Tag Archives: 2023 autumn conference

WATCH: John Curtice tell Lib Dems how we can do better

Following on from my article on Sunday about how we could develop a more distinctive liberal voice in our messaging for the General Election, I thought readers might like to have a look at one of the most packed fringe meetings at our recent Bournemouth Conference where Professor Sir John Curtice took a look at our performances in elections and opinion poll ratings.  Layla Moran chaired the meeting and Dick Newby, our leader in the Lords, responded for the Party.

He had some sobering facts for us, particularly on the loss of voters to Labour, as the BBC reported at the time:

Professor Curtice said: “The truth is, while the party has focused on attacking the Conservatives, it has perhaps failed to notice that it’s losing votes to Labour.

In particular, it’s losing the votes of people who want to be inside the EU to Labour.

Whereas Labour can argue it has gained ground among both Leave and Remain voters.

The Liberal Democrats have frankly lost ground among Remain voters and the ground that they have gained amongst Leave voters is not sufficient to compensate for it.

It’s galling to lose votes to Labour when they are as responsible for the result of the Brexit referendum as the Conservative Government and they have since said very little except how we have to try to make Brexit work.

Back in 2020 as we dealt with the pain of that election result, we were perhaps too quick to absorb too much of the blame ourselves. We had a hand full of 2s and 3s while the Conservatives had all the high trump cards.  All they had to do was sit back because in the end of the day, people were more scared of Jeremy Corbyn being PM than either Boris or Brexit. Our biggest mistake was letting that election happen when it did. We seem to have now told ourselves that we have to be as careful not to upset anyone as possible when we should be holding both Conservative and Labour feet to account for their many failings.  Every bad thing we said would happen has happened.  We should be plotting a course back towards greater alignment with our EU friends. We need to be saying loud and clear what we could gain by getting back into the single market.

Perhaps the most frustrating about this party is how often we have been right on the issues of the day but not got the credit we deserve for it. Iraq is another example, also Vince’s warnings on the economy and Ed’s on climate change.

Anyway, you can read John Curtice’s presentation to the meeting here.

And New Liberal Manifesto, who organised the meeting, recorded it and you can watch the the three part video below:

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How Conference made me feel so proud of our party

I am a first time writer for Lib Dem Voice. I attended the Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, also for the first time. If you are struggling financially (and I know many people are) please apply to the Conference Access Fund. I did, and it’s been a fantastic process. 

The vibe and the atmosphere at Conference is one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. From the security guards, to other party members to those exhibiting and especially the awesome stewards and the conference team.

Having said that (before we get onto other parts of the conference such as the Lib Dem Disco, Fringe Events or Glee Club), the policies that we passed make me so proud of who we are as a party. 

Ending period poverty, tackling the Housing Crisis (as amended by Young Liberals), stopping sewage being dumped into our rivers, protecting the ECHR, our health policy, Proportional Representation and so many more policies that were passed at conference show who we are. 

Amendment one on housing, proposed by Young Liberals to keep our ambitious 380,000 new homes target was a fantastic amendment and shows how democratic we are and how we genuinely listen to voices and allow members to disagree with leadership and challenge leadership. This is fantastic and is unique, only to us as a party. 

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Caroline Pidgeon’s farewell speech to Conference

Caroline Pidgeon will bring 16 years of service as a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member to an end when she stands down in May.

In her farewell speech to Conference this week, she reflected on her time at City Hall.

Enjoy.

 

The text is below.

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Why I spoke for 30 seconds at Conference

Party members at Autumn Conference may have noticed my slightly breathless, short interjection towards the end of the debate on the pre-manifesto paper “For a Fair Deal”. I spoke briefly on House of Lords reform after it had been mentioned by earlier speakers. I submitted a Speaker’s Card barely 30 minutes before the end of the debate, saying “I will speak for only thirty seconds”. I had done similar five years ago, speaking for one minute precisely when the Chair at the time, Zoe O’Connell, knew me well enough to gauge that I’d do as promised. It gave me an equally warm feeling to be trusted by Nicholas de Costa, squeezing me in to make my “elevator pitch” as he called it, even though the conference session was overrunning.

There are two facets of this I thought worthy of a write-up, so this is the first of two articles. The second will expand on my surprise that almost all members choose to fill (or overrun!) their allotted three minutes simply because they are given three minutes, and my feeling that our debates, especially the shorter ones, are therefore limited to too few speeches and possibly a lack of variety of opinions. I think we should introduce a more flexible system in all our debates, regardless of length. More on that later.

Firstly, though, please indulge me in my policy geekery. Political reform is of course only a small part of “For a Fair Deal”, and members who are aware of my involvement in “England within a Federal United Kingdom” as passed at Autumn Conference 2021 will know that I immensely pleased with the outcome. So why did I interject for thirty seconds? In a nutshell, when speakers at the podium say “Lib Dem policy is for an elected House of Lords” as happened the other day, this statement is both true and false. Is this some sort of quantum policy? Well, yes it is. We want the House of Lords in our current unitary state to be replaced by a representative body. It is standing party policy. Simultaneously our more recent policy is for a federal United Kingdom; this implies some form of senate as the upper house.

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Moving on after yesterday’s high drama

Lib Dem Conference is at its absolute best when it debates a hotly contested issues.

High quality speeches on both sides of the argument for Conference to decide upon. And if the leadership’s position is looking threatened, they just roll out a big hitter like Tim Farron to deliver a barnstormer and get them out of trouble.

Or, in the case of yesterday’s debate, not.

The issue in question was whether to have a national housing target. This has been debated at two Conferences in the recent past and on both occasions, Conference voted to retain a national annual target, in this case 380,000  homes, with (whatever happened in the debate) 150,000 for social rent. A great policy that many thought would give not just hope but homes to the hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have a secure home that they can afford.

With Conference having made its wishes known, it is odd that the leadership chose to pick this fight in the first place or prosecute it in the way that they did. The Federal Policy Committee was very closely balanced on this issue and, as I understand it, Ed insisted that housing targets were dropped. Inevitably, the Young Liberals put in an amendment to reinstate them.

Policy and research is one of the great strengths of the current crop of young Liberals. Chair Janey Little has already contributed huge knowledge and collaborative working skills on various policy issues, not least on violence against women and girls where she brought all the various stakeholders in and consulted them. She put those skills to good use. On her side of the argument were Council leaders like Stephen Robinson in Chelmsford, Keith House in Eastleigh and former Housing Minister Stephen Williams as well as current London Mayoral candidate Rob Blackie and his predecessor Luisa Porritt.

Unfortunately, the leadership response to this was to produce a series of leaflets rubbishing the Young Liberals’ amendment in a way that was always going to annoy Conference attendees. Certainly,  I had always been likely to support that amendment, but I did so with added passion and fury simply because of the aggression shown by the opposition and the fact that Ed was talking about the issue as though it was a done deal. The manner in which this was done was also a massive hostage to fortune. You know how in the American primaries candidates kick lumps out of each other until one emerges victorious? Well, that process does the opposition research for them. That is a lesson the leadership might like to learn for the future before it puts out simplistic, aggressive literature.

The debate yesterday started well with an inclusive speech from Helen Morgan in which she acknowledged the concerns that the Young Liberals had expressed in their amendment. By the time the argument got to the floor, though, it very much looked like it would go their way. Speeches were around 2:1 in favour of housing targets.

But not to worry, they still had their Trump card, Tim Farron.

Sadly, he took his role too literally and forgot for a moment that he wasn’t Donald Trump. His deeply insulting speech, in which he said that the amendment was the most right wing thing he had seen come to the floor of Conference since we’d sent Liz Truss on her sleeper mission to the Tories drew gasps from the audience. . He accused its proposers of being Thatcherites. This was clearly nonsense, given that the amendment was supported by the Radical Association and many members of the Social Liberal Forum.

It takes a lot to shock a Lib Dem Conference. We’re not a pearl clutching bunch as a rule, but he managed it. But there was no awe to go with it. Rob Blackie stood up and simply said at the beginning of his speech “Tim Farron: That was below you. You are better than that.”

If the amendment had not won before, that speech got it over the line. The vote wasn’t even close in the end.

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Ed Davey speech: Time to tear down the Blue Wall and end the Conservative soap opera

Ed Davey will today (Tuesday 26 September) give his first Autumn Conference speech since becoming Liberal Democrat leader, firing the starting gun for the party’s campaign at the next General Election.

Ed Davey will put health and care at the heart of his speech, highlighting how the Liberal Democrats have led the way in proposing solutions to tackle the crises facing the NHS, on GPs, ambulances and dentists. He will accuse the Conservatives of breaking promise after promise on the NHS, from their failure to recruit more GPs to their pledge to build 40 new hospitals, adding that there should be a warning on the ballot paper that “voting Conservative is bad for your health.”

He will emphasise that getting the millions of people stuck on waiting lists or suffering from mental health illness is key to getting the economy back on track, adding that “the Conservatives broke our economy with their carelessness, Liberal Democrats will fix our economy with care.”

Ed Davey will then criticise the Conservatives for being “more like a bad soap opera than a functioning government,” pointing to “the corruption of Boris Johnson, the chaos of Liz Truss and the carelessness of Rishi Sunak.”

Finally, the Liberal Democrat Leader will issue a rallying cry to his party to bring the Blue Wall “tumbling down” at the next election. He will point to the Liberal Democrats’ record as the “strongest campaigning force in British politics,” concluding that “the British people are desperate to see the back of this appalling, out-of-touch Conservative Government, and we are the ones who can make it happen.”

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Kira Rudik wows Conference with a powerful and personal speech

 

Kira Rudik is the leader of Holos, the first Liberal Party to be elected to the Ukrainian Parliament. She is also Vice President of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – the political grouping that brings together like-minded political parties within Europe. She is a proud European and has campaigned for many years for Ukraine to join the EU.

She was welcomed on to the stage by Layla Moran, who was dressed in the blue and yellow of Ukraine. Kira started with some thank yous – and it was clear she knew a number of our senior members well.

She then told us about the day the invasion happened, starting at 5am. Kira and nearly two thirds of the MPs made their way to the Parliament Building – a highly dangerous act as the building was an obvious target. They were allowed 10 minutes together in the chamber during which time they hit buttons furiously so they could pass all the necessary legislation. All the political parties vowed to work together until the war was over – a pledge that has been challenging but still holds.

You can watch her speech here:

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What’s the media saying about Lib Dem Conference?

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the things that the media are saying about Lib Dem Conference:

Steve Coogan and Carol Vorderman lead rally for proportional representation. Sky

Liberal Democrats face housebuilding targets row at Liberal Democrat Conference BBC

Man pleas for assisted dying reform at Lib Dem Conference Bourmemouth Echo

Lib Dems would double shared parental leave pay and increase leave Guardian

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It’s time for the Liberal Democrats to reclaim their place as the party of young professionals

In the ever-evolving landscape of British politics, it’s easy to forget that the Liberal Democrats were once hailed as a natural choice for young professionals. With a steadfast commitment to progressive values, environmentalism, internationalism, and leading the way on equality & diversity, the party had successfully captured the aspirations of a generation. 

Many of these commitments remain today – we remain ahead of the conversation on social care and health, we are leading the way on electoral reform, and we have never faltered in our commitment to standing up for diverse communities. We remain a party which believes in opportunity for all, and we have the policies to back that up.

We are the party of business, and of workers. The Liberal Democrats will invest in innovation and embrace the opportunities of modern technology, while making sure that economic growth is human-led and that workers are at the heart of our industrial strategy.

We are the party of internationalism, and we will embrace the academic and scientific benefit that comes with being able to work with and participate in the international community – opening new opportunities for people and society.

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Keep our national housing target, tackle the housing crisis and WIN!

Tackling the housing crisis is one of the most important things Lib Dems can do. As the Leader of Chelmsford City Council I agonise about housing every day. We have over 450 homeless families in my city this week, and no houses to put them in. 

So I welcome the huge number of positive things in the conference housing motion F31 and policy paper that will allow us to do that.

But one of the other really important things I want to do as a Lib Dem council leader is to help get many more Lib Dem MPs elected.  And removing the national housing target (which we voted FOR just two years ago) will make that job harder.

We’ve already seen public criticism for the removal of targets. It doesn’t matter how much the leaders try to explain that “actually, removing the target will mean we are able to build more houses”. We should have learned long ago that when you’re explaining you’re losing.

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What do you call a 33 year old who still lives with their parents?

What do you call a 33 year-old who still lives with their parents?

No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke. Instead, this is the reality for many people, including myself.

Six years ago, I moved out of my parents’ house with my then wife and into a three-bedroom end of terrace house. I was working full-time on a salary significantly lower than the average, while she was working ad-hoc as a supply teacher.

It was tight for us financially, but we made it work, just about. How? The house we moved into was bought by my granddad in 1955 and, by the time we moved in, it was owned by my dad and my aunt. We were paying rent, obviously, but it was considerably lower than the market rate.

When my ex-wife left, I took in a lodger to make ends meet. When my dad and aunt’s circumstances changed and they sold the house in 2021, I moved back in with my parents because I could not afford a place of my own. Since then, my salary has increased by almost one-third (through job changes, not employer pay rises), but it is still significantly below the average and I still cannot afford to buy or rent a place of my own.

Today, Conference will be asked to debate and vote on a new housing policy.

There is a certain irony in the party establishment standing before a banner of “for a fair deal”, while simultaneously proposing the removal of an ambitious – yet still insufficient – national housing target.

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Caron’s pick of the Conference Fringe – Sunday

It’s day 2 of Conference and I know many of you will be bleary eyed from the disco last night.

Here is my pick of today’s fringe.

Sunday lunchtime 1300-1400

Your get there early warning is for Ukrainian Holos leader Kira Rudik’s conversation with John Sweeney 1pm. It is bound to be PACKED

Christine Jardine speaks at the Hunanist and Secularist Lib Dems’ fringe on assisted dying

Vince Cable is appearing at Compass’s meeting on how progressives can work together. That might grab some headlines.

 

Sunday early evening 1815-1915

Helen Morgan appears at Shelter’s reception on the housing emergency

LGBT+ Lib Dems and the Lib Dem Disability Association explore problems faced by older people needing social care

Wimbledon PPC Paul Kohler on restorative justice – Mad Dogs and Englishmen is the title of the fringe.

This isn’t an official fringe, but you can still get tickets for Layla Moran’s appearance with Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith’s For the Many Live event. It will be hilarious.

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Reflections on the Housing Working Group

We’re in the final hours before conference debates our Housing paper and it’s been good to read the discussion taking place on Lib Dem Voice and elsewhere. I am looking forward to a similar debate in the conference hall on Monday. Liberal Democrat’s really care about housing and we all agree that we need to build more homes, our discussions are about how we best achieve this.

When we started our working group we wanted to achieve two things. To offer a credible housing policy for the Liberal Democrats to show we actually want to build homes, and to help those who don’t have a home to get one and be protected while they’re renting. And I believe we’ve achieved that.

I have led a council that is facing a housing crisis, I’ve seen people trapped in temporary accommodation unable to join the community, I’ve seen people have no choice but to leave their area. People can’t afford to live here in the Lake District and this is hurting our communities and our economy. Too many of the homes that are being built or that come up for sale are being sold into the second homes or holiday lets market and there simply aren’t enough smaller homes for people looking to buy their first home. Without new blood the Lake District will simply become a playground for the super wealthy and its communities and heritage will die.

In South Lakeland, we have built new social housing to help people get on the housing ladder. As leader I introduced a target of 1,000 affordable homes to rent and this has led to more homes being provided.

Across England we build around 8,000 new council homes a year and this number is outstripped by the losses. This is a result of Conservative governments deliberately and cynically seeking to reduce the social housing sector.

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The Ukrainian Offensive Hasn’t Failed.  We have Failed the Ukrainians.

Without a doubt, the Ukrainian Military’s recent counteroffensive has proved more challenging than the last one.  Ukraine’s ability to put together such counteroffensives and defend the wider country remains at the mercy of the generosity of military aid donors.  “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky pleaded.

However, the arrival of military aid has often been delayed for political reasons as much as logistical ones.  This counteroffensive for instance has seen the Ukrainian Military forced to determinedly advance without air cover.  This is despite the Ukrainian Government requesting Fighter Jets, such as F-16s, to be sent for their defence since the start of the 2022 invasion.  The delay in the arrival of equipment for the current counteroffensive gave ample time for the invading Russian enforces to entrench and defend the land they have stolen.  Some reports say it has even given them ample breathing space to counter some Western weapons such as HIMARS.  Western leaders have justified the incremental approach to giving such aid to encourage de-escalation.  Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin reading Western reticence as weakness, as he has always done, has proceeded on his same imperialist course. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that the short-term concerns of Western democracies, such as the US Presidential election next year, will mean that the alliance that supports Ukraine will ultimately fall apart.  This is why those democracies, especially European ones need to convene a long term plan to support Ukraine.  Bilateral and piecemeal military aid announcements were never sufficient to achieve victory.  If NATO membership is barred to Ukraine, then alternative security assurances need to be given to Ukraine.  A Memorandum of Understanding enshrining a commitment to support Ukraine could either be agreed between that country and it’s allies collectively or on a bilateral basis.  What is imperative is that European countries in particular plan for a future where the considerable US aid to Ukraine is potentially no longer available.  Brexit aside, the UK needs to be involved in any European discussions about supporting Ukraine in the long term to coordinate efforts.

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…and we’re back in the hall!

Tim Farron makes the first policy speech of conference this morning

The first policy speech of the first in-person autumn conference since 2019 brought a smile to my face and very positively answered the question “What is Tim Farron for?”

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Caron’s pick of the Conference fringe – Saturday

Conference kicks off officially today. The whirlwind of debate and socialising and fringe meetings is guaranteed to have at least three things in every slot that you want to go to.

Here’s my pick of the fringe for today, all of which can be found in the directory:

Saturday lunchtime 1-2:30

Federal Conference Committee invite people to suggest ways of improving disability access at future Conferences.

I suspect the New Liberal Manifesto’s meeting with Sir John Curtice on the need for the party to have bolder messaging will be very busy, so get there early. It’s chaired by Layla and Dick Newby, our leader in the Lords is also speaking.

Social Liberal Forum has Sarah Olney and others on a radical and liberal approach to economics

Saturday mid evening 20:15-21:45

I’m liking the collaboration between ALDES (Lib Dem Engineers and Scientists) and the Young Liberals to chat all things tech

Liberal History Group launch their book asking What have the Liberals ever done for us? Layla Moran, Wendy Chamberlain and Janey Little take part.

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Lib Dems for Ukraine

We have potholes. They have craters. We have a cost of living crisis. They have a cost of dying crisis. We have hospital waiting lists. They have a list of bombed hospitals. As I write this in Kyiv, Vladimir Putin is trying to kill me. Not just me but everyone in the Ukrainian capital.  To be fair, Russia’s hypersonic missiles, sorry, elderly Russian ironmongery, keep getting shot out of the sky. But the war in Ukraine is not over by a long chalk. The charge sheet of Russian barbarism gets grimmer by the day: targeting civilians, torture, execution, rape, castration.

The values of Ukraine are our values: democracy, liberalism, we don’t just respect the other – we fight for them. Together, we must stand against the Fascist International. Our job as Liberal Democrats is to keep up the pressure on the Conservative government and remind the rather too many people in the Labour Party that the word of Vladimir Putin is not reliable, to put it mildly. That’s why we are setting up the Liberal Democrat Friends of Ukraine.

Three policies stand out. We must support Ukraine with the military hardware necessary for the defeat of Russian fascism. We must make Britain as welcoming to Ukrainian refugees as the European Union is: if you have a Ukrainian passport, you can stay and live and work in Britain for three years, just as you can in Germany, Italy, France, across the whole union. We must burn down Londongrad and send Russia’s ill-gotten gold to help rebuild Ukraine.

I am no arsonist. But Londongrad – where Russian oligarchs hide their dirty money – is a danger not just to Ukraine but also to our own democracy. For far too long, the Labour and Conservative parties let Vladimir Putin get away with murdering people in Britain because they liked the sheen of Moscow gold.

Senior figures in Labour and the Tories have been far too close to the Kremlin and its proxies for comfort. Tony Blair made a catastrophic mistake when he identified radical Islam as a greater danger than Russian fascism. To secure cover for the “war on terror” he went out of his way to cosy up to Vladimir Putin.

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The UK needs to be a lot smarter to challenge the rise of authoritarian regimes

Chinese President Xi told President Putin at their summit in Moscow this year: “Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together”.

Repressive regimes – such as China’s under the CCP, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others – are linking up. Democracies around the world are being subverted. War is raging in Ukraine. China and Russia are in cahoots together, in particular enlisting many developing countries from the Global South to their cause through their disinformation and misinformation campaigns.

That’s why the FCC has agreed that I propose an amendment to the F23 pre-manifesto motion on behalf of the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) which calls for the UK to have a comprehensive strategy to challenge regimes such as that led by the CCP in China. My article in the latest Liberator gives the full background.

I also support FIRC’s emergency motion on China to be selected at the ballot for debate at autumn conference.  

Back in 2019, the European Commission was already calling China a “systemic rival”. This summer, President Xi’s intentions became even clearer when he boycotted the G20 summit, which unites major developed and developing economies, in favour of posing as the leader of the beginnings of an alternative world economic system at the BRICS summit as well as lobbying the Global South at the G77+China summit of 135 developing countries.

China’s new Global Development, Security and Civilisation Initiatives say that China’s development model shorn of human rights is more suitable for developing countries, that Western military alliances are a threat to world peace and that criticising the CCP is a racist assault on the Chinese people.

As many authoritarian governments grow wealthier, and the West’s clout weakens, an urgent new approach is needed if the post-Western global order for human rights and the rule of law is to remain centre-stage.

What Must We Do?

This party believes that the UK must always stand on the side of democracy, human rights, international law and multilateralism.

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China – national security threat?

I first visited Hong Kong in the summer of 1989, a few weeks after the massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.  At the time the people of Hong Kong feared for their future, whilst the rest of the world considered how to deal with a regime prepared to shoot its own people to remain in power.  Over the next decades I would come to work and live in China, receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2002 for developing the Economist’s business in China.   Whilst recognising that we were dealing with an autocratic state and rightly concerned at its human rights record, we considered that by engaging with China – and in my case helping Chinese businesses align their commercial practices with those of the West – we were helping to create a new partner in the global world order.

However, since Xi Jinping’s ascent to power over a decade ago, things have gone backwards. Instead of a partner China is increasingly setting itself up as an adversary to the West, set on undermining the liberal world order.  Within our own liberal family, some condemn our engagement back then with China – arguing that we should have foreseen what was coming.  On a recent trip to Berlin, I met up with an old friend who at one time ran the business operations of Siemens in China.    I asked him for his thoughts on whether we had got it so wrong back then.    He defended our actions, but with our knowledge now of China’s recent behaviour, we cannot carry on with business as normal.  Germany that has invested 10 times more in China than the UK and therefore has much more to lose, is having to face some tough decisions.

In recent years we have seen the Chinese Communist Party CCP prepared to resort to ever more extreme measures to maintain its grip on power.   In its repressive treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang – classed by many as genocide – to its crushing of Hong Kong’s civil liberties, to the oppression of civil society in mainland China itself – it has become ever more autocratic.  In today’s Hong Kong commemorating the victims of Tiananmen Square in public – a major public event up until only a few years ago – will now land you in jail.  People are afraid to criticise the government even in the privacy of their own homes. The CCP has clamped down on activities within China itself that it feels unable to control.  Shanghai Pride – an amazing weeklong celebration attracting thousands of LGBT people from across China – was closed down last year.  It’s main organiser having to flee the country or face arrest.  A similar fate has brought thousands of Hong Kongers to live in the UK.

And in our battle with Putin’s Russia which is primarily aimed at stopping the spread of liberal democracy, where Ukraine is the front line – China has aligned itself with Russia.  We should be under no illusion that should Russia succeed in its plan, that the invasion of Taiwan will be next on China’s agenda.

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Can Parliament take back control?

In a futile attempt to prevent Boris Johnson’s defenestration last year Jacob Rees Mogg tried to browbeat his ministerial colleagues by demanding that a change of Prime Minister required a General Election.  Johnson himself seemed equally deluded that he had achieved a personal mandate in 2019 to which no successor could lay claim.

Our constitution – at the moment at least – doesn’t work like that.  We don’t elect a President.  We vote for individual MPs who collectively give authority to an executive team, and (in theory) hold them to account.

But is it working like that ?

In recent months a range of commentators from across the political spectrum have identified a series of faults and follies, which call in question our democratic norms.  With some 53 years of parliamentary service between us we attempt a more comprehensive analysis in our book Can Parliament Take Back Control?, published this week.

Amidst all the other challenges which politicians will face after the next election the damaged relationship between Parliament and the executive may seem relatively less urgent.  Yet the insidious shift of power from the former to the latter in recent years may prove to undermine the very foundations of Britain’s democratic constitution.

In so doing, it could make it increasingly difficult to secure public support for practical responses to those other challenges.

This book highlights the various ways in which governments have neutered, side-lined and ignored Parliament to an extent which now demands a deliberate restoration of the balance of power.  We suggest that events since 2015, in particular, have caused slippage towards the “elective dictatorship” about which Lord Hailsham warned in his Dimbleby Lecture in 1976. Hence our subtitle:  “Britain’s Elective Dictatorship in the Johnson Aftermath”.   The text of the Lecture is reprinted as an Annex with the encouragement of the present Lord Hailsham.

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What have the Liberals ever done for us?

The Liberal Democrat History Group has just produced a new publication – What Have the Liberals Ever Done for Us?

From the very earliest days in the seventeenth century through to today, the Liberal values of liberty, equality, community, internationalism and environmentalism have underpinned what Liberal governments achieved in power, what Liberal and SDP and Liberal Democrat MPs fought for in opposition, and what Liberal Democrat ministers achieved once more in government.

This booklet is a concise summary of Liberals’ and Liberal Democrats’ greatest achievements over 350 years of Liberal history. Chapters cover human rights, fair votes, government reform, gender equality, international, economy, education, welfare, health and environment, together with a comprehensive timeline. As Ed Davey writes in the preface, ‘When you need to put your feet up after door-knocking, or to energise yourself for the next delivery round, read it to remember what we stand for and what we have done with the votes that people have lent us – and be inspired to campaign for even greater achievements in the future.’

We are launching the booklet at the History Group’s fringe meeting at Bournemouth, where Layla Moran MP, Sarah Olney MP, Wendy Chamberlain MP and Baroness Barker, chaired by Lord William Wallace, will choose their favourite Liberal achievements. The meeting takes place after the rally, at 8.15pm on Saturday in the Meyrick Suite in the Conference Centre. (Register here for Zoom access for those not at conference.) The booklet will be available to purchase at the meeting (at a special price!) and from the History Group stand in the exhibition (and, after conference, via our website).

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Politics should be about the people – it’s crucial we secure democratic reform

While Labour strategists will tell you that nothing can be taken for granted, the bulk of the media and much of the rest of the Westminster bubble has already declared Labour the winner of the next general election.

With still probably one year to go before the voters get a look in, it is striking how much the opposition is able to set the political agenda. Journalists remark on the sense in which the opposition now seems to be making the political weather, as if this happens entirely independently. To paraphrase Boris Johnson, ‘the herd has moved’.

Cheered on by wealthy donors, the two big parties will spend the next year battling it out over a tiny slither of the electorate, quickening the pace of democratic disenchantment. Yet behind closed doors, much of the (so-called mainstream) media herd has already staged its own private coronation of Sir Keir Starmer and is now engaged in jockeying for access to the party they are sure will form the next government.

And, on one level, you might think ‘fair enough’. But obscured by the media’s ‘laser-like focus’ on electoral conjecture are the voters. Politicians work for us, and yet somehow, too often, our interests are mediated through the presumed winners and losers of an imagined election.

The Mid Bedfordshire by-election is the same story in microcosm. All the focus is on the horse race, on which challenger has a better claim to the seat. Sidelined are the feelings of voters about the first genuinely competitive election in their constituency for a generation – one in which all voters can be confident their vote will make a difference to the outcome.

Opinion polling and surveys can help us fill in some of the gaps: we know that people feel as if politicians are all the same, that their vote doesn’t change anything. We know how, when presented with the option of an electoral system in which all votes count, or a House of Lords that is accountable, people are eager for change. And we know how repelled most residents of Mid Beds were by the contempt shown to them by Nadine Dorries. This is replicated across the country.

But if we are serious about doing something to address the sorry state of our democracy, the challenge is clear: how to work together to ensure the voices of the people do not get drowned out between now and the next election.

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In support of robust and respectful debate at conference

“It’s a disgrace that someone can say something outrageous like that in a debate at Conference! They should be thrown out of the Party! How can I put in a complaint? I want them expelled!” I have heard this question time and time again over the years during Federal Conference.

The answer is simple. If you believe you need to make a complaint about the behaviour of a member of the Liberal Democrats, go to the party website and put in a formal complaint to the Lib Dem’s Independent Complaints Process. A decision will then be made by the Senior Adjudicators about whether the complaint should be heard, or whether it should be dismissed.

In debates things are often said that are downright annoying and may be deeply upsetting to hear, especially from another Party member. 

However, we must remember that the very nature of a debate is to invite opposing views. The Lib Dems are a Party which values free speech. Therefore, we cannot invite debate at conference and then routinely discipline our members, because of what they say on the platform.

People do put in complaints after Conference about things that were said in debates. The reality is that unless you can demonstrate in your complaint that a person may have broken the Members Code of Conduct or is likely to have brought the Party into disrepute, the complaint will be dismissed. 

If you can demonstrate a possible breach of the Members Code of Conduct, such a complaint would almost certainly be accepted for consideration by an Independent Panel of Adjudicators.

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Caron’s guide to the Craziness of Conference – updated for Bournemouth 2023

In less than 5 days, after a gruelling 6:40 am flight, I hope to be in beautiful Bournemouth, my favourite Autumn Conference venue. We last met there in 2019. It was fantastic to see my friends in York in March, but Autumn Conference has the length and girth to satisfy even the most ardent activist.

I have revamped my Guide to the Craziness of Conference for this year. Enjoy. And if you have any questions, ask away in the comments.

Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. You will thoroughly enjoy every exhausting moment. If you’re new, it can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to the sensory overload. I had a long break from going to them and when I returned, in 2011, I spent the first day wandering round in a state of wide-eyed amazement,  like a child in a toy shop.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d throw together a fairly random list of tips and hints for getting the best out of the annual cornucopia of Liberal Democracy. If you have any other Conference survival tips, let me know.

If you have any questions, there are lots of places to get answers. There’s Federal Conference Committee helpdesk in the Bournemouth International Centre. And if they can’t help, ask someone on one of the party organisation stalls in the exhibition – if they don’t know the answer, they’ll probably be able to point you in the right direction.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day has a huge variety of things to do. As well as the debates in the hall,  there’s a comprehensive training programme and a massive fringe.  There are spokespeople Q & As. There are competing fringe choices to be made.  You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time.  Spend some time now poring over the Agenda and Directory to work out what you don’t want to miss.

Some events aren’t in there because they aren’t official conference meetings.  Layla Moran is being interviewed by Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith for their hilarious For the Many podcast. Who knows, they might even say something nice about the Lib Dems! If you want to join us, buy your ticket here.

Be aware as well that you can eat quite well for free by choosing the right fringe meetings – look for the refreshments symbol in the directory.

Believe me, it’s much easier if you sort out your diary in advance. The best laid plans will always be subject to a better offer or meeting someone you haven’t seen for years randomly in a corridor, but it’s best to at least try to get some order into the proceedings. The Conference App is a real help for this. You can download it from whichever App store you use on your phone (search for Lib Dem Conf). Fully updated now for Bournemouth, it allows you to add events to your schedule and has all the papers loaded on to it.

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National targets are essential to tackle the housing crisis

Do we face a housing crisis in Britain? It might not seem like it if you bought your house 20 years ago, but for everybody renting, or trying to buy, it’s out of control.

Consider these astonishing facts.

Britain spends more on housing benefits than any other rich country.

New houses in Britain are smaller than every other western European country. Dutch people, who live in one of the world’s most densely populated countries, live in houses 21% bigger than Brits.

Britain’s homes are cold and damp and expensive to heat too. Recent studies show that we have among the worst insulated in Europe too.

And while London looks like the richest part of Britain, it has the second highest poverty rate when you account for housing costs. Even if you are on the typical London full time salary of £33,000, you will, on average, spend more than half of your post tax income on rent. 

All of these reflect decades where we haven’t built enough homes.

Since 1990 Britain’s population has increased by 10 million people. Our housebuilding hasn’t kept up. We have so little spare capacity that Britain has fewer empty homes than Finland.

New evidence shows that all housebuilding, even for the richest people, brings down prices for everybody, as it sets off a chain of moves through sequentially cheaper housing. For instance in Auckland, New Zealand, when they allowed more housebuilding, rents fell 25% relative to Wellington, where this didn’t happen.

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The Housing Crisis and Land Value Taxation

In submitting our amendment to the motion on Tackling the Housing Crisis (F31), ALTER is not wanting to change anything called for in the policy paper that will, we hope, be adopted nearly unanimously. Our purpose is to remind Conference that we can and must use our existing policy on tax reform, namely Land Value Taxation (LVT), to solve the underlying cause of the crisis.

We call for the commitment in the 2013 policy paper Fairer Taxes, endorsed by Conference that year, to be honoured. This was to conduct “early in the next Parliament …. a full-scale review to look at how (LVT) might best be implemented”. We do not suggest any new tax policies but merely call for FPC to do what Conference asked it to, which we feel is entirely appropriate given the motion’s subject.

The motion points out that “successive governments have pursued policies that benefit homeowners”. However there is no proposal to correct that imbalance between owning and renting. Our amendment emphasises that it is land value and not the value of “bricks and mortar” that is the cause of this fundamental unfairness. It is the major homebuilders and landowners who most benefit: obscenely and without economic or ethical justification.

Governments in England – both Conservative and Labour – have failed to review the grossly unfair Council Tax despite it being the main source of local and regional inequity in housing costs for occupiers. Whilst tax policy was outside the remit of the working party, it should have been able to point this out without us seeking to amend this motion.

The paper identifies the “main drivers of the housing crisis” as principally not overall supply but about:-

  • Provision of social housing
  • Economic prosperity of the area
  • The role of finance.
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Electoral reform has momentum: 2024 is our best opportunity

The campaign for fair, equal votes is bread and butter politics for most Lib Dems. The idea that governments can win power on a minority of votes while other parties go significantly under-represented weakens the claim that the UK is a representative democracy. This is seen time and time again, with 2019 a particularly brutal example where the Conservatives gained a majority on just 43% of the vote while our own party gained over a million votes but fell back in the Commons.

First Past the Post leads to unrepresentative parliaments and unrepresentative governments – frequently resulting in policies that most voters are unhappy with, but which appeal to marginal seat voters. We know what the solution is: Proportional Representation, with STV as our preferred model.

PR treats voters equally, shown by countless fair elections around the world, but for decades our cause has been dismissed and ignored. The system is stacked against us of course. The current model deters those in power from implementing real change, but reform is possible. Just look at New Zealand where the country is going to the polls in October safe in the knowledge that the party political distribution of seats will by and large reflect votes won across the country.

The UK could very well be on the cusp of a New Zealand moment of its own where First Past the Post is rejected in favour of a system of Proportional Representation. For the first time in a long time, there’s a real sense that change could very well come to Westminster.

There was some sense of that in 2010 but the odds were even more stacked against us back then. Being in power with a party so opposed to reform limited our options from the outset. Many of the challenges then still persist but there are some major differences.

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Layla Moran to appear with Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith in Bournemouth

Layla Moran MP will be the special guest star on Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith’s Lib Dem stop on their tour of Party Conferences.

The LBC Presenter and former Labour Home Secretary host a weekly podcast, For the Many, which is for me an unmissable hour of politics and outrageous filth. The live shows are a bit tamer. The presence of an audience is usually enough to remind them that someone else is actually listening.  Usually.

As many of you will be planning your Conference diaries in the next few days, make sure you include this show. It is bound to be hilarious. It’s happening on the Sunday night of Conference between 7 and 9 pm at Canvas, 24 Poole Hill, Bournemouth. You can get tickets here.

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Local Lib Dems can restore people’s trust in housebuilding

I live in a ward represented by four Lib Dem councillors, where there are 3,952 new homes (out of ∼5,200 homes in the ward), primarily built due to local plans written by the then Lib Dem-led council. However, in 1,800 conversations on the doorstep in the ward, (thanks connect), only one has contained objections to the scale of housebuilding. I’m not claiming that NIMBYism does not exist, just that it’s a much less prevalent view than stereotypes would suggest and that there is a consensus that the development has improved our area.

After all, this is an affluent, suburban ward, which was gained from the Conservatives, where stereotypes, especially those based on all parties’ campaign literature (including ours), would suggest that NIMBYism would be a popular if not prevalent view.  So why is this not the case here? In real terms, the answer to that is that the development has allowed the local GP surgery to move out of a portacabin to a new and more suitable location, and also, where there was one local primary school, there are now three local primary schools and a secondary school. Also, there’s a new cafe, library, community centre, parks, etc. and even though there are things that could have definitely been done better the broad consensus about the positive impacts of the development remains strong.

Though sadly, the Lib Dems lost control of my local council during the coalition years, (housebuilding rates have declined since), similar development is now taking place neighbouring Lib Dem run South Cambridgeshire. They have both started and completed over 4,000 homes in their first term (significantly more than before Lib Dems took control) and are now putting in place a local plan containing tens of thousands more (∼58,000).

This all means that I get to be part of a local team (and its predecessors over the last 20 years) of which I can be proud, not a universal experience among Young Liberals to whom the housing crisis is very present.  This is a local team that has done a lot for just one ward to tackle the housing crisis (go read  Janey Little’s excellent article on that if you haven’t) and has made an appreciable difference to local public services including on things that Lib Dems campaign on elsewhere – GP appointment availability, the condition of school buildings, lack of local amenities, affordable housing.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 8 Comments

We need three or four stand-out policies!

Four by-election wins in little over two years, an encouraging set of council results in May, the governing party suffering dreadful poll ratings – it’s a time of optimism for the Liberal Democrats! Or is it? Sorry to prick the bubble, but there’s an elephant in the room.

That elephant is our national opinion poll rating, which is resolutely refusing to rise above the 10-12% range. With the Conservatives doing so badly, a feeling that a once-in-roughly-15-years change in government is approaching, and the reality of the Brexit disaster becoming clearer by the day, we should be up to 20% if not higher. Why aren’t we?

There’s another elephant in the room. We want a hung parliament at the next election, and the number of ‘don’t knows’ in current polls and stay-at-home Tory voters in recent elections suggests this is still possible. It will take a fair bit of tactical voting. But to persuade people to vote tactically, and for the Lib Dems to play a part in some power arrangement that gets us a change in the voting system, we have to tell people what we stand for. At the moment, the leadership of the party is not doing that.

This is what motivated a group of committed, loyal but very concerned Lib Dems to meet in York during spring conference to throw around ideas aimed at encouraging the leadership to give the party a clearer identity going into the next election. There’s no shortage of approved policies, but they need trumpeting, in particular the need for us to be the party committing to rebuild relationships between Britain and the EU, before someone else on the political stage denounces Brexit first (don’t rule out Starmer or Sunak doing so if it serves them).

The follow-up to that informal gathering in York is a formal fringe meeting in Bournemouth on Saturday 23 September to be chaired Layla Moran MP. Entitled ‘Shouldn’t we be doing better? – the need for bolder messaging’, the country’s leading psephologist and pollster John Curtice will explain how his polling shows that the Lib Dems should be scoring much higher. Curtice also believes we didn’t blow the 2019 election on our ‘revoke Brexit’ stance but by not standing for anything else, which reinforces the idea that we need three or four policies the public associate with us if they’re to lend us their votes.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 86 Comments
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