Campaigning on Europe – members’ views

Please note that the title of this piece has been amended to reflect the content of the article.

You may remember, last November, taking part in a survey on members’ views on Brexit and the party’s campaigning on the future of UK–EU relations. Thanks to everyone who participated – 6,500 members, more than any previous survey of this type – and thanks to Greg Foster and Dan Schmeising at party HQ who organised it on behalf of the Federal Policy Committee. This article gives you the results.

The first question asked how you voted in the 2016 referendum. Completely unsurprisingly, over 91 per cent voted to Remain. Most of the rest couldn’t vote (for example because they were too young); just 2.5 per cent voted to Leave. No less than 95 per cent would describe themselves now as Remainers (more than four-fifths of whom chose the option ‘Yes, I am a Remainer and I am proud of it’) and just 1.3 per cent described themselves as Leavers (a third of whom – 25 people – were proud of it).

In response to the question, ‘Do you think people in your life who aren’t Liberal Democrats associate the current problems the country is experiencing – shortages of truck drivers, farmworkers, care workers and goods in shops – with Brexit?’, on a 0–6 scale, the average answer was 3.7: in other words, they do, but not all that strongly. Of course, the pandemic and the government’s feeble response have complicated the picture substantially, but this will change over time, as the impacts of Brexit become ever clearer. Indeed, if we’d asked the question now rather than two months ago, I suspect the response would have been stronger.

We next asked which EU-related policy areas the party ought to treat as a priority, given that the impact of Brexit is being felt across so many; people could choose three out of a list of fourteen. Trade came top, listed by more than half of respondents. The others, in order, were: climate change and energy; freedom of movement and immigration; rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU; standards for environment and labour issues; scientific collaboration; cultural, artistic and educational links; environment and biodiversity; defence and security; health policy; justice and police cooperation; foreign policy (countries outside the EU); international development; and crime.

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Where were the police?

Much has already been written about the revelations – which seem to increase on a daily basis – of illegal gatherings at No 10, but little has been said about the role of the police during those times.

It seems the Met Police have fined over 17,700 people for breaching Covid laws over the last two years, including some for holding gatherings of over 30 people.

So where were they on 20th May 2020? – and on 15th May 2020, 13th November 2020, 27th November 2020, 10th December 2020, 15th December 2020 (according to this timeline)?

The police were, of course, actually on the spot. No 10, naturally, has a high level of security, with uniformed and plain clothed officers present at all times. Did they warn the staff about breaches? And when the offences were repeated why did they not issue fines?

Boris Johnson has now admitted that he attended the event on 20th May – and there are clear photos of his attendance on 15th May.  At the very least the Met Police should investigate. And it should also be taken to task for not investigating at the time.

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The damage caused by this Government now includes psychological harm – we need them gone

This morning I was looking on Twitter at the heartbreaking messages from people who had not been able to see their loved ones before they died in May 2020 due to the Covid rules in force at the time, or to attend family funerals or visit relatives in care homes. These are deeply hurtful and scarring experiences.

I also thought to myself, how do most people feel about being told in the Spring of 2020 that they could, legally, only meet up with one person outdoors, now they know that there were parties with 30 or more people held in Downing Street at the very same time? Or about members of the public being fined by the police for breaking the same rules the Prime Minister introduced – yet broke – himself whilst, of course, concealing the truth from everyone?

I turned to thinking about Brexit and the damage and uncertainty caused to multiple interests, especially famers and fishing communities, but also to students and people who used to move regularly between the UK and the EU. This article is not about comparing the tragedies of Covid and Brexit, as Covid is infinitely worse due to the enormity of the loss of life and the associated heartache, but it is about the same way the Conservative Government has handled these two major catastrophes and continues to do so – and the kind of damage their duplicity has surely done to many people’s mental health.

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Ed Davey: Boris Johnson must resign

Ed Davey has said that Boris Johnson must resign over the Downing Street parties. He said:

“Boris Johnson has broken the law and lied to Parliament and the country, and he must now go.
“Millions of people obeyed the lockdown rules, often at huge personal cost. They missed funerals, cancelled weddings and said goodbye to dying loved ones on video calls – some on the very day that Number Ten illegally hosted a garden party.
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Why we’re so livid about the Downing Street parties

I’ve not had a huge amount of sleep. I went to bed too late and woke up too early.

Why? I’m livid. And, like many millions of people, emotions that I’ve been struggling with but keeping below the surface, are breaking through.

We’ve been going through hell, and the more we hear about the culture in Government that made them think that it was fine to sit outside in the sunshine and party when millions couldn’t comfort their dying or bereaved relatives, or had to endure intolerable suffering alone, the more we relive our experiences.

If you watched the BBC News last night, you’ll have seen a woman called Lisa recount how she had to watch her brother take his last breath on an iPad at around the same time the May 2020 BYOB party was going on in the Downing Street Garden. She is a friend of mine. So is her sister Jenni, who spoke to the Daily Record:

Jenni said: “They were telling us to stick to the rules but they thought it was OK to have a party.

“We couldn’t comfort one another but they’re having cheese and wine in the garden. They’re laughing at us and think this is OK?”

“We feel traumatised by what has happened, almost like we have PTSD because of our experience and then all these revelations come out that Boris and his staff are telling us to do one thing while they do another.

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Let’s focus on taking on the Tories in Sutton & Cheam

Last week, I had the honour of being selected by party members to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton and Cheam at the next general election, following a closely fought selection campaign.

Having previously worked as a BBC journalist for 30 years, I have now left this role to focus all my efforts on regaining this seat – which was stalwartly held for us by Paul Burstow until 2015. A win here would be a huge blow for the Conservatives and unseat Paul Scully, a senior Conservative minister who is part of this uncaring government that is taking local people for granted.

Since my selection was announced there has been some scrutiny about myself and my past. This is something I expected and indeed welcomed during the selection process, as it allowed me to explain my views and where I stand. However, more recently there have also been some unfounded claims about me by our political opponents on social media. I want to use this piece to reassure anyone who is worried and remind party members that I am always available to meet them to address any concerns.

Perhaps one issue is that having been a BBC journalist for the past thirty years, I have not been allowed to express political views in public, or on social media. So l’d like to set the record straight and address some of the issues raised. First, let me start with my history with the Liberal Democrats.

I started canvassing for the party as a student in 1982 and was first elected as an SDP-Liberal councillor in 1986 at the age of 22, winning my seat from the Tories with the biggest electoral swing that night anywhere in the country. I worked for the party in Parliament – helping Paddy Ashdown among others – and I am now the Vice Chair of Kingston Borough Liberal Democrats. I was the party’s candidate in Spelthorne in the 2019 general election and was shortlisted for several other target seats.

I have always worked for an inclusive society, supporting people regardless of sex, race, or sexual orientation. As NUJ chair at the BBC I led over a 1,000 journalists in our fight to improve racial diversity as well as equal pay for women. Here I worked closely with the first women news presenters to be successful in their fight against discrimination. And I went on to win more such claims.

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Mark Pack’s January report – the plan to build on our success in 2022

In 2021 we achieved something we’ve not achieved since 1993: winning two Parliamentary by-elections in the same year off the Conservatives. We start this new year with a larger Parliamentary Party than any of us would have dared dream of a year ago. (A winning run that has continued with the first council by-election of this year too – congratulations to now councillor Andrew Dunkin who won a seat from Labour from third place.)

The question now is how do we build on that success in 2022, and how do we make the most of our limited resources? Here’s the plan.

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Liberal Democrats must speak out for jury trials

When anyone attacks the jury system, Liberal Democrats should be vocal and prominent in defending it.

Just a few days into 2022 we saw, after the acquittal of the Colston 4, a sustained attack from Conservative voices. Their target was not just the verdict but on the jury system generally.
Juries are a precious safeguard of freedom. Our party has said so many times in our policy papers. The fight to establish juries as the fundamental deciders of whether a defendant is guilty or not was hard won. It was a struggle over centuries. It is a story entwined with the anti-establishment roots of the Liberal Democrats.

Last week’s mudslinging at the “the lamp by which liberty shines” (as Lord Bridge once called juries) is not the first bout of Tory anti-juryism. But it is particularly disquieting, albeit foreseeable, to hear it from buddies of the present government. The words of Conservative journalists and backbenchers are often used to scout positions and for ministers to stoop down to later.

Tory ministers have a record of trying to upend constitutional safeguards for partisan interest. Attempting to prorogue parliament to prevent votes on Brexit in Autumn 2019 was perhaps the worst example. The astonishing, repeated coincidences of donations with honours or policy outcomes is another. It is easy to imagine that this dangerous government might seek to interfere with the jury system.

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Email on Number 10 drinks party “adding insult to injury” – Ed Davey

Responding to reports by ITV News that Downing Street staff were invited to a drinks party in the Number 10 garden during the national lockdown on May 20 2020, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

This is yet more evidence that while the vast majority of people were sticking to the rules, those in Number Ten were breaking them.

It is a kick in the teeth for everyone who has sacrificed so much during the pandemic, from those who weren’t able to visit loved ones in hospital to nurses left wearing binbags as PPE.

To add insult to injury, on

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Dentist staffing crisis as almost 1,000 walk away

Data acquired by the Liberal Democrats has revealed a growing dentist staffing crisis as almost 1,000 practitioners have walked away from the profession in the past twelve months.

Official figures show there were 23,733 dental practitioners in 2021 – 951 fewer than the previous year, leaving more patients struggling to get the dental care they need.

The information, first covered in the Express, was published in response to a Parliamentary Question by Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey, who is calling for urgent action to ensure people can get the treatment they need.

Commenting, Ed Davey MP said:

The lack of NHS dentists across the

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Welcome to my day: 10 January 2022 – tax doesn’t need to be taxing…

Good morning, everyone, and welcome!

Your day editor is a slightly wounded one today, as my right shoulder doesn’t appear to have taken kindly to being fallen on three weeks ago. A sign of increasing old age, I fear. But the show must go on, and so it will…

As the Government finds itself in a “cost of living” crisis, a series of decisions already made look like making matters worse. Freezing the personal allowance and tax rate thresholds will bring more people into the income tax bracket, and more into the higher rate bracket too, as noted previously.

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week ? 10-14 January 2022

All three Parliaments are now fully back in session this week. Lib Dem highlights include Rupert Redesdale’s Lords debate on farming on Tuesday and it’s a busy week for Wendy Chamberlain who has an adjournment debate on Long Covid on Wednesday, a Westminster Hall debate on global vacccine access on Thursday and a Private Members’ Bill on Friday. Tim Farron also has a debate.

So what’s happening?

Westminster

Monday has Defence questions, the remaining stages of the Nuclear Energy Finance Bill which basically gives the Government the right to finance new nuclear power stations. You can find out more in the Commons Library briefing.

There’s also a couple of nasty finance measures such as the approval of the welfare cap, which is exactly what millions of vulnerable people do not need.

The Lords look at the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

On Tuesday, it’s Business questions and a yet to be defined Opposition Day Debate for MPs

In the Lords, there is an interesting question from the Bishop of Durham on social security support for larger families. A good chance to highlight the appalling two child limit for state benefits.

Then there is a chance for the Lib Dem peers to get stuck in to the Health and Care Bill as it starts its line by line scrutiny before Rupert Redesdala has a debate on the support needed by the  farming industry to combat increased costs and competition.

On Wednesday, the drama of PMQs gives way to a bill which sets out an arbitration process on rent arrears for commercial properties which have accrued during the pandemic. The Commons Library briefing is here.

Then Wendy Chamberlain has an adjournment debate on Long Covid.

The Lords deals with the final stage of the appalling Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill.  You can read Brian Paddick’s unequivocal denunciation of it as the most illiberal and authoritarian Bill he has ever seen here.

There’s more on the National Insurance Contributions Bill later.

Thursday sees Cabinet Office questions in the Commons followed by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s weekly business statement, the Government’s response to the Transport Committee report on smart motorways which says they should be paused for 5 years and backbench business on education catch up and the Online Safety Bill.

In the Lords, Paul Scriven has a question on the impact of people waiting to be seen in ambulance queues, and there’s more Health and Care Bill.

It’s a sitting Friday in the Commons and both Wendy Chamberlain and Tim Farron have Bills, Wendy’s on requiring the Government to ensure public bodies have representatives from devolved nations and Tim’s to ensure proper scrutiny of the welfare and environmental effects of trade deals on farming. Both of these are so far down the list that it is unlikely that they will even be covered and will be deferred to another date.

You can get into the full parliamentary calendar from here.

Holyrood

On Tuesday MSPs will hear Nicola Sturgeon’s latest Covid-19 update before
debating the impact of labour shortages on Scotland’s economy, a legislative consent motion to the recent Westminster Animal Welfare Bill and a private member’s debate on Endemetriosis

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Jane Dodds: Welsh Farmers feel sold down the river by the Conservatives

Jane Dodds has said that the Welsh Council elections in May offer an opportunity for voters who feel let down by the Conservatives to send them a message by electing hard-working Liberal Democrats, just like they did in North Shropshire.

Writing in the County Times, she highlighted the failure of the Conservative Government to meet the needs of farmers and highlights growing support for the Liberal Democrats.

Time and time again on the doorstep we heard the sheer anger of voters, many of whom had voted Conservative for decades, that the Government simply doesn’t care about rural areas.

In contrast to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ mantra, many of these communities feel they are being levelled down.

This feeling was particularly strong among North Shropshire’s farming community and their concerns echo that I’ve heard across Powys.

Whether it’s on their failure to engage with the industry over concerns over the Australian and New Zealand trade deals, a failure to solve problems on the UK-EU veterinary agreement or a failure to help address labour shortages, the Conservatives are repeatedly failing to address the problems faced by our farmers.

Many feel as if they have been sold down the river for quick trade deals designed to benefit big bankers in the City with little regard for rural communities.

In contrast, the Liberal Democrats have a lot to offer the rural communities they have always understood and served:

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Daisy Cooper: Government must keep free lateral flow tests as long as they ask people to self isolate

They say that you shouldn’t believe anything until it has been officially denied. Education Secretary Nadim Zahawi has been doing the Sunday media telling us all that the Government “absolutely” has no plans to stop sending out free lateral flow tests to people. This is news to our health spokesperson Daisy Cooper who says that Ministers have already said to her that they would.

In Scotland, we are asked to test before we meet anyone, so my family of three is currently going through a box of seven tests every week. Everyone should be testing a couple of times a week as a matter of course.

My Facebook timeline has been full of friends posting pictures of their positive lateral flow tests for weeks and only discovered through testing that they had the virus and needed to stay away from others. If they had not tested, they may have gone home and visited Granny at Christmas time and spread the virus to her and other vulnerable members of their families.

Many others have been feeling pretty awful with what is supposedly a “mild” version of the virus, a reminder of how unpleasant t can be. And while hospitalisations and deaths are not, thankfully, rising in proportion with the huge rise in cases, the longer term damage from things like Long Covid is as yet unknown.

Zahawi’s denial certainly doesn’t convince me. We know already that there are tensions in the Government between those who want us all to get on with it and live with Covid with no government support and intervention and those who want us to get on with it and live with Covid with minimal support and intervention.

On the immediate issue of free lateral flow tests, Daisy said that the Government must not plunge us into a “cost of living with Covid” crisis and that the tests should remain free as long as people were being asked to self isolate:

It seems this Government is happy to hand out billions in crooked Covid contracts to their chums, but intends to scrap free covid tests plunging millions into a cost of living with Covid crisis.

Scrapping free tests when cases are at record levels would be hugely counter-productive and would hit those who can least afford it hardest, at a time when families are already being clobbered by rising taxes and energy bills.

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WATCH: Daisy Cooper call for greater help for “innocent leaseholders caught in living nightmare”

Daisy Cooper has devoted a huge amount of time to pushing the Government to doing more to help leaseholders who have been caught in an impossible situation since the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people. They face massive bills for additional fire safety measures, including insulation, firebreaks, balcony safety as well as cladding and the Government is doing precious little to support them.

Yesterday she spoke to Sky News about this after a leaked letter from Michael Gove suggested that the Government might introduce a limited grant scheme for cladding replacement. She made clear that this was inadequate.

She is also quoted in an Evening Standard article on the subject.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Capitol anniversary, Kazakhstan, Turkey, EU/China

Capital Hill one year on

In his inaugural address President Joe Biden said he wanted to be a unifying figure. For the past year he has sought to do that by largely refraining from attacking Donald Trump and his “election lie” and by staying aloof from the congressional inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots. This week he climbed off the fence and took off the gloves with this speech in the Rotunda at Capitol Hill. He accused his predecessor of “spreading a web of lies” that led to the 6 January assault. He lamented that the “threats to the constitution have not abated” since he took office and attacked Trump for caring more about his “bruised ego than the democracy or our constitution.” If Biden’s intention is to unite, his speech may have been a mistake. Staunch Republicans have denounced it and even the centre-right Wall Street Journal labelled it divisive.” Biden’s address coincides with the launch of a book entitled “How Civil Wars Start.” The author, American academic Barbara Walter, has spent years, studying civil wars around the world and has sadly concluded that America may be going down the same path as Egypt, Syria and the former Yugoslavia. Ms Walter says one of the main causes of civil war is politicians exploiting ethnic divisions for political gain. She points out that Republicans are appealing to Whites and Democrats to a coalition of ethnic minorities and the country could—based on the experience of other countries—she says that the US may be heading inexorably towards violent conflict. Can it be averted? Biden’s speech may have been divisive but could he afford to continue to ignore Trump’s outrageous claims on the anniversary of the Capitol Hill riots?  The situation has certainly not been helped by Trump’s rambling over the top response to the Biden speech.  Americans should dispense with the phrase “it can’t happen here” and start seriously thinking about how to stop a civil war happening.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is currently discovering the cost of keeping the lid on dissent. Since independence from Moscow in December 1991 the government has blocked access to the internet, kept a tight rein on the traditional media, controlled the courts and organised elections which resulted with the government regularly winning 100 percent of the vote. After 25 years in office Nursultan Nazarbayev handpicked his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019 but retained power behind the scenes as chairman of the country’s Security Council. Since independence the country has enjoyed major economic growth as it exploited its vast oil, gas, goal and mineral resources. But the cash has not filtered down to the country’s 18 million people who inhabit a country the size of all pof Western Europe. Their average income is only $3,000 a year. The man and woman in the street, however, did enjoy a few perks such as a cap on the price of liquefied petroleum which is used to run most of the country’s vehicles. It was the lifting of that cap which provided the spark that blew the lid off the Kazakhstan pressure cooker this week. So far it has been reported that 26 protesters (President Tokayev labelled them “terrorists” and “bandits”) have been killed. More than a thousand have been injured and 400 hospitalised. Tokayev has ordered troops to shoot to kill future protesters. He has also called on his friend Vladimir Putin for 2,000 “peacekeeping” troops under their collective security treaty. Russia has a major stake in Kazakhstan. There is a large Russian-speaking minority; Russian military bases; major gas pipelines and the world’s largest—Russian-owned– satellite launching facility. The Russians are keen to see stability return to an important ally and were probably behind the decision to re-impose the price cap on LPG fuel for the next six months.

Turkey

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Lloyd George didn’t know my father – the 1921 Census

What it is to be all-knowing. For someone my age the release of the 1921 census means the possibility of nosing through the lives of people you actually knew and creepily of course, you know what happened next and they did not.

Here is my Dad aged 9 months. He is briefly in rural Sussex while his First World War veteran father finds (another) temporary job at a gas works.

Here is my maternal Grandma aged 5. Her Dad is a wallpaper hanger. All eight of them crammed into a little terraced house in Kent. But the story is not sad; this bunch are survivors. They all go back to their native East End and every single one of them will get through the Second World War alive.

Not so lucky – here is my maternal Grandpa, aged 2 in rural Hampshire. The family farm is about to go bust. In a few short years the family will be either scattered or dead (one by his own hand).

The census has a few family surprises. What on earth, for instance, is my staid Great Great Grandma doing living at the Three Tuns, a pub on Jewry Street, Aldgate? Perhaps best not to ask!

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Tim Farron on Cumbria’s rural housing crisis

Tourism is the lifeblood of many of our most spectacular rural communities. Nut there is a downside for the people who live there all year round. Second homes and holiday lets mean that it can be difficult for local people to find somewhere to live.

Tim Farron raised this in a debate in Parliament this week. Here is is opening speech.

It is a huge privilege to serve our communities in Cumbria—our towns, villages lakes and dales, among the rugged beauty of England’s finest landscapes—yet the people who live in our communities are even more precious than the places themselves. We welcome those who see Cumbria as a holiday destination: a place for leisure and relaxation, and a place of peaceful serenity and exhilarating extremes. It is our collective privilege to be the stewards of such a spectacular environment for the country, yet our full-time local communities face an existential threat unlike any other in the UK. I am immensely grateful to have secured this debate, because the housing crisis that has faced our communities in Cumbria and elsewhere in rural Britain for decades has rapidly become a catastrophe during the two years of the pandemic.

For the last few decades, we have seen an erosion in the number of properties in Cumbria that are available and affordable for local people to buy or rent. What little I know of geology tells me that although erosion usually takes place over huge passages of time, sometimes a whole rockface may collapse or a whole piece of a cliff might drop into the sea in a single instant. That is what has happened to our housing stock during the pandemic. In the space of less than two years, a bad situation has become utterly disastrous.

I have been calling for the Government to take action from the very beginning, so I confess to being frustrated and angry that Ministers have yet to do anything meaningful to tackle the problem. As a result, many of us living in rural communities feel ignored, abandoned and taken for granted by the Government, and we stand together today as rural communities to declare that we will not be taken for granted one moment longer.

In South Lakeland, the average house price is 11 times greater than the average household income. Families on low or middle incomes, and even those on reasonably good incomes, are completely excluded from the possibility of buying a home. Although the local council in South Lakeland has enabled the building of more than 1,000 new social rented properties, there are still more than 3,000 families languishing on the housing waiting list. Even before the pandemic, at least one in seven houses in my constituency was a second home—a bolthole or an investment for people whose main home is somewhere else.

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Observations of an ex pat – Ukraine Week

We are entering Ukraine Week. A series of meetings across Europe and at the highest level will probably determine whether 100,000 Russian troops will cross the border into Eastern Ukraine and ignite Europe’s greatest crisis since the end of the Cold War.

It started Friday with a Zoom meeting of NATO foreign ministers. On Monday Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin go head to head in Geneva. Next Wednesday NATO heads of government hold a summit in Brussels, and the following day, in Vienna, the 57 members of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meet in Vienna. The last event includes Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky who will discover just how far other countries will go to defend his nation’s sovereignty.

Conspicuous by its absence from these talks is the EU. The reason is that the issues are primarily security and military and the EU has no defence forces. It will, however, be heavily affected by any Putin-Biden pact and its diplomats will be flapping around the edges of Ukraine Week trying to make its collective voice heard.

So far Putin has done all the running. He annexed Crimea in 2014 and moved his “Green Men” into Eastern Ukraine. He has disrupted shipping in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea; threatened gas supplies to Western Europe and now has 100,000 troops camped out on the Ukrainian-Russian border.

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Helen Morgan: “Anger at Conservative Party like nothing I’ve heard”

The first Lib Dem MP elected to the North Shropshire seat, held by the Conservatives since 1832, has been writing in the Independent today. Helen Morgan says:

The result has been described by many as a “shock” and “totally unexpected”. Yet when you heard the anger and frustration that I heard on the doorstep each day, the result should have shocked nobody.

Helen speaks of her arrival at Westminster expecting to find a prime minister and a government willing to listen to voters in North Shropshire.

How wrong I was. The anger at Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was like nothing I’ve ever heard before… It begs the question, why won’t Boris Johnson and his Conservative colleagues listen to voters?

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Showing understanding, welcome and humanity – The Windermere Children

I was moved to tears watching “The Windermere Children” on TV this week.

It told the story of how, in 1945, our government took in 700 traumatised children from the camps in Germany and Poland. They had witnessed scenes more harrowing than we can imagine, almost certainly lost all of their family, killed by the Nazis.

300 of them were taken to a place near to Lake Windermere, and I saw how gradually they began to understand that they were free, were not going to be taken away, that they were loved, welcomed and treated with respect.

All the way through they were treated with dignity. Trauma was understood and taken account of. Time was given for them to express what had happened in their own way. Any wrong doing was not punished in way usual for those times, but with understanding and in a way that they understood what was wrong. The love and welcome were consistent.

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Boris Johnson’s stealth tax to cost families £10.9 billion by 2026

The Conservative government’s stealth tax raid will cost the average family in England and Wales £430 a year by 2026, or a total of £10.9 billion, research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

The figures reveal the scale of the cost to families of the government’s decision to freeze the personal tax allowance and higher rate tax threshold until 2025/26, compounding the growing cost of living crisis.

The new analysis by the House of Commons Library has found the freeze will mean an additional 1.5 million people on low pay will be dragged into paying income tax by 2026, while a further 1.25 million people will fall into the higher rate tax bracket. The research is based on modelling using the latest inflation forecasts from the Office of Budgetary Responsibility.

The Liberal Democrats are demanding that the government drops their planned stealth tax raid that will “clobber families who are already feeling the pinch,” amid soaring energy bills and the rising cost of living.

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Being a REAL “Community Champion” and the Order of the British Empire

x

  • To award or not to award?
  • Is the Queen’s New Year’s honours list “fit for purpose”?
  • Is it too archaic?
  • Does it reflect well on the real achievements of our “Community Champions”?

I must admit that I don’t usually pay too much attention to the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. This year was a bit different mainly because a former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was chosen by the Queen for the knighthood. Not surprisingly, in a couple of days, more than 500,000 people have signed the petition to revoke his knighthood. Some of these calls were driven by families, whose members lost their loved ones during the war in Iraq.

In political terms, Mr Blair has been a very successful politician. He was a Prime Minister, undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs in the land, for 10 years (1997-2007). In a way, I should be grateful to Tony Blair as it was he who allowed Poles and other Eastern European nationals to come to Britain since the largest enlargement of the EU in 2004.

However, in my view he lost political integrity and credibility when he decided to support the invasion of Iraq. Since leaving the office, he has travelled globally to give talks on a wide range of issues. I found it staggering that he was supposed to be giving a speech on how to feed the poor in Sweden in 2015. This was dropped for a simple reason; Mr Blair’s fees were too high (£330,000!).

In my opinion, I am not sure whether people who are paid to do a particular job, even if they do it very well, should be receiving a knighthood. For me an example of someone who deserves recognition is Marcus Rashford, who didn’t get an MBE for his fantastic football skills but for  additional (and exceptional!) work that he has been doing to support vulnerable children.

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Liberal Democrats demand “Robin Hood tax” on oil and gas super-profits

Liberal Democrat Leader and former Energy Secretary Ed Davey has called for a “Robin Hood” tax on the super-profits of oil and gas firms to raise money to support millions of families facing soaring energy costs.

The proposed one-off levy would raise an estimated £5 billion from companies that are making record profits from soaring energy prices. This would be used to support vulnerable families facing a crippling 50% increase to their energy bills.

Earlier this week it emerged that Russian energy giant Gazprom’s trading arm, based in London, has cashed in a £179 million dividend. Meanwhile, the boss of BP has described his company as a ‘cash machine’ after soaring oil and gas prices boosted its profits to £2.4 billion in the third quarter of 2021 alone.

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Ed vs Boris – a load of old Balls

Today has been Helen Morgan’s day. First she was sworn in and then she questioned the Prime Minister about the state of North Shropshire’s ambulance services.

But we could not let this day go by without mentioning Ed’s question to the Prime Minister, which was not without amusing incident.

Poor Ed has been misidentified twice this week. On the New Year’s Day edition of The Weakest LInk (and isn’t Romesh Ranganathan an inspired choice for that?) Jenni Falconer was asked which Ed was the leader of the Liberal Democrats. “Milliband?” she  asked, without much confidence.

Today Speaker Lindsay Hoyle had one of those moments when he introduced Ed at PMQs:

I call Ed Balls—I mean Ed Davey.

Ed replied:

Happy new year, Mr Speaker! I am sure the Prime Minister will want to join me and my Liberal Democrat colleagues in welcoming my hon. Friend the new Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan).

People’s already high heating bills are about to jump by more than 50%, with average energy bills rising by nearly £700 a year. Gas price rises will push millions more families into fuel poverty, when we know many are already afraid even to open their heating bills. Does the Prime Minister accept that he could be doing much more than he is to prevent millions of people from going hungry and cold this year while he remains—for now at least—in the warmth and comfort of No. 10?

Boris Johnson of course took the mention of the word balls and ran with it. Pretty disgraceful when you consider that there are millions of vulnerable people wondering how they are going to heat their homes, disabled people wondering how they are going to pay the extra costs to keep their breathing machines going or charge their stairlifts or scooters, all of which use a whole load of electricity. He just doesn’t care.

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Helen Morgan challenges Prime Minister on Day 1

Within a couple of hours of being sworn in, North Shropshire’s new Lib Dem MP (never going to get tired of writing that) Helen Morgan was challenging the Prime Minister over the state of ambulance services in her constituency.

Helen tried to get Boris Johnson to commit to a “full and proper review of ambulance services by the care quality commission.” The Prime Minister refused, showing pretty callous disregard for the residents who had endured some horrifying waits for ambulances in recent weeks. The closure of four local ambulance stations has only added to current pressures.

The exchange in full went like this:

I welcome the new Member, Helen Morgan.

Helen Morgan
(North Shropshire) (LD)
Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Ambulance services and paramedics are desperately struggling to maintain a safe and timely service across the country. My constituency of North Shropshire is no exception, and inexplicably has seen two of its ambulance stations closed, as well as waiting times sky-rocket. With the crisis in emergency care escalating, will the Prime Minister commit today before this House to supporting my call for a full and proper review of ambulance services by the Care Quality Commission?

The Prime Minister
It is very important that everybody should get the ambulance service that they need. That is why we are investing £55 million more and that is why there are 500 more people on the ambulance staff than there were in 2018.

Afterwards, Helen said:

There is no time to waste in solving the local ambulance crisis which is a life and death situation in Shropshire.

It is essential that the Prime Minister and his Government tackle this crisis. It was disappointing to see him turn down my call for a full and proper review into services.

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Christine Jardine calls for British Sign Language to be taught in schools

Christine Jardine has called for British Sign Language to be taught in schools.

Writing in the Scotsman, she said:

Surely we could and should have BSL as part of the curriculum in our schools?

How much would it cost to simply teach it along with the alphabet when our children are at their most receptive?

Many years ago, I remember a friend teaching her toddler sign language as he was learning to speak. She explained that it is the point in our lives when we are a blank canvass and learn most easily.

I was embarrassed that I had not been able to do the same, or thought to try.

And it frustrates me that while our children can rightly choose to learn French, Spanish, German, Italian and even Gaelic in their classroom, they do not have access to a language that could improve their ability to communicate with members of their own community, and improve their quality of life.

She described that incredibly powerful and stunningly beautiful moment on Strictly during Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dance when the music stopped and she and her partner Giovanni continued to dance as her stand out moment of 2021.

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Helen Morgan MP sworn in after stunning by-election win

Helen Morgan has arrived in Westminster to take her seat after her stunning by-election win in North Shropshire.

Here she is with some of her new parliamentary colleagues:


In her first act as North Shropshire’s new MP, Helen will write to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid calling for an urgent meeting with the West Midlands Ambulance Trust, which asked to see him over four months ago.

The Trust asked to meet with Sajid Javid after declaring long waiting times posed a “catastrophic risk” to patients. Patients have been left waiting hours for ambulances to arrive, and in one case, a 95 year-old woman in Shropshire was left waiting 11 hours for an ambulance to take her to hospital.

In recent months, four local ambulance stations have closed in Shropshire despite the crisis.

The crisis has also been worsened by the surge in Covid cases due to the Omicron variant, which has seen ambulances being taken off the road across the country due to staff absences.

Ahead of her swearing in,Helen said:

I am here in Westminster to make sure the people of Shropshire are no longer taken for granted by this Conservative government.

The ambulance crisis is a life and death situation in Shropshire. I can’t think of many other meetings which are more important than this one. The Health Secretary cannot ignore this request any longer.

Despite thousands of local people signing petitions warning against local health cuts and distressing stories from those in need of emergency care, we have seen no action from this Government.

I am determined to hit the ground running on my first day and ensure the concerns of people in our local community are no longer ignored.

Ed Davey MP, said:

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2021 – the year in review: December

The Party was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the North Shropshire by-election. And, with the gratefully received co-operation of the Conservatives – Non-local candidate? Check. Hapless campaign? Check. – the bookies were suggesting that we were marginal favourites to achieve the 26.4% swing required to snatch the seat. Our campaign team were taking no chances, with “private briefings” somehow reaching the media.

And the wheels were really falling off the Conservative wagon, with defections, endorsement by the Guardian and a visit from the Prime Minister in which he failed to remember his candidate’s name.

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Sally Hamwee writes…Lib Dem Lords will do our best to fight Nationality and Borders Bill

Ministers quite often urge “professional curiosity”,  a probing, analytical approach, not a careless, unthoughtful, knee-jerk response.  They haven’t applied it to the Nationality and Borders Bill – that’s the Bill that creates deserving and undeserving asylum-seekers, allows the Home Secretary to make people stateless, and provides for pushing back small boats at sea. And more.

Professional (political) curiosity should also prompt questions from us all about how a Bill (whose 100 plus pages I would like to throw out almost wholesale) can have any appeal.  Have people had bad encounters with individual refugees? Unlikely. Is it fear of the “other”? We are a mongrel nation; I tick the “White Briton” box, but I often think about what recent immigrants my family were.  Is it insecurity about housing, jobs, the economy? Quite possibly – and that’s where government effort should go, along with taking a lead on integration and valuing refugees.  This Bill extends the hostile environment to one of aggressive hostility.

Nor is it trauma-informed, and won’t become so by asserting that this is what guides the Home Office.  That’s the very clear view of the many organisations who know that assessing an asylum seeker’s age is not a straightforward matter of science, but should be about safeguarding (there’s a lot in the Bill that’s very damaging to children).  And that someone who has been subject to appalling experiences at home and undertaken an almost unimaginable journey to the UK is not going to be able instantly to relate their story fully and cogently, or probably for a considerable time (if ever).

We are told the Bill is to break the business model of smugglers.  I thought that politicians who admire successful business people should understand that they find ways round obstacles. The Bill will strengthen their hold over asylum seekers; it plays into their business model.

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