is already peppered with smouldering short fuses: The Arab-Israeli conflict; Syrian civil war; Yemeni civil war; Turks v. Kurd; Qataris v Saudis and Emirates; Saudis v. Iran; The Russian presence; threatened American withdrawal; Hezbollah… .

The Iran Nuclear Accord (aka Joint Consultative Plan of Action) was one of the region’s few diplomatic success stories—albeit a limited one.

Since President Trump announced American withdrawal from the Accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has announced that his country will resume work on building a nuclear weapon.

In return, Israel has bombed an Iranian base outside Damascus; announced the preparation of bomb shelters; called up reservists for air defence, intelligence and home front command units and deployed missile defence batteries in Northern Israel.

Iran’s Army Chief of Staff, Major General Mohamed Bagheri, warned: “If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts even a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time.”

Back in Washington they are celebrating. Not the problems in the Middle East, but the release of three American citizens from North Korean prison.  President Trump hailed the release as a diplomatic triumph for his administration and the best of auguries for his forthcoming summit with Pyongyang’s Kim Jong-un.

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Fancy being in charge of the party’s finances?

Peter Dunphy, the Chair of the Party’s Federal Finance and Resources Committee, is stepping down after four and a half years in the role.

He’s been an incredibly wise pair of hands, steering the party through some pretty torrid times. The change from being a party of Government with nearly sixty MPs to a party with just eight required careful handling. We’ll miss him in the role. On stepping down, he said:

In case some of you don’t already know I will be standing down as Chair of FFRC and therefore Registered Party Treasurer on 1st July.

I originally notified Party Officers including

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Tim Farron withdraws from event after seeing promotional material which attacks the “gay lobby” and talks about problems with Islam and immigration

Tim Farron has withdrawn from an event he was speaking at on Saturday after someone posted promotional material for it on Twitter.

The blurb for the “Men Standing Alone” event to be held in Manchester says as follows:

The leadership from those in authority in the denominations who should be the guardians of biblical truth has been muted to say the least and even in Bible teaching churches many appear to be wavering under the onslaught of the gay lobby. Add to this scenario the increasing problems associated with immigration, and Islam in particular and indeed many other things which push Christians further and further to the margins, there is for many a feeling of despair and even fear about standing up and speaking out.

In a tweet, Tim said that he had only just been made aware of this aspect of the event:

Tim has form for not doing due diligence on stuff. In 2012, he apologised for signing a letter to the Advertising Standards Association criticising them for banning ads which talked about the healing power of prayer. He wrote an article for this site at this time explaining his position.

I completely understand why some of you are concerned. It’s not a well-worded letter – the reference to the ASA providing indisputable evidence is silly, and the implication that people should seek faith healing at the expense of medical intervention is something that I just don’t believe in. For what it’s worth, I also think that the Fabrice Muamba reference is crass. So on all those fronts, I should just say sorry and not bother defending myself. I shouldn’t have signed that letter as it was written, so I apologise for putting some of you in quite a difficult position.

It is to be hoped that in the future he will be very carefully scrutinising such invitations. Thankfully Twitter has saved him from turning up at an event which is so obviously in conflict with liberal values. That would have been personally embarrassing from him and damaging for the party.

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A 21st-Century Liberal Approach to Education

Education has always been of special importance for liberals and Liberal Democrats throughout the ages. It has been one of the best vehicles for enabling individuals to obtain their full potential, develop their talents and make the most of the opportunities that they are presented with. It is with this in mind that Helen Flynn and John Howson’s chapter is so warmly received in the latest publication from the Social Liberal Forum, ‘Four Go In Search of Big Ideas’.

Flynn and Howson rightly place great emphasis on the need to improve early years education. They call for a highly funded early years sector that is equipped with the staff necessary to develop the learning of schoolchildren and identify any potential barriers that they may face in future learning. These teachers would need to be well educated and properly trained. The authors identify that educational inequalities emerge even before children start their formal education at the age of five. The socio-economic inequalities faced by children from the poorest backgrounds need to be tackled with extra funding from the very beginning.

Flynn and Howson propose a professional College of Teaching that would be a watchdog for professional standards in education in a similar way that the British Medical Association is in regard to the NHS. This is very much needed if the public is to continue to have faith in the professionalism and high standards of the UK’s education sector. In a similar vein, Flynn and Howson also suggest having Chief Education Officer in government who would help to guarantee best practice and develop evidence-based policy.

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The Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Annual Report

The Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Annual Report was published recently by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership. In it are harrowing statistics of people with learning disabilities dying far too young.

The report highlights the extraordinarily high incidences of preventable death. The Connor Sparrowhawk case has brought this to public attention recently: a young man with learning difficulties left in a bath unattended, he drowned whilst having an epileptic fit.

Between July 2016 and November 2017, 1311 deaths were put forward for review, often by a Learning Disability Nurse. Of those, 27% …

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Radical Ideas for the Future

At the moment, virtually all of our policies – save for our stance on the EU – amount to tinkering at the edges of a flawed, if not broken, political system. This is a result of the fact that there is generally a fair amount of consensus within mainstream politics on a number of key issues.

All parties agree that we need to build more housing, that we need more funding of schools, the NHS and the police, and that we need to protect the environment. The major policy debates at the moment concern immigration, nationalisation of public infrastructure, the EU, education and public sector borrowing – most of which are couched in simple binary yes/no terms, depending on whether you support Labour or the Tories.

Rather than trying to join in the political consensus or meet Labour and the Tories halfway (e.g. see our current policy on housing), I genuinely believe that we have an opportunity to pursue an alternative set of policies that will mark us out as distinct.

Along with electoral reform and being pro-European, six policy ideas from various places within the liberal political tradition, come to mind:

1. A national housebuilding company

A national construction company set up to build houses, with the government taking a majority stake and offering financial guarantees. Instead of just pledging a high-sounding number of homes to be built each year and leaving it to the private sector, a government-backed company would have the opportunity to take responsibility for recruiting and training construction workers (with a focus on British workers), building homes and maintaining homes – with profits going back to the Treasury.

Combined with relaxing the rules preventing local authorities from borrowing to fund social housing, a national housebuilding company would be an exciting yet pragmatic way of building homes while balancing the risk and reward of construction projects.

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Children’s mental health – the Government is not getting it right

I’m following up my post from February on children’s mental health and the Government’s Green Paper on the issue.  Yesterday, the Education Committee and Health & Social Care Committee issued a joint statement saying that

The Government’s proposed Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it.

Having three teenage girls, this rams home. The girls tell me of the myriad of mental health issues going on around them – peers self-harming; experiencing psychosis; anorexia; depression; anxiety; the list goes on. This is their world, it is our world, and we are failing our young people.

The Government is rolling out Trailblazer pilot schemes, but it is too little and not being done quickly enough. Hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on the help they need now. I recently spoke with someone who works in CAMHS and she lamented the lack of provision locally for the girls she was working with. Staff know the pressures, parents are living with the pressures, young people are suffering needlessly.

The need for more resource in schools to support young people was highlighted, with the report saying existing CAMHS staff could not do any more than they are already doing. People are stretched to capacity.

Participants in the workshops highlighted exam pressure as being a major cause of mental ill-health. The report suggests the Government needs to commission a study on the effect of our exam-based system on mental health.

Young people excluded from school are far more prone to mental ill-health, but the Green Paper does not address this issue. How can we better meet the needs of these young people?

A major worry for many parents is the transition from children’s to adult mental health services. It is not happening. Young people are falling through the gaps and not receiving the services they need as they enter adulthood. Currently, young people transition at 18, but the report suggests that 25 would be a more appropriate age. What is scary is that seemingly a third of young people drop out of mental health care when they turn 18 and don’t make the transfer to adult services.

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