Tag Archives: 2017 autumn conference

Discussing the European Refugee ‘Crisis’ and the UK’s Responsibilities.

We had a very well attended fringe meeting in Bournemouth on this important issue – helped and sustained by the great Dorset  High Tea, kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, 22 million of whom are refugees who have left their country of origin. Over half of refugees are children. Nearly 90% of refugees currently reside in states bordering conflict zones in the global south. A relatively minimal amount have sought and been granted safety in western European states. This insightful and fascinating fringe event explored and analysed the European response to refugee flows and the UK’s involvement in that response and their policies towards refugees.

Professor Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics at Middlesex university, opened the discussion with the serious concern that there is very little critical evaluation or accountability of the EU and UK policies towards refugees. Aid and humanitarian polices are not currently based on enough evidence of effectiveness, and decision-making is poorly informed. Numerous reports have condemned French and in particular UK policies as failing to protect refugee children, failing to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants, and the failure of EU’s policy of containment.

Professor Blitz emphasised a note of caution in using the term European refugee ‘crisis’ as it fails to acknowledge that crossings of the Mediterranean and informal settlements have been occurring for over a decade, and the term can invite a reactionary ill-informed response rather than a well-considered and sustainable legal and political framework through which to aid and settle refugees.

A reactionary response aptly describes the majority of EU states’ policies towards the influx of refugees and migrants from 2015-2016 (Germany being a notable exception). European states responded with border enforcement, increased passport control between Schengen area countries, and the construction of fences (notable examples being the 180km fences on the Hungarian border as well as like blockades at Idomeni and Calais). These measures reflect an ‘inhospitality towards migrants’, leave thousands of refugees and migrants stranded on borders. They also have a knock on effect on Lebanon and Jordan who have similarly reinforced border controls in relation to Syrians. 

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Apologies for the “fringe of Conference”

The Social Democrat Group event last Monday was described as the “fringe of the conference” and “by far best #ldconf Brexit discussion yet“. However, hundreds may have been disappointed, and for that we apologise.
Entitled “Can Britain’s relationship with Europe be saved?”, and jointly organised with Policy Network, it was a fantastic discussion, with far too much substance to cover properly in a single LibDemVoice article. To listen to or watch a recording of the event, go to http://www.ldsdgroup.co.uk/events/can-britains-relationship-with-europe-be-saved/.
The event opened with Roger Liddle, Labour peer and co-chair of Policy Network, which jointly organised the event. He thought the Tories would stick together and do some kind of Brexit deal. He said there would be a transition deal before a final deal, and he correctly predicted that May’s speech this week in Florence would say so. He warned this would make campaigning to remain in the EU more difficult. It would mean a transitional deal where little changed for two years, so that the British public would only discover how catastrophic Brexit was two years after we had already left. Roger suggested that we would therefore leave, and the battle would then be to rejoin. However, he said this is a battle we can win.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, emphasised that we are democrats, we are not afraid of the will of the people, and so we should propose a referendum on exit terms. To convince the public how dangerous Brexit is, we need to find language to bring a divided country together. We must keep raising this issue, including “the dreaded conversation over the Christmas turkey”. We also need to persuade the EU too to change its language. Some comments from Jean-Claude Juncker have been unhelpfully divisive.
The chair of the meeting, Sarah Ludford, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Brexit in the Lords and is a former MEP, agreed, saying that some in the EU “just saw us as a pain in the backside” without appreciating the significant positive contribution the UK has brought to the EU.
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Lib Dem Conference highlights – Neil Fawcett’s air guitar

One of the highlights of my life, let alone Conference, was Neil Fawcett accompanying Kelly-Marie Blundell’s rock set at the Disco on inflatable air guitars from Primark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human being look quite so happy and fulfilled. He’s in the bottom right of this video by The Mirror’s Mikey Smith:

I should add that Neil was not alone. Louise Harris and our Joe Otten also had …

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Lib Dem Conference highlights – Caron on the Fringe

So, another group of Lib Dem Conference highlights with a shamelessly self-indulgent look back at the fringe meetings I spoke at.

The Child Poverty Action Group fringe

On Monday I spoke at a fringe meeting run by the excellent Child Poverty Action Group. The work of groups like CPAG is so important in highlighting the impact of poverty and it’s great that they speak up, even when what they have to say is uncomfortable for us as Liberal Democrats to hear.

The theme of the meeting was around achieving social justice. What would that look like?

The botched implementation of Universal Credit was a major aspect. Along with the appalling family cap, it was cutting the incomes of the poorest families by £3000-£5000.

We had passed policy that very morning that tackled several of the concerns that CPAG had – like restoring a second work allowance and restoring the cuts announced by George Osborne the minute we left the Coalition.

Starring in a video with Malala and Jo Swinson

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Lib Dem Conference highlights – the Universal Credit Debate

On of my highlights of Conference was the debate on the emergency motion on delaying the rollout of Universal Credit because it is turning into a disaster for the people who are forced to claim it. People have to wait 6 weeks or longer for money. Imagine what that is like if you have no savings to get you through – a situation many people on low incomes will face.

The idea of Universal Credit is a very good one. It aimed to end the poverty trap which stopped people on benefits from getting work because it cost them to do so.

I made a speech from a Scottish perspective, outlining the principles of accessibility, fairness and confidence that were in our manifesto on social security and observing that Universal Credit meets none of them in its current form.

Other speakers gave some pretty harrowing examples of how people could lose their homes and have to rely on food banks to get by.

I am really hopeful, though, that we really are going to take this stuff to the Tories and try and get things changed.

The reason for my optimism is our new Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd. Remember all that energy he put in to regaining his Eastbourne seat? He seriously never stopped campaigning after 2015. Well, that energy and determination is going in to opposing the Tory Government and building alliances across the Parliament to force the Government to think again. Here, in full, is the speech that he made in the debate:

The Tories’ reputation for competence is an oxymoron of epic proportions. This is a party who have politicised our police force with their ridiculous introduction of police and crime commissioners, prevented councils from building new council homes from the receipts of Margaret Thatcher’s huge council house sell-off programme decades ago, which is a direct cause of today’s appalling housing shortage – and then today the complete shambles of what they’ve done with Universal Credit. Competence is not a word which springs to mind!

The original concept of UC was ‘to make work pay’ and when we supported it in coalition it would have done. Since then though, over £3bn has been taken out of the programme. The work allowance, for instance, an amount people on benefits can earn before those benefits start being reduced, has been slashed to the bone. In some cases – to zero!  And the taper rate, which determines how much people get to keep of their benefits for every extra pound earned, has also been cut to ribbons!!

This has rendered the entire principle behind universal credit – to make work pay, something I and the Liberal Democrats passionately believe in – utterly worthless.

Universal credit is no longer a progressive, reliable policy; it is a complete train wreck. And the Conservatives are responsible!!

It gets worse. Housing payments made directly to the tenants; something I fiercely opposed at the time when I was on the Work and Pensions Select Committee – telling the ministers that it would lead to a shocking rise in rent defaults. And I remember so clearly the then Secretary of State chiding me for ‘not trusting that tenants would pass the money on to their landlords’….

The result?, and this is even before the full national UC rollout-out, have been every bit as bad as I feared; if not worse!

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WATCH: Nick Clegg in conversation at Conference Fringe

Happily, it doesn’t matter that I had to be in 3 other places at the time when Nick Clegg’s only fringe meeting appearance in Bournemouth, because those nice people at Prospect magazine have only gone and put it on You Tube.

Enjoy.

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A response to the Conference debate on the Balfour Declaration

Shalom alechum, alsalam ealaykum, peace be with you.

Peace, Peace in the land between the river & sea is what we should be working for.

And, to put it mildly, the motion we passed at Conference on Sunday does not do that. Indeed, by passing it, it means we probably won’t get another chance to debate the Palestine/Israel conflict again for some time.

I tried to get the motion referred back to the FPC and to ask them to bring back a better, more comprehensive motion next year as the one we passed today is the lowest common denominator that is acceptable (begrudgingly) to two interest groups in the Party, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and Lib Dem Friends of Israel.

It does nothing to say what we, as a small political party far away from the area, can do to advance the cause of peace between Palestine & Israel and, believe me, there is much we can do.

We could be learning more from groups like “Solutions not Sides”, we could be inviting speakers from One Voice, YaLa Young Leaders, Ta’ayush and similar organisations, we could be listening to those who work every day to break down the barriers (both physical & mental) between the two nations.

The motion also contains factual errors, for example, line 35 refers to “pre-1967 borders” but no such borders existed as they were Armistice Lines that marked the end of conflict in 1949, they were never meant to be the final demarcation between Israel & its Arab neighbours.

What is worse, all amendments to correct errors and improve the motion have been rejected by FCC. No reason has been given for this rejection.

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Five quick observations about Vince’s speech

Having covered Not the Leader’s Speech, it is only fair to give you the chance to see the actual Leader’s Speech again. It was very different in style from the bouncy style of Tim Farron, but no less compelling to listen to.

You can watch it in full below and the text follows. There are four quick observations I’d like to make, first, though.

Firstly, note that PR has been displaced as our number 1 ask on political reform by votes at 16. By doing so, Vince emphasises his commitment to ending intergenerational unfairness. He talked about how young people had had no say in their future which had been limited by older people voting for Brexit.
He wants to ensure that they have a say in future decisions.

This all makes perfect sense as it is achievable and something that has been our policy for as long as I can remember anyway.

I might have been inclined to take the joke about us inviting Corbyn to join the Anti-Brexit People’s Liberation Front out. It was a joke aimed at highlighting Corbyn’s lefty student style of politics, but it didn’t work out of context and jarred slightly when I saw it on tweets from the BBC.

Thirdly, he did acknowledge that the issue of student fees was still a problem for us. A review is fraught with problems as it then has to come back to Conference and the whole thing is gone over again and the papers write about it all over again. Of course, he couldn’t do anything else or he’d have been accused of trying to make policy over the heads of Conference but it is to be hoped that this review happens very quickly. If David got his skates on and had something ready for Spring, that would be entirely satisfactory. The whole thing is a risk, but less of a risk than doing nothing. We have to be seen to be taking this one on.

Fourthly, he wants us in Government. On our own. A big ambition, but I’d rather see him say that than say that he wants us to go up a wee bit in the polls. We have to show what a Lib Dem world would look like.

Finally, the best bit of the speech for me was this:

We know, of course, that our call will be resented by the Brexit fundamentalists.

We will be denounced as traitors and saboteurs.

I’m half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC.

But if the definition of sabotage is fighting to protect British jobs, public services, the environment and civil liberties, then I am a proud saboteur.

It’s very bold and I hope we all use that quote as often as possible from now on.

Vince had 3 things to do at this Conference. He had to firmly establish us as the Party of Remain – unequivocally fighting to stay in the EU. Secondly, he had to showcase his credentials as the foremost economically literate grown-up on the political scene in this country. He did that. Thirdly, he had to showcase a wider commitment to sort things out for those people who voted Leave because they are struggling. He has put tackling inequality, most particularly wealth and inter-generational unfairness, front and centre of what he wants to achieve. As Jo Swinson said on Sunday, an exit from Brexit is necessary but not sufficient.

He did all three of these things extremely well.

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When the Leader crashes Not the Leader’s Speech

In a tradition dating from the Coalition years, certain members of the Awkward Squad gather in a local hostelry as the Liberal Democrat Leader gives his keynote speech to Conference, watch the event on Twitter and determine the point at which they would have walked out had they been in the hall.

These days, the potential for walkout has significantly reduced, but no self-respecting Awkward Squad would ever say that it had ebbed away entirely. Leaders must be kept on their toes at all times, after all.

And so, yesterday, they gathered in the best real ale pub in the Bournemouth, the Goat and Tricycle, which had been the venue for my Golden Jubilee drinks on Friday night.

Being liberals, they don’t mind if those of us who love the occasion of The Speech turn up afterwards to discuss it and everything else in the entire universe afterwards.

What they don’t usually get is the leader turning up too. 

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In full: Kirsty Williams’ speech to Conference

The Lib Dems’ only Cabinet Minister, Kirsty William, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Wales, addressed Conference on Sunday. Here is her speech in full.

Introduction

I would like to open this speech with a thank-you to Tim Farron for his leadership over what, unquestionably, has been the toughest period this party has ever faced.

At our lowest point, Tim stepped up to the plate, helping reverse our fortunes.

In an unexpected election, Tim nearly doubled the number of seats we held in Parliament, and took our membership to over 100,000. A record.

As I look across the room and see plenty of new faces, Tim can rightly be proud of the liberal vision that he put forward that attracted so many new people to our party.

I would also like to thank Mark Williams. Wales has lost a tremendous MP, and a strong advocate for radical Welsh Liberalism.

Mark worked tirelessly for the communities of Ceredigion, dealing with thousands of pieces of casework, leading major campaigns such as changing the legal definition of child neglect, and continuously being a strong voice for rural Wales.

Mark, we thank you.

Now, conference, despite our solid performance in the General Election, it is clear that many shifted back to the old way of doing things: red versus blue. Left versus right.

Increasingly, people are feeling powerless, neglected, excluded.

Some look to exploit those fears. Exploit them with easy answers. Tell them it’ll all be ok if we just turn back the clock.

Sometimes back to the 1950s, sometimes 1970s… sometimes the 1670s if you’re Mr Rees-Mogg.

But liberal values haven’t gone away. The populist voices have just got louder. Shouting down all that disagree.

Too often, especially in recent years, the louder voice has won the day.

Well here’s an idea – isn’t it time the liberal voice was heard again?

There are people across Britain looking for reasons to support us.

We must provide the leadership Britain needs, standing up for what is right.

It’s our turn to be loud.

Building a coalition that fights for fairness. Fights for reason. Fights for tolerance.

Conference, we must fight to win today’s arguments – so that we can win for tomorrow.

Education

It’s 75 years since William Beveridge published his ground-breaking report.

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Vince: I’m a proud saboteur

Vince Cable’s debut Conference speech as leader will be very different from Tim Farron’s. We won’t find him bouncing about the stage. His style is quieter but no less compelling and interesting to listen to.

Below we get a flavour of the thing he’ll be saying tomorrow, establishing us firmly as the Party of Remain.

On Brexit

“A disaster looms. Brexit. The product of a fraudulent and frivolous campaign led by two groups of silly public school boys living their dormitory pillow fights.

“And now, thanks to Boris Johnson, they have degenerated into a full-scale school riot with the head teacher hiding, barricaded in her office.

“In the real world, we have yet to experience the full impact of leaving Europe. But we have a taste of what is to come in the fall of the value of the pound.

“Foreign exchange dealers are not point scoring politicians. Their cold, hard, unsentimental judgement has been, quite simply, that Brexit Britain will be poorer and weaker after Brexit than if we had decided to stay in Europe.

“Brexit was described by the Brexit Secretary himself as an operation of such technical complexity that it makes the moon landing look simple.

“It is a pity that the Brexit landing is being managed by people who would struggle to get their heads around a toddlers’ Lego set. They live in a world of infantile fairy tales.

On Labour

“We might have expected better from Labour. Many people got behind them in June, expecting a better politics and a better future from him.  They are already being betrayed.

“Today’s Labour Party isn’t into problem solving; let alone governing. Jeremy Corbyn’s acolytes are focused on how to maximise the contradictions of capitalism.

“You don’t qualify for the Shadow Cabinet these days unless you have studied the Venezuelan guide on how to bankrupt a rich economy.

“No wonder they back Brexit. No wonder they lined up behind Theresa May, maximising the chance of chaos and disruption.

“Then a few weeks ago the moderates briefly penetrated the Corbyn bunker. They persuaded him that collaborating quite so closely with the class enemy didn’t look too good.

“So, they have a new policy: to stay in the Single market and Customs Union, possibly; or to leave, maybe. Or maybe to stay in for a bit, and then leave.

“I am trying to be kind here: I am trying to understand what they are trying to say. I think the current line is, we should transition to the transition gradually while we prepare for a post-transition world.

“This is what they mean by the smack of firm leadership on the biggest issue of the day.

“But if Jeremy Corbyn sits on the fence any longer, he is in danger of being sliced up the middle by the serrated edge.

“He would do better to get off the fence and refurbish his revolutionary credentials.  Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front!”

Political adults

“What the people want. What the country now desperately needs is some political adults.

“That’s you. That’s us.

“Fortunately, we are not alone. There are sensible grown-ups in the Conservative party and the Labour Party and the Greens. And beyond them are millions of people deeply worried about what is happening.

“We have to put aside tribal differences and work alongside like-minded people to keep the Single Market and Customs Union, essential for trade and jobs;

“Europe’s high environmental and social standards; shared research; help for our poorer regions; cooperation over policing and terrorism.

“Europe, of course, needs reform but you don’t achieve reform by walking away.

“Our position is clear: the Liberal Democrats are the party of Remain.

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WATCH: Willie Rennie’s speech to Conference

Willie gave one of the best speeches I’d heard him give. It was robust and clear – putting the Liberal Democrats back at the forefront of driving change in Scotland.

The text is below.

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In Full: Tim Farron’s speech to Conference

All former leaders get a keynote speech at the first Conference after they step down. Tim Farron’s was, as you would expect, loud, funny in parts, optimistic, loyal and ended by giving the party a serious mission.

There was a lot of love in the room for that man.

“I was at Euston the other day and a lady came up to me, half my size but still somehow able to look down her nose at me.

“She said ‘well, I’m not surprised you stepped down! Never trust a man who wears doctor marten shoes!’

“If only we’d known. I’d have worn the boots instead, cherry red with yellow laces up to my knees. And that would be the only thing I’d change.

“I’m not giving up, so this wont be a giving up speech. And I’m not retiring,

“I mean I turned down celebrity Dancing on Ice!

“Because Lembit Opik is a friend. Not a blueprint.

“Look, I’m not going to give you a long list of advice – I’m not Paddy.

“Just one bit of advice really, it’s this:

“If you have joined this party as a fast track to a career in politics, then your careers officer wants sacking.

“This is not the place if you want an easy life. It is the place to be if you want to make a difference.

“31 years ago I joined the Liberals.

“Like the rest of you I chose the tough route in politics, I chose that tough route knowingly.

“Any old mediocrity can join labour or the tories, hold office, be someone for a bit, but do exactly the same as any other careerist would have done.

“But I also know you can only make a difference if you are brave enough to be different.

“When I first got elected, getting lost on the parliamentary estate was pretty much a daily event. Its like going to big school for the first time. One night Greg Mulholland and I were trying to find our way out of parliament, and we got lost, its just possible that we might have had a pint.

“Anyway, we wandered into the house of lords lobby by mistake and Greg whispered to me ‘I think we’re in the wrong place’ to which the policeman on the door responded ‘not in the wrong place sirs, just 30 years too early.

“Which tells you something about how folks see the comfortable trajectory of the career politician.

“Anyhow, about a week later I decided to join year 6 of Dean Gibson Primary School from Kendal on their tour around parliament. Everything I know about what’s where in parliament I got from that guided tour.

“As the tour progressed we ended up again in the House of Lords lobby, and I got distracted by Geoffrey Howe moving rather slowly out of the chamber and into the lobby.

“I don’t mind telling you, I was rather star struck, I mean he was chancellor of the exchequer when I was at school!

“One of the kids saw who I was looking at, and she said ‘who is he?’ and I said ‘that’s Geoffrey Howe, he brought down Margaret Thatcher’ and she said, ‘who’s Margaret Thatcher?’

“Which goes to show that, you know, there is some justice.

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WATCH: Vince’s Q & A session

Imagine Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn taking questions from members that hadn’t been scripted in advance. That’s what our Vince Cable did yesterday in the traditional leader’s Q & A session.

Watch it here – and you will have to get to the end to find the bit that made his team look very anxious indeed when he answered how he likes to relax.

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In full: Jo Swinson’s speech to Conference

Here is Jo Swinson’s speech to Conference.

Let me take you back to a rainy Saturday morning, 28 years ago. I’m doing what many 9-year-olds do on a Saturday morning, watching TV. It’s a children’s programme called Going Live, presented by Philip Schofield – some of you might even remember it, and depending on your age, nostalically feel it was no match for Swap Shop or Saturday Superstore.

“That particular morning’s show sticks in my mind because in amongst Gordon the Gopher, kids’ cartoons, and celebrities getting gunged, there was an amazing competition. The prize was to win a piece of the Berlin Wall, recently torn down in one of the most pivotal moments of 20th century history.

“It was pretty obviously in an entirely different league to the usual phone-ins to win toys, or CDs, or tickets to concerts. I didn’t win the competition, but later on my dad visited Berlin and brought me back a little piece of that history.

“I think it’s fair to say that as a child, apart from one Christmas watching the animated film “When the Wind Blows”, I hadn’t given much thought to nuclear war. But the cloud had hung threateningly over the world, at times perilously close to disaster on an unimaginable scale.

“Thanks to the diplomacy, courage and political leadership which led to the end of the Cold War, we have enjoyed three decades with much reduced levels of nuclear threat, until now.

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WATCH: Christine, Jo, Vince and others at the Conference rally

The Conference rally was as upbeat and optimistic and positive as you would expect that motivational event at the start of Conference to be. You can watch the whole thing below.

I’d heard earlier that Vince was not going to be making a speech, but he did. He came on and made some very serious comments about terrorism in the wake of the Parsons Green attack, praising the emergency services and condemning Donald Trump’s tweets. He then rather cheekily gave the speech that was more suited to the debate on Europe this morning, talking about the need for a referendum, a “first referendum on the facts” to give people the chance to #exitfromBrexit if they choose.  He was very clear – the Lib Dems are the party of Remain, not the party of a soft exit. No deal will be better than what we currently have.

There was an extended advertisement for ALDC as it approaches its Golden Jubilee. The best things were born in 1967, let me tell you. Veteran Councillor and former Council leader Kath Pinnock, Mayor of Bedford Dave Hodgson, younger former councillor Victor Chamberlain and newbie Becky Forrest all told how ALDC helped them. I certainly couldn’t contemplate running a campaign without their expertise, so you really should join them.

Having been through the Edinburgh West campaign, it was obviously quite emotional for me to see Christine Jardine up on the stage. The bit that brought the biggest lump to my throat was when she said that she was there for the working class kids like she was who don’t have the support that she had to get on in life. That is her driving force in politics.

It was great to see two people who had joined us from other parties – Azi Ahmad from the Tories and Cllr Andrew Cregan from Labour. They talked about what had brought them to our party and the welcome they had received.

Finally, Deputy Leader Jo Swinson brought proceedings to a close, saying:

Our clarity about protecting our place in Europe, and our unity behind this goal, have helped us reach out and achieve our highest ever membership.

“We achieved a fantastic string of council by-election gains, and an impressive result in Witney, where Liz Leffman slashed the Tory majority in David Cameron’s own backyard.

“And then there was our stunning and oh so sweet by-election victory last December in Richmond Park, where so many people travelled from all over the country to help elect the fabulous Sarah Olney.

“That victory had deeper resonance too, because it showed how people from different party backgrounds could come together to send a message about the kind of politics we want.

“Or more accurately, what we do *not* want.  The kind of dog-whistling, racist, personal attack campaign that Zac Goldsmith endorsed in his mayoral bid against Sadiq Khan is unacceptable and should have no place in our democracy.”

“We Liberal Democrats have an important message about the very character and values of our great family of nations.

“Fighting for Britain to stay modern, green and internationalist, forward-looking, open-minded, and open-hearted.

“As populist forces rise up across the world, Britain should be leading the fight to promote liberal values, not shutting ourselves off from our neighbours.

“Our economic and political systems are broken.  We need to shape a new and inspiring vision for the 2020s and beyond.

“That’s what will beat the rabble-rousing, hate-stoking rhetoric of populists on right and left.

“Britain needs a liberal voice now more than ever.

“We are that liberal voice.”

Enjoy.

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What’s on at Conference today? LDV on the Fringe

Here is today’s shameless plug for the events LDV is putting on or helping to run.

At 1pm in the Bayview 2 at the BIC, we’ll be looking at the effect of Brexit on the Irish border and on Gibraltar. We have an incredibly illustrious panel. David Ford was until last year leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland and is a former Justice Minister. The Hon Joseph Garcia MP is the Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar. I’m old enough to remember when the border between Gibraltar and Spain was closed. Being part of the EU sorted that out and Brexit casts a huge shadow over the daily lives of people on both sides of that border. Alistair Carmichael will be putting the party’s view. And if that wasn’t enough, we have scones. Lots of them. When we were thinking about refreshments, we thought they would be a bit different, but I thought it would just be a rather unimpressive plateful of miniature scones with a scraping of jam and cream. At our fringe last night, we had the most amazing spread. Large, warm fruit scones with huge bowlfuls of clotted cream and jam to help yourself to. They were utterly delicious and I didn’t need any dinner after eating one and a half of them – which is lucky because I didn’t have time to eat before the disco anyway.  I apologise to those I have offended by doing the jam and cream this way round. I’m from Scotland. You have to make allowances for these things. David Ford gave his perspective on the Irish border situation here.

Although some nationalists are suggesting that Northern Ireland should remain within the Customs Union while GB leaves (citing our vote for Remain), this would be at least as destabilising from a unionist perspective as border posts would be to nationalists, and would also create major difficulties for trade between the constituent parts of the UK.  While there may well be a need for a special deal for Northern Ireland, that is not the same as special status.

Despite the constitutional position, recent years have seen increasing integration of business and public services across the island of Ireland.  Justice agencies work in partnership to fight terrorism and organised crime.  We have a single energy market, significant cross-border supply chains (especially in agri-food), shared provision of acute hospital services.  Business regulation is different in Northern Ireland from that in England, Wales and Scotland.

All of that leads to the possibility that Northern Ireland could remain in the Single Market, even if the rest of the UK left.  It would be a unique arrangement, but might be a way of squaring the circle.

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

Here’s your rundown of what’s on in the hall today.

You can watch it all on the Autumn Conference Live Stream here and follow the #ldconf tag on Twitter. Keep an eye on the Liberal Democrat Facebook page, too, for some real treats.

09:00-09:10 Report, Federal Appeals Panel
09:10-10:00 Report, Parliamentary Parties – your chance to question MPs, our MEP and Lords about their activities
10:00-10:45 Policy Motion: Armed Forces personnel – Recruitment, retention and welfare
10:45-12:30 Policy Motion on Europe after Conference voted overwhelmingly (377-97) to suspend standing orders to do so. Vince pretty much made his speech in favour of the amendment at the rally last night.
12:30-12:50 Speech: Jo Swinson MP

12:50-14:10 Lunch

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WATCH: Layla Moran’s speech to Conference

New Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran gave a brilliantly inspiring, gutsy speech on education to Conference today. She basically challenged a huge amount of educational orthodoxy around selection and league tables and challenged the Liberal Democrats to come up with a bold new policy, saying that we have the imagination and the gall to do so. She got a well-deserved standing ovation.

The text is below.

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If we want to save Britain’s relationship with Europe, we mustn’t demand a second referendum

Too many people have given up on saving our relationship with Europe.

At present, things don’t look good. We’ve an incompetent government, flirting with exiting without a deal. A Prime Minister who has swayed like a weather vane, supported Remain, but, now it is expedient, advocates an extreme Brexit.

We’ve a charlatan of an opposition leader, who claims he supported our membership of the EU, but sabotaged the Labour Referendum campaign, and has since used his power as leader of the opposition to promote an extreme Brexit.

However, we shouldn’t lose heart. Brexiters are nervous, and with good reason. They know, if public opinion shifts, unprincipled politicians will turn on a sixpence.

As a party, we’ve made a referendum on exit terms the centre of our campaigning. But is that wise? Surely it’s pointless to campaign for a referendum we’d lose. Instead, our focus must be on changing minds.

Many politicians are terrified of the electorate, despite knowing full well what a disaster Brexit will be. However, if public opinion changes, and the majority demand the final say over whether the Brexit deal on offer is acceptable, most MPs will be happy to give it to them.

So how do we change minds?

Not with insults. Insulting our opponents can be cathartic, but when we resort to name calling, we’re losing the argument.

The winners of this Brexit debate will be those who can make the public angry with their opponents. If the public are angry with us for contemptuously dismissing those who voted Leave in the Referendum, we’ll lose. But if the public are angry with those who lied to get a Brexit without a workable plan, then we’ll win.

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

09.00–09.05 Opening of Conference by Baroness Brinton
09:05-09:15 Report: Federal Conference Committee – the one you need to be in to vote for the suspension of standing orders to discuss the Europe motion
09:15-09:25 Report: federal Policy Committee
09.25–10.10 Policy motion: Learning to Communicate in English
10.10–11.40 Consultative session: Party Strategy Consultation
11.40–12.30 Policy motion: The Paris Agreement and uK Climate Change Policy
12.30–12.50 Speech by Layla Moran MP

12.50–14.10 Lunch

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Vince: Lib Dems can make a real difference to the future of our country

Vince Cable’s team will be happy if we do  two things at this Conference. The first is to present a very strong line on Brexit, marking the Liberal Democrats out as the unequivocally anti-Brexit party who want the people to have the final say on whatever emerges from the negotiations. The second is to establish Vince firmly in people’s minds as one of the most credible, authoritative voices on the economy that this country has. They want people to understand that he has the answers to address the concerns that they had when they voted Leave. It’s been fantastic to see him talk about reducing the inequality that is harming our society.

In the last few weeks, he has complemented the work he’s done on Brexit with talking about improving things for people who are struggling. He is particularly keen to offer young people a hopeful future which is why he launched a report with NUS setting out ideas for improving Further Education last week.

Vince is quite definitely the grown-up in the room in British politics and this week is the chance to show the country that the Lib Dems understand the problems we face and can do something about it. Ahead of Conference, he said:

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There’s going to be a row at Federal Conference after all…

One of the things that has been noticeably absent from this year’s Conference agenda is much in the way of potential for a scrap. There are a few contentious points in some of the motions but nothing that is really going to generate much in the way of heat.

All that may be about to change.

Last month, I reported that Federal Conference would be given the chance to debate the revocation of Article 50.   

This, I felt, was a very sensible move as, let’s face it, taking a clear position on the biggest issue of the day is always preferable to sticking your finger up getting a vague feel for what the party is feeling. We suffered at the election because of our equivocal position and we need something more robust.

Originally, only a consultation session on the direction of our Brexit strategy was planned. I was glad when I saw that the Federal Conference Committee had relented and decided to offer Conference the chance to debate a motion that would call for the revocation of Article 50, legitimised by an election. Since then, the leadership has put in an amendment which  ramps up the Exit from Brexit language and offers a referendum on the deal.

The movers of the motion, I understand, thought that Federal Conference Committee would remain neutral on this. However, the Committee decided at its most recent meeting to oppose it. This has been seen as a bit of a breach of trust by the movers of the motion. They actually had enough signatures to call a special conference on the issue, tacked on to this one. They were persuaded not to submit their request on the basis that they would have the chance to get their motion debated. This was a very sensible thing to do as the procedural Conference within a Conference thing would have been an optical nightmare for people to understand and would not have given a good impression of us at all.

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Lib Dem Women at Conference: First steps on a long road towards equality in Parliament

There is a television advertisement for a well-known bank that has the strap line ‘for the journey’. You may know it.

First steps in a political career can be very daunting and extremely difficult. Much of the research shows that for women, particularly with family responsibilities, the passage from Newbie to Old Hand can be more of an impossible dream than a real prospect. Even with a supportive family, it isn’t easy. So, is there a way that we, as the Liberal Democrat Party, with our constitution proudly proclaiming that we do not want anyone ‘enslaved by gender’ can begin to ease the way?

LDW has asked each of our new women Members of Parliament to describe their journey. To tell us not only how they made the transition from Candidate to MP, but also what their experience of Parliamentary life has been. We need to learn from their experience and use it to make change possible during our Decade for Women.

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What can we do about skills shortages? (and what about the clotted cream?)

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At one level the answer (to the first question) is simple. As individuals, our ability to find a job, and succeed at work, depends on each of us having skills that are needed by an employer. As a society our economic well-being depends on a population that collectively has the skills that match current industry requirements. And our future prosperity depends on people using entrepreneurial skills to develop new industries and opportunities for employment.

So our complex education system – encompassing school, further education, universities, adult education and workplace training – should be designed to teach students and employees the skills society demands. One of Government’s roles must therefore be to identify the broad range of skills that are needed, to commission courses in those skills and encourage students and employees to take them up.

So why do we still hear about the skills shortage in this country?

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Federal Conference Committee Report – amendments and emergency motions for Bournemouth

Federal Conference Committee (FCC) met on Saturday to discuss amendments and other issues for debate in Bournemouth this weekend.

As a quick recap, and for those who haven’t been to conference before, three things can happen to an amendment: They can be accepted for debate and voted on my conference, they can be drafted in as if they were part of the original motion or they can be rejected. Drafted in amendments should not be controversial or ambiguous in any way, and typically they will update a motion to reflect recent events, or correct or clarify wording.

The time for each motion is listed, as this can be a factor when deciding to select an amendment for debate. One amendment is the realistic limit for a 45 minute debate, and longer debates allow us to fit more in.

Some disclaimers needed: The titles are my own brief summaries to give a flavour of the types of things people seek to amend, as the submitters of amendments do not need to include them. Errors or lack of clarity are my own fault. As with motions, non-selection does not mean that the topic is not worthy as amendments may contain technical errors, a lack of clarity, are too insubstantial or not sufficiently within scope of the original motion.

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Countdown to Conference: Two unmissable events if you are interested in policy

If you have a particular interest in policy, there are two events that you should definitely put in your Conference diary.

The first is the consultative session on the manifesto, 1630 – 1800 Monday in the main auditorium. This is designed to let people have a chance to say what they thought of the manifesto. It’s particularly important because if there is another snap election in the not too distant future, then the Federal Policy Committee will have to produce another manifesto without going through the pre-manifesto consultation stage they would normally employ. So it’s particularly important for people to let us know what they thought of this one and make suggestions for how it could be done in the future.

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Liberal International, Dictatorship and the United Kingdom in 2017

Global war followed the descent into dictatorship in parts of Europe in the 1930s. The horrors of WW2, and the dark shadow of communism that fell over east and central Europe and USSR subsequently, led to the consolidation of liberal ideals in the freer world.

A reassertion of liberal and democratic ideals and the principle of human rights was expressed in the Oxford Manifesto in 1947 at Wadham College, Oxford and in the creation of Liberal International. It was the first modern declaration of liberal and democratic principles following the defeat of Nazism, principles which contrasted starkly with the totalitarian tenets of Soviet communism.

The successor of the Oxford Manifesto was the Universal Declaration of Human rights by the UN (UN UDoHR) in 1948; a beacon for democrats and liberals the world over, since. The Oxford Manifesto and the UN UdoHR provided a common reference point for political parties across the globe who bravely opposed dictatorship and corruption, enabling Liberal International to shed light on oppression and authoritarianism and support those parties.

There were high hopes after the fall of communism in 1989 and 1991, that essential principles of liberalism, democracy and human rights would take hold in much of the world.  However, the rise of authoritarian populism a decade ago has threatened that progress.

Advocates of liberalism and democracy have fought back against this new wave of pro-dictatorship populism.  In April 2017  Liberals from around the world came together on the same spot at Wadham College, University of Oxford, where Liberal International was established 70 years earlier. A new Oxford Manifesto was born, addressing this new wave of authoritarianism and reaffirming liberalism in this more modern context.

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Bournemouth Briefing: Sunday’s #stopBrexit event

Thanks to Lawrence Fullick for filling us in on an anti-Brexit event that ‘s taking place in Bournemouth to coincide with our Conference.

Pro EU organisations are organising events at all 3 party conferences. They will not have to try too hard to persuade people at ours. In fact, they recognise that it’s about them showing us that people support our stance.

The Pants to Brexit theme could enable us to show off our creative genius.

It takes place all afternoon on Sunday so everyone should be able to nip out at some point if they want.

From the organisers:

#StopBrexit in Bournemouth is a fun event with a serious message where we will engage with local people over their concerns about Brexit and empower them to have their voices heard.

We are planning a number of events – fun and serious – on Sunday 17th September to coincide with the Liberal Democrats Conference long weekend.

We want to show the only party that unambiguously supports Britain’s continued membership of the EU, that the public wants to #StopBrexit.  We will be holding a march, a spectacle with music by the Pier and an evening speakers’ event, among other things, and encourage all Dorset supporters to come along, as well as Britain for Europe’s other local and affiliated groups to join us and support our event

EVENT DETAILS

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Have you got your Lib Dem Disco tickets yet?

In recent years, the hottest place to be on the Saturday night of Conference is the Lib Dem Disco. This year it’s back for the fourth time.

This year, the organisers are being uncharacteristically cagey about their line-up, tantalising us by drip-feeding out the contestants who will be competing for the prized accolade of Best DJ. The title has been won for the last two years in fantastic style by Jo Swinson. The last time I spoke to her about it she was adamant she wasn’t going to go for the hat-trick.

So far, we know that Lib Dem Newbies co-founder and force of nature Daisy Benson and Lib Dem Peer and former MEP Sarah Ludford will be taking their turns at the decks.

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    Roland. And it's free.
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    Roland. Apologies but registration is simple and the site is an excellent resource. Please give it a go, the article (and others) are very good.
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