Tag Archives: autumn conference 2018

Reflections on Brighton

After a short period at the Lib Dem conference I am still in Brighton for a couple of days. Brighton is quite a good place to reflect on the state of the UK.

Thinking back, Brighton used to be in much better nick than it is now. Many pavements are cracked and broken, many of the houses and hotels look run down and in need of repair and renovation. The seafront is not particularly special and the West Pier is still a burned out shell. Here, in one of the UKs premier resorts, there are many homeless people on the streets and many beggars as well. Hardly the sort of Britain that we Liberal Democrats want to see!

Recycing largely takes place by means of unsightly bins strewn around the streets and the former green-run council’s recycling policies made a mockery of recycling anyway.

I suspect that much of this is the result of austerity, especially the massive cuts to the finances of the local council that no longer enable it to respond to the needs of the Brighton and Hove Community.

Brexit will hardly improve matters, because hotels and restaurants here rely heavily on European workers and they may not be available after March 2019.

Although I have no direct information, I suspect that housing is expensive and that many people, especially the young, have no hope of getting on the housing ladder and live in the private rented sector with its high prices and insecurity of tenure.

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Conference Success for Radical Association

Members of the Radical Association Executive have had a significant impact at this year’s Autumn Conference. I’m extremely pleased with the work that the Executive and our supporters have put into this Conference and thankful for all the time that you have given. Thanks to those efforts we managed to pass a significant policy amendment on each day of the Conference.

Our Director, April Preston, managed to significantly strengthen the party’s new disciplinary processes, with the addition of a proposed AIR (Anonymised Incident Reporting) system. This will allow encrypted initial reports to be made in which both the complainant and accused would be anonymous. The party can then inform the anonymous complainant what actions would be needed and who would need to be de-anonymised in order to turn the report into a formal complaint, and what support might be available to the complainant.

Similar systems in the US have greatly increased reporting rates and we’re proud to say that this will make the Liberal Democrats a forward-looking beacon of best practice when it comes to building a welcoming movement that can take effective action against those who drag our movement down. We are extremely grateful to Becca Plenderleith, Chair of Scottish Young Liberals, for bravely sharing her own experience of being let down by the current system and making a strong case for AIR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.30–12.50 Speech: Willie Rennie MSP

12.50–14.10 Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.00–11.00 Policy motion: Europe

11.00–11.20 Speech: Gina Miller

11.20–14.10 Lunch

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Controversial immigration paper passes but leadership defeated on key amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are keynote speeches from Sal Brinton and Jo Swinson.

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

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

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

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

12.30–12.50 Speech: Jo Swinson MP

12.50–14.10 Lunch

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That Lib Dem Disco setlist

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

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

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

So, without further ado, here we go:

Christine Jardine

 

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Time for hard headed realism on immigration

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

Meaning Well and Wishing Are Not Enough

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

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

Look back ten, twenty, thirty years: the attitudes and policies and hostile environment against immigrants that are now ‘mainstream’ were confined to a few vicious hatemongers like the British National Party and then UKIP. How did we get here?
Has compromising bit by bit to defuse racists worked or encouraged them? Has mainstream politicians talking about ‘valid concerns’ increased harmony? Has fanning flames extinguished them? Has encouraging xenophobia quietened it?
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The paper on migration, even amended, is not good enough

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

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

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

It won’t cut it at the hairdresser’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first is in the motion. 

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

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

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Vince invites progressives to join us ahead of Conference

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

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

Vince said:

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

Whether you

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

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

Keynote speakers today are Layla Moran and Tom Brake.

09.00–09.05 Opening of conference

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

09.40–10.25  Policy motion: Improving Animal Welfare

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

11.15–12.30 Policy motion: Establishing Real Freedom of …

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Lib Dem Voice at Conference

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

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

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

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

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

Fake News

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It’s not enough to open up the party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Power for people and communities

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

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

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

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

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

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The social market – a big Lib Dem idea

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

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

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

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

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A few pre Conference thanks

My Conference preparation has not been entirely successful so far. The biggest failure was the lamination of my voting pass. Somehow I put the bit with the hole at the wrong end. I am going to ask my work colleague to rescue it with a hole punch this norning. The galling thing is that I took the most care I’ve ever taken doing it.

As I vainly struggled with the approximately 723 million items on my to do list yesterday morning, I started to thinking about all the people who make Conference happen and thought it would be a good …

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Where is our tough on the causes of Brexit package?

I’m somewhat amazed that the slogan ‘Tough on Brexit, tough on the causes of Brexit’ hasn’t caught on over recent months. It should have done, and we Lib Dems should have appropriated it.

It was a brilliant slogan when deployed by Tony Blair in the early 1990s. Labour was always known as a party that cared about people whose difficult starts in life led to them committing crime, but it was never going to be elected to government unless it showed that it cared about the damage crime inflicts on victims. With one three-second soundbite, Blair dealt with both sides of the issue.

We have rightly been tough on Brexit, and we’re right to say it’s not the solution to the problems many who voted for it hoped for. But even if our ‘exit from Brexit’ campaign is successful, what kind of country is it going to leave us with? We’ll sigh with relief that the Brexit nightmare is over, and wake up to a country that’s even more angry and divided than it is already.

There’s growing evidence that austerity – in which we had a part as coalition partners 2010-15 – was a leading contributor to people’s anger with the EU. OK, so we know the EU wasn’t to blame for most of the ills, but when the industries you’ve grown up with die out, when automation threatens thousands of jobs, when the livelihoods of fishing villages are trashed seemingly by a ‘Common Fisheries Policy’, and when the gap between rich and poor seems to be widening with those dealing in finance and asset trading seen to be doing very well thank you, it’s little wonder people take it out on Britain’s membership of the EU.

That’s why we as a party need to develop a package of policies that will act as a reward or dividend for abandoning Brexit. We can call it our ‘Tough on the causes of Brexit’ policy if we want, but it has to make clear that we have heard the angst and anguish that led to the Brexit vote, and we’re not simply saying patronisingly that it was all a nightmare based on a misreading of the facts.

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Anonymised incident reporting – a way forward for our disciplinary processes

Last Spring, I spoke against our party’s disciplinary motion. “Our party aims to be agents of change and we do so by producing progressive policy’, I nervously spluttered, my first ever time speaking in that bright-lit yet mustardy stage-space. So it is a natural progression then, that this Autumn conference I have submitted my first ever amendment. Heart palpitations aside, I am hoping to positively reform the Party’s disciplinary procedures, so that we can take an innovative and user-led approach to tackling the scourge of sexual harassment and assault.

My proposed system, Anonymised Incident Reporting (AIR) maximizes complainant control when reporting or logging an offence, offering victims a variety of ways to anonymously detail what has happened to them or what they have been witness to. 

To summarise, AIR allows survivors of sexual assault to securely create encrypted, time-stamped records of their assault, and to only formally hand their report to the party as a full complaint when they’re ready to take action. It encrypts all information on both the complainant and assailant, and offers victims multiple options in how they handle their report and whether to turn it into a formal complaint. 

Callisto describes itself as “a non profit organisation that develops tech to combat sexual assault and harassment.”

A year after deciding to report my assault, I ended up finding the process of reporting to be more traumatic than the event itself. Feeling not believed by the people who I thought were there to project me was incredibly destabilizing.

said its creator Jessica Ladd.

An AIR system would allow the party to offer some initial support and advice to anonymous victims both about how they move forward with their report and what other support they can seek.

I, along with others, have developed these ideas along similar lines to the Callisto system used on US college campuses – the technology is now available and using encryption we can give more and better options to survivors. This amendment is nonetheless intentionally open-ended about some of the precise details of the system, in order that we can move towards an AIR system that is well researched and workable for all those concerned. It therefore offers the party scope to see what they are able to adopt, whilst pushing for a radical new approach that puts victims’ agency and their choices at the heart of our disciplinary procedures.

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Caron’s guide to the craziness of Conference – updated for Brighton 2018

Photo credit: Freefoto.com

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 puppy not knowing whether to play with the squeaky toys or eat all the biscuits.

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.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day starts with breakfast fringes as early as 7 and goes on until the small hours. There’s a comprehensive training programme alongside the debates in the hall. There are spokespeople Q & As. There are competing fringe choices to be made, even though the overall selection has reduced in recent years.  You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time. If you want to go to the big events ie anything involving Vince, then get there early.

I wouldn’t, of course, be shamelessly abusing my position as editor properly if I didn’t plug the LDV fringes. First of all, on Saturday between 1 and 2 pm in the Sandringham Room in the Hilton Hotel, we’re trying to inject some kindness and light into the toxic environment facing transgender people at the moment. Every time you open the Times, or the Mail, or, most annoyingly, the Guardian, there’s some article suggesting that women’s spaces are somehow at risk if transgender women are allowed in them. Actually, it’s been the law since 2010 and it’s been fine, but a new government consultation on making the process of getting a new birth certificate easier for trans people has been used as a vehicle for the most appalling scaremongering. In Scotland, feminist and trans equality organisations have worked well together on these issues, and we’ll have representatives from Engender and the Scottish Transgender Alliance along with the wonderful Sarah Brown (fresh from her by-election campaign in Cambridge) and Party President Sal Brinton showing that when women work together, all women prosper.

We’ve also co-sponsored a fringe with the Young Liberals on Fake News, with a fantastic panel – Marie Le Conte, freelance journalist, Daniel Pryor from the Adam Smith Institute MP for Edinburgh West and former Journalist, Christine Jardine and our wonderful Paul Walter. That’s in the Edinburgh Suite of the Metropole from 8:15-9:30.

Also in the Edinburgh Suite of the Metropole from 6:15-7:15 on Sunday, we’re co-hosting a fringe with Lib Dems 4 Seekers of Sanctuary asking How should the UK change its family reunification policies for refugees. There will be refreshments….

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 Conference). It allows you to add events to your schedule and is pretty flexible. It also has all the Conference papers on it – but to be honest, I find it way too fiddly for that. I like to have my proper agenda and the paper conference bulletin. 

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Jo Swinson: Why I’m voting for our bold new immigration policy

Over the past few weeks, the debate on our immigration policy has unfolded on these pages and elsewhere. I’ve read with interest the arguments on both sides, and now I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why I’ll be supporting that motion in Brighton on Sunday.

Before delving into the detail of the policy, it’s worth considering the big picture, and the recent troubling developments that form the backdrop to this debate.

Look across Europe, where anti-immigration populists have risen to government in Italy, Poland and Austria. Hungarian nationalist Viktor Orbán won another landslide victory in April; his ally …

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Brighton debate: Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities

Roll up, roll up – take your seats.  Monday afternoon of conference week in Brighton brings a debate on proposals for creating a new economy, one that really works for everyone in Britain.  As the party “demands better”, this forward-looking plan shows how we can tackle the root causes of our current dysfunctional economy and to provide real content to our campaigning on that central political issue of “the economy, stupid” (as Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist inelegantly put it).

The debate on Motion F28 – Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities – is your chance to accept, reject, amend or better still improve upon the ideas contained in the FPC’s paper of the same name, available to download here.  Do have a good read in advance, there’s a lot of great content to digest.  

On this site, Katharine Pindar has already helpfully examined it  through the lens of how Labour voters might see us, as an alternative to Corbynomics.

Developed over two years through our deliberative policy-making process, the package of proposals had a longer gestation period even than an African bush elephant: the working group (which I co-chaired with Julia Goldsworthy until she was appointed to a politically restricted job) took evidence and consulted widely, and then had to pause for Theresa May’s ill-fated snap general election. 

Our original consultation paper back in 2017 set out the challenges we had identified in creating a more prosperous and sustainable economic future for Britain in the 21st century – low productivity, new technologies, changing demographics, the folly of Brexit, resource depletion, rising inequalities, a trends towards ever bigger companies and reduced competition, and much more.  Despite this depressing back-drop, we said Liberal Democrats are inherently optimistic and should embrace the potential of change and of the big economic shifts that we saw coming.  We should not retreat, we argued, either to the little Britain ‘drawbridge economy’ envisaged by post-Brexit Conservatives or to Labour’s ‘big government knows best’ 1970s style siege economy.

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Have you downloaded the Conference App yet?

One of the most useful things you can possibly use to help you prepare for a hectic Conference is the Lib Dem Conference app.

It will help you make sense of the numerous choices available. Its timeline session lists everything you could possibly want to do in the auditorium, on the fringe or in the training rooms. It sets out the Conference timetable and allows you to add things to your schedule. You can view it in one list of everything going on or filter it by auditorium, fringe and training.

Unfortunately, it can’t choose for you which of the four things you might want to do at any one time to go to.

It is really worth going through this stuff well ahead of Conference because you seriously won’t have time to do it when you get there.

It will also have details of all the Conference papers so you can see the motions and amendments and reports at a glance. All the Conference Daily sheets will be added as they are produced. 

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Last chance to submit amendments and questions for Conference

If you want to submit an amendment to a Conference motion or to ask a question of the party committees, you only have until 1pm tomorrow to do it.

Submitting a question is easy – you just fill in the online form here. Believe me, the worst thing is trying to fit it into 25 words.

Putting in an amendment is a bit more complicated as you have to get the signatures of at least 10 members or submit on behalf of a local, state or regional party or an SAO like the Young Liberals or the Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality.

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Why we need a residential Landowners’ Levy

There are two motions for debate at Brighton that I particularly welcome, as founder member of ALTER and campaigner on Land Value Taxation (LVT) for 20+ years. There’s the one on Commercial Landowners Levy (F26), which is based on an excellent paper by four esteemed experts in our Party. Then there’s F34 “Promoting a Fairer Distribution of Wealth”.

Having read both motions, I was unhappy that F34 failed to match the combination of thorough research and analysis in F26 and also falls short on radical policy proposals to address the main cause of wealth inequality: the so-called Land Question. As a …

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Weak immigration paper needs to go back to the drawing board

The immigration motion (F16) and policy paper coming to Conference has already rightly drawn the ire of Lib Dem Voice commentators.  It’s weak, indistinct, and includes some seriously objectionable language and ideas. I and the Radical Association, of which I’m proud to be the current chair, will be opposing F16 at conference and demanding a full rethink of this poorly produced and inadequate policy paper.

We’re at a point in rebuilding our party from some bad electoral losses where it’s crucial that we build a clear, separate identity as voices to empower the voiceless, and being proudly pro-immigration is a vital part of that. Passing F16 would undermine rather than support that.

Let’s think about the debates we could – and should – be having over our immigration policy.  We shouldn’t need a conference debate to argue over whether ripping families apart for no crime other than being poor, a system maintained by F16’s ban on recourse to public funds for immigrant families, is wrong. Nor should we need one to tell us that migrants are our fellow human beings and that a motion with calls to “reap economic benefits from the diasporas” is utterly and shamefully inappropriate in its rhetoric.

Liberal Democrat debates on immigration should focus instead on how to best support and empower migrants. We need to show many families struggling with spousal income limits or visa processing fees, or getting wrapped up in red tape just for wanting to live with their loved ones, that we’re in their corner and taking their side. It’s time, too, for a serious discussion on enfranchising permanent non-citizen residents, from whom the UK state happily takes its tax share but who get no say in the system they live under – as sadly borne out in the Brexit vote.

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Time to get your amendments ready for Conference

The deadline for amendments and emergency motions for Conference may seem like ages away but, believe me, 1pm on Monday 3rd September will be on us before we know it.

The Conference will be discussing a wide range of subjects, from the controversial migration paper to animal welfare to decriminalising abortion to foreign policy to housing to fairer distribution of wealth to Lib Dem “priorities for a better Britain.”

Your mission for this weekend, should you choose to accept it, is to read all the motions to see which you agree with, which you don’t like and which you think could be made better if it included a particular perspective. In reality, all of them will have some way they could be improved.

Part 2 of that mission is about thinking what our Brexit policy should be from now. Do you think that the People’s Vote thing is a bit mild and we should be going all-out for revoking Article 50? Do you think we should settle for single market and customs union membership? How should our MPs vote on the deal when it is presented? There is currently a Europe sized hole in the agenda because there was no point in submitting a motion in June that might be out of date by September, so you have the chance to craft your ideal Brexit policy.

If you think a motion would be the better for a change, you could draft the changes you think are necessary and then get drafting advice from a member of the Federal Conference Committee. The deadline for asking for that advice is 13:00 on Monday 20th August.

You don’t have to have asked for drafting advice to submit an amendment but it is useful to make sure that you get the format right or to ensure that you aren’t using any ambiguous language or that it’s competent. It doesn’t guarantee selection, of course, but it does make it more likely that it will meet the key criteria.

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Now this is how to write a motion on immigration issues

From the last paragraph of the Preamble to our Constitution:

Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services. Setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, we will work with other countries towards an equitable and peaceful international order and a durable system of common security.

That’s a brilliant, positive statement of who we are and what we are against. It’s a very clear statement in favour of free movement of people.

Now have a look at the second paragraph of our new policy paper on immigration to be debated in Brighton:

However, migration today is not the peaceful, equitable, ordered guarantor of durable security that our constitution envisages. Fuelled by the failure of governments to spread economic prosperity widely, some people feel that their concerns about employment, housing, and social and welfare resources are somehow linked to immigration. There has been an alarming rise in hostility to all immigrants, including some British people settled here for a generation or more.

Some people also believe that the earth is flat. We don’t supply them with ropes in case they fall off the edge. We prove to them that they are wrong. The way to stop hostility to immigrants is to challenge the poisonous drip-feeding from the right wing tabloid press and right wing politicians, to to pander to it, don’t you think?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 24 Comments

Timid, half-hearted and apologetic immigration policy is not the way to tackle prejudice

Remember back in March, I almost spontaneously combusted when I read the consultation paper on immigration. Anything that put the word “robust” before “humane” really didn’t have a place in a liberal party as far as I was concerned.

After I wrote that piece, I became more hopeful at what I thought was a genuine attempt by the working group to engage with members. I know that they received a huge amount of feedback suggesting that they should take a more compassionate and fair approach.

We don’t know what the policy paper says yet as it hasn’t been published but the motion, which appears from page 35 of the Conference agenda actually makes me ashamed.

Let me talk a bit about why it is so important to tackle fear and prejudice. Nigel Farage, the Daily Fail and other elements of the right wing press have spent the last half century dripping poison about immigrants and immigration. They have used immigrants and lately EU citizens as scapegoats, wrongly. The problems we have are as a result of the failure of successive governments to adequately invest in housing and public services. If they had done that, then there would be no need for the right wing to turn groups of vulnerable people on each other.

As we move in to very dangerous times, as Brexit’s economic hit threatens jobs and public investment, when they can’t blame the EU any more, who will the Torykip lot blame next? It sure as hell won’t be them for getting us into this mess. It’ll be disabled people for claiming too many benefits (as if – most can’t get the help they desperately need), workers for demanding such indulgences as a minimum wage, set working hours and maternity leave.

If this immigration paper is an indication of how we as Liberal Democrats are going to stand up for these targeted groups, then we really need to demand better.

The motion is apologetic, timid and half-hearted. Every time it talks about doing something remotely right, it adds in a caveat saying, effectively, “but it’ll save us lots of money.”

It talks about fairness in the title, but there is no underscoring of that in the motion.

It tinkers at the edge of a horrible system that needs to be dismantled and started again from scratch with a new, enabling, compassionate, culture.

I also have a real problem with the paragraph that reads:

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

That is a worthy goal, but thinking you are going to achieve it with the policies and attitude outlined in the motion is a bit like trying to clean a casserole dish with baked on dirt with a cotton wool ball.

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Inequality and taxation

Since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, politicians – sadly including many in our own party – have denigrated taxation, reduced the levels of income tax and switched tax from income and wealth to consumption. All mainstream political parties have perpetuated the myth that you can have low taxes and good public services. When I first worked, in the late sixties, the basic rate of income tax was 33% and the top rate was 98%. This had persisted since the war, regardless of which of the main parties was in power. The basis for these levels of taxation was the need to pay for public services, including a good number in public ownership. There was also a view that the gap between the bottom and top of the income scale should not be too large. Broadly people accepted this post war settlement, except of course for a few very highly paid individuals – like the Rolling Stones, who went to live abroad.

Mrs Thatcher, a disciple of economist Milton Friedman, changed all that. Tax rates at the top plummeted to 60% (and later to as low as 45%) and basic rates declined a little. Soon taxation on consumption was to rise and there were new taxes too. The argument used was that income tax was stifling enterprise and that letting people keep more of their own money would incentivise them to invest and develop new businesses. The corollary was that there was less money for public services and an inexorable squeeze on those services was started by Mrs Thatcher, continued by John Major and compounded by Gordon Brown. The coalition made it worse.

At the same time inequality started to get worse. Over time the ratio of top earners pay to shop floor workers’ pay went up from about 4:1 in the immediate post war years, then to 10:1 and much more in some cases, even as high as 50:1. Peter Mandelson may have been relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they paid their taxes, but the effects of this huge widening of inequality has had devastating effects on our society, as detailed in ‘The Spirit Level’ by Kate Pickett et al.

The reductions in income tax continued, urged on by the millionaire owners of the press and media. Despite the big increases in personal allowances the gap between the top and bottom has continued to grow and with it the breakdown of the caring society some of us still remember. The politics of envy, stoked by the advertising industry, create a society filled with anxiety, mental illness and violence. In many areas people don’t even know their neighbours, let alone love them. Gated communities tell you just how uncaring we have become.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 34 Comments

What’s your favourite thing about Liberal Democrat Conference?

In just over 9 weeks’ time, thousands of Lib Dems will be packing up and heading to Brighton for four days of serious debate, fun and thought-provoking fringe meetings.

This Saturday, Federal Conference Committee will have a very loooooong meeting to decide how they will fill up four days by the sea.

We’ve had a couple of posts about some of the motions submitted by members. Only a small fraction will make it on to the agenda. If you want to make a pitch for yours, there’s still time – just send …

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments
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