Tag Archives: david steel

Cyril Smith: “Scurrilous hearsay?”

11 minutes and 19 seconds into Sunday’s final episode of “A Very English Scandal” Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe spoke the immortal lines: “All that new blood coming through – Clement Freud, Cyril Smith. Exciting Times”.  Of course the lines are fictional but the point is well made. We now know a very great deal about those “exciting times” and how abusers hid in plain sight behind a 70’s larger than life, English eccentric, man of the people image.

All the more astonishing then that Lord Steel said on Monday’s Newsnight that the allegations against Smith were “so far scurrilous hear-say”. 

This when the CPS has already admitted that Smith should have been prosecuted in 1970 or again in 1998 and 1999. On September 16 2017 the Chief Executive of Rochdale Borough Council gave an apology to the victims. The late, great Liz MacKean’ s  extraordinarily moving Dispatches documentary from September 2013 is still available. MacKean hears from those who say they were abused by Smith. I defy anyone not to at least give those witnesses a hearing.

The Independent Inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) issued its interim report about Rochdale on April 25. In no way shape or form does the interim report implicate any Liberal or Liberal Democrat figures in abuse conducted by Cyril Smith. But, terrifyingly, it makes it clear that it is very likely that Smith abused over many decades. It hears from those who say they were abused by Smith in the 90s at Knowl View School and is astonished by the decision to make him Chair of Governors in 1994. Smith’s abuse does not just relate to allegations in the 60s when he was a member of the Labour Party.

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Why David Steel’s Abortion Act means so much to me – a reflection on its 50th Anniversary

Today is an important day. We, as Liberals, need to remember that 50 years ago, on this day, the Abortion Act came into being.

Why is this important? I know many people, especially disabled people, feel a real conflict about this legislation. There are issues to consider here, not least with regard to the concept of gender selective abortion and I would urge people to look at MP voting records on this important topic.

Back in the 1960s, the oral contraceptive was still in its infancy. Abortion was illegal and many women faced the real social stigma of being pregnant and unmarried. Fortunately, attitudes have changed. However a real and profound reason for the idea of the Act was not, as many people think, convenience. In actual fact, women were dying every year, in the U.K. from illegal and unsafe abortions. I am talking about women who had few options, where access to clinics was for the rich. A young Liberal MP, David Steel, took up the challenge and the Act was drafted.

Amongst the team of civil servant legal officers was a woman in her early twenties, who would have been deeply affected by issues around women’s reproductive health. I cannot tell you what she, coming to adulthood in this era, must have experienced with her friends, but I do know that she had fellow female students who were married with children at an early age. Did she know anyone who had had to engage the services of a woman like Vera Drake, someone who did their best to help women in trouble? Did she know someone who had died or became unable to have children as the result of infection from an unsafe abortion? I don’t know.  I do know that the experience and what she learnt from drafting the legislation had a profound effect on her and she went on in life to strongly support women’s reproductive rights and health. Her views on people who wanted changes to U.K. legislation “because it felt right” were quite strong. I know she was happy to discuss it with her daughters. I know this because she was my mother.

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Student hopes to become the Scottish Borders’ youngest councillor

Following hard on the heels of our post about the Isle of Wight’s youngest candidate on Sunday, here’s news from Galashiels via The Southern Reporter:

A teenage student from Peebles is the youngest candidate standing in next month’s Scottish Borders Council elections.

Caledonia Bhatia, 18, a chemical engineering student at Edinburgh University, has been selected as Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for the Galashiels and district ward.

No stranger to political life, Caledonia is the daughter of outgoing Tweeddale West councillor Catriona Bhatia and granddaughter of Liberal Democrat grandee Lord David Steel of Aikwood.

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In pictures: Leaders from the archives

Just delving about in the Getty Images archive, I happened upon these great images of our current leader and some of our past leaders*. Please click on the images to read the captions.

* includes predecessor parties.

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David Steel pays tribute to Derek Ezra, emphasising his pro-European views

Derek EzraIn twelve years as Liberal Leader, David Steel only got to nominate eight peers. One of them was former National Coal Board chairman Derek Ezra, who died last December.

In London this week, Lord Steel gave a speech at Haberdashers’ Hall (Derek Ezra was an honorary Liveryman) in which he paid tribute to Derek Ezra. He also explained why his colleague was so in favour of a European organisation that worked together and kept the peace.

During my twelve years as party leader Prime Minister Thatcher was notoriously mean in Liberal peerages, allowing me only eight during that time in spite of the encouragement of the Tory leader in the Lords – Willie Whitelaw – to do better. Subsequent Prime Ministers were much kinder to Ashdown, Kennedy and Clegg and allowed them several nominations in each list. Inevitably my eight nominations were all either former senior MP’s or party office-bearers – with one exception – Derek Ezra.

In his memoirs he says that I nominated him “in order to introduce some industrial experience on to the Liberal benches” and that is true but not the whole truth – I thought it important for the public to see that we had people of his calibre in public life. He was known as chairman of the National Coal Board but few knew he was an ardent Liberal, arguing against the pattern of “them and us” in so much of British business. And what a success he was, one colleague saying “Derek ought to give lessons to the rest of us on how to put questions in the Lords” and another describing his contributions – even from his wheelchair in later life – as combining “integrity, clarity and relevance”. I always considered his expertise on energy and conservation debates as adding greatly to the prestige of our party.

Lord Ezra was an active and committed European from his earliest days as a student at Cambridge, as Major Ezra during the war and in his four-year service in the European Coal and Steel Community in Luxembourg. Delivering a lecture in this very hall in 2005 he mentioned his earlier work with Jean Monnet “one of the most remarkable men of the 20th century” who “was convinced that in order to avoid future wars and promote stability and prosperity, European countries would have to cooperate on a more integrated basis than ever before”. Derek added “Britain remained a reluctant participant – in my opinion much to our disadvantage”.

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David Steel on Northern Ireland abortion law

David Steel

We’ve just caught up with an interview with David Steel on the BBC Northern Ireland political show The View. (The interview starts 17:58 minutes in)

David was responsible for introducing the Abortion Act in 1967, which made abortion legal up to 28 weeks, later reduced to 24 weeks. But the law was never extended to Northern Ireland where the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 still applies. Under that law a woman who procures her own abortion is guilty of a felony and can be given a prison sentence of life, or for up to two years ‘with or without hard labour, and with or without solitary confinement’. Current regulations permit termination only if the woman’s life is at risk or if continuing the pregnancy would put her long-term health at risk.

David says:

I think they’ve got to face up to the fact that the law in Northern Ireland is simply ridiculous – 1861 – and it is time they came up at least to 1967, if not 2016.

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LibLink: David Steel: We need liberalism more than ever

David Steel has written an article for the Scotsman explaining why liberalism is needed more than ever in the face of both domestic and international challenges. He praises both Tim Farron and Willie Rennie and urges liberals to “re-assert themselves and support them.”

His comments about the SNP also struck a bit of a chord with me. It’s not just that they stitched up the Scottish Parliament with their majority, giving themselves control of the committees so that they couldn’t be effectively scrutinised, it’s their general attitude to politics. They are reminiscent of Labour in the ’80s and ’90s, with such a sense of entitlement to power and objection to even the mildest, most evidence based criticism. Yesterday, we had three shouty nationalists in the space of a couple of hours in our office. Clearly such intimidatory tactics are designed to spook us. Actually, we enjoy the fact that they are clearly rattled by the scale and success of our campaign. It is very like the days in Derbyshire when Labour thugs would shout at you as you delivered leaflets and it’s sad to see that kind of politics.

Anyway, back to David’s article. He wrote:

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LibLink: David Steel: Tim Farron is a man of conviction and a risk taker – that’s why he got my vote

David Steel has written in the Guardian about why he backed Tim Farron and what he thinks he’ll bring to the party:

That level of deep commitment which Farron obviously has, combined with his organisational skills and northern public persona, has all the ingredients of a successful leadership. I speak as one who sat in a gloomy Commons party of six after the 1970 election debacle, three of us clinging to majorities under 1000. It took time, but we turned that round, and went on both to increase our numbers and form the significant Alliance with the SDP and eventually the new united party, which at elections under Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Clegg reached new heights of public support. The same can happen again.

A colleague said to me during this contest: “But isn’t Farron a bit risky?” I responded that that may be so, but what the party needs at this time is a risk-taker, not afraid to revisit more traditional Liberal policies – on Trident, on Europe, on industrial democracy, on land value taxation, on the pursuit of a more just society, and on the need for a federal constitution including a new upper house.

It will be a long and at times painful journey, but with Tim Farron inspiring and leading it I see grounds for real hope and optimism.

 You can read the whole article here. 
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LibLink: David Steel – Six ways Nick Clegg steered the Liberal Democrats to disaster

On the Guardian Comment is Free, David Steel has a must-read article with remarkably perspicacious observations:

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Peter Preston reminisces about David Steel’s by-election victory half a century ago

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston has been reminiscing about the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election 50 years ago which was won by a young David Steel. He’s been to the opening of a new exhibition celebrating the by-election and muses on the difference between politics then and now.

First, he sets the scene:

Fifty years ago, as a neophyte Guardian reporter, I covered the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles byelection that catapulted David Steel into parliament. Now I’m back in Selkirk to open an exhibition celebrating his victory: a kind of still living artefact in a mini-museum full of faded speeches, posters and promises. Ah yes, I remember it well. The eerily youthful “boy David” who went on to lead the Liberals through that pact; wildly enthusiastic meetings, 300 or more strong, greeting big hitters – George Brown, Lord Hailsham, Jo Grimond – up from the smoke; an enthusiasm and a turnout (81.5%) with referendum intensity.But the past is not an island – even in a chilly mansion-cum-embryo-arts-centre perched by a loch. For the clan gathering to congratulate the old boy (aka Lord Steel of Aikwood) is large and intriguing. Here’s George Reid, the early SNP warrior who succeeded Steel as presiding officer in the Edinburgh parliament. Here’s Tam Dalyell of the Binns, Labour’s superlative stoker of backbench trouble through four decades. Here (well, at least expected soon) is Ronald King Murray, 92, who lost his Labour deposit but went on to win laurels as lord advocate. Here are canvassers who tramped the streets of Galashiels, folk with a memory leaning on a stick.

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Is David Steel right about the Liberal Democrat attitude to a future coalition?

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In Full: David Steel’s eulogy for Lord George Mackie

Lord George MackieWe are grateful to David Steel for sending us his eulogy to Lord George Mackie who died at the age of 95 last week. 

One of the noticeable traits of George Mackie was his reluctance to talk about his wartime exploits in Bomber Command.  We of a younger generation wanted to hear more of the events which led to his remarkable survival and the awards of the DSO and DFC, but the tales had to be coaxed out of him. He was never boastful.

It is a huge privilege to be asked to speak here about his role in politics – for me it is a small labour of love, because I owe my entire political career to him.  In 1962 when I had just graduated in law but had no intention of becoming a lawyer he offered me a one year post as assistant secretary of the Scottish Liberal Party at the princely salary of £895.  Because Alec Douglas-Home as new PM delayed the election it turned out to be two years during which I was heavily involved in several by-election campaigns and in fund-raising.

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David Steel’s Golden Jubilee

David Steel at Malcolm Bruce's anniversary dinnerI’m sure that there will be many LDV readers wanting to see the film Selma (as a well-earned break from campaigning!) which is released this week. It depicts Martin Luther King’s leadership of thousands on the march from Selma to Montgomery in search of equal voting rights for African Americans who were largely excluded from voting rolls. The five day fifty-four mile march arrived at the State Capitol on the 25th March 1965.

It was on the day before that the young David Steel was elected in a by-election for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, thus beginning a long political career in which he has been a notable campaigner against racial injustice at home and abroad.

The various aspects of Lord Steel’s political life will be celebrated at this year’s Orpington Dinner at the National Liberal Club on Tuesday, 10th March with an impressive list of speakers including Baroness Shirley Williams. The Orpington Circle is one of the Party’s best kept secrets. Founded in 2008 during my time as Chairman of the National Liberal Club, it raises money to support Liberal Democrats at Westminster by-elections. The Orpington Fund has covered every by-election deposit since its foundation with larger sums going to selected seats.

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Five party leaders at the funeral of Jeremy Thorpe

Paddy Ashdown, Nick Clegg, David Steel, Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell attend the funeral of former Liberal Party party leader Jeremy Thorpe at Saint Margaret’s Church on December 17, 2014 in Westminster. The eagle-eyed will also spot Tim Farron on the right.

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Former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe dies

jeremy thorpe_2The party website records the passing of former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, who died today aged 85:

Mr Thorpe died today (4 December) at his home in London. He had battled with Parkinson’s Disease for more than 35 years. He was elected as Liberal MP for North Devon in the 1959 General Election and held the seat for 20 years. Following the retirement of Jo Grimond, he was elected as leader of the Liberal Party in 1967. He was a fervent supporter of Britain’s membership of the the EU

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A bit of our party’s history remembered

1988On 29th July, exactly 26 years ago, Paddy Ashdown was elected as the first leader of the newly merged Social and Liberal Democrats (which quickly settled down to being known as the Liberal Democrats).  The leadership contest was between Paddy Ashdown and Alan Beith, who had my vote. But what a leader Paddy turned out to be!

The Guardian marks the anniversary by airing an editorial of the day, part of which was a tribute to David Steel who had decided not to enter the leadership contest. David Steel had led the Liberal Party into the Alliance with the Social Democrats and acted as one of the two interim leaders of the Social and Liberal Democrats after the merger.  He had been the baby of the House when elected at the age of 26, and was one of the youngest party leaders ever when he took up that role 11 years later.

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David Steel responds to Cyril Smith allegations: “Idle gossip is not a basis for any inquiry at all”

Former Liberal leader Lord (David) Steel has responded on today’s BBC Radio 4 World at One to accusations that he failed to take seriously allegations levelled in 1979 by Private Eye magazine that Cyril Smith abused boys at a Rochdale hostel. You can listen to Martha Kearney’s interview with him here:

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Michael Moore reselected for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Michael Moore MP with apprentices Cameron Collins and Mark Tully at Mainetti 30 08 1349 years ago today, the Liberal Party created a political earthquake in the Borders when David Steel won the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election as the Liberal Democrat History Group remembers:

In the winter of 1963-64 a vacancy arose for a Liberal candidate in the much more winnable Scottish Border seat of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, whose Conservative incumbent, C. E. M. Donaldson, was elderly and ailing. Steel jumped at the chance to move and in January 1964 was adopted as the Liberal candidate. He failed to win the seat from the Conservatives at the general election of that year, but nonetheless moved his home to the Borders and took a short-lived job in television with the BBC. The death of Donaldson in December 1964 gave him his opportunity. Steel won the byelection in March of the following year with a handsome majority. He held the constituency (subsequently re-drawn and re-named Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) at the eight general elections from 1966 to 1992 before bequeathing the seat in 1997 to Michael Moore (q.v.) after more than thirty years in Parliament.

Twenty years after the by-election, David Steel announced he was stepping down as MP and Michael Moore was selected to fight the seat which he won in 1997.

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Should MPs be allowed to take their babies into the voting lobby?

There’s been a bit of controversy over the issue of breastfeeding in the House of Commons and taking babies into the voting lobby sparked by comments by Jo Swinson, who gave birth to her son Andrew on 22 December. The argument goes that you can take a sword into the Commons voting lobby, but not a baby. On face value, it sounds like yet another way in which Westminster needs to be dragged into the 21st century.

Jo said to the Guardian:

“I think it’s been lovely the way people have been really supportive in parliament of my pregnancy,” she said. ” I think some of the structures of the institutions of the House of Commons probably don’t make it as easy as it could be, in particular that you don’t get maternity cover. As a minister, I get cover for my work … but nobody else will be being the MP for East Dunbartonshire.”

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In full: David Steel’s lecture on the centenary of Jo Grimond’s birth

Liberal Democrats including Alistair Carmichael (ok, so he lives there), Willie Rennie, David Steel and Nick Clegg have headed to Orkney this weekend to celebrate 100 years since the birth of Jo Grimond, the man credited with building up the Liberal Party after is demise. David Steel gave a lecture in the Firth Church at Finnstown and Nick Clegg spoke at a dinner last night.
Steel’s lecture, outlining Grimond’s  crashes through our normal word limit, but I think it’s worth reading the whole thing to get an insight into the history of the Liberal Party and into both Grimond’s and Steel’s

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LibLink: David Steel…New type of Union needed

The Scotsman carries an extract from David Steel’s Presidential Address to the David Hume institute in which he talks about the need for constitutional reform of the whole UK to give real power to its constituent parts. I was particularly struck by this passage where he talks about distribution, not devolution, of power:

Many of my former constituents would quite comfortably consider themselves a Borderer first and then a Scotsman. And the same incidentally applies for Borderers born south of the Tweed in Northumberland in relation to Englishness. Politicians at their peril dictate identity and culture. People can quite comfortably consider

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The 1983 election: highlights and hindsight

I spent more of my bank holiday than is healthy watching the rerun of the 1983 election on BBC Parliament.

When I lived through it, I was an innocent and idealistic 15 year old. I really believed people would be so outraged that the Alliance had polled 7 million votes, finishing marginally behind Labour but with about a ninth of their seats. As Shirley Williams said, it was “absolute rubbish.” Surely we would have PR within a decade?

Thirty years on, it depresses me that we are no further forward. Westminster remains the last bastion of first past the post, for Scots …

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An earlier Letter from the Leader

Liberal Democrat members now receive a weekly letter by email from the party leader, Nick Clegg. I found a 32-year-old example of a “Letter From the Leader” to party members – one from David Steel on 27 February 1981. (Click to enlarge photo)
image
Without email, Steel asked for Local Association Chairmen (sic) to “take an early opportunity to read and discuss at appropriate constituency executives and other meetings.”

He noted that the party was campaigning on “unemployment and cuts” (today it is “jobs and growth”). Presumably, this observation was really a …

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Michael Moore’s Westminster Notes

Every week Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore writes a column for newspapers in his Borders constituency. Here’s this week’s edition.

David Steel book launch

Last week I attended the launch of the latest biography of David Steel in Westminster, this one written by David Torrance.  At the event I was pleased to be able to thank David publicly for the support and inspiration he has been to me over the years.

The book, to which I contributed the foreword (but otherwise none of the writing or research!) is certainly a testament to all David has achieved in his political career and, as his successor as Borders MP, I owe him a significant debt of gratitude. This new biography reflects on what I believe to be one of the most important and diverse political careers of recent times and I would encourage everyone to get a copy and give it a read!

Grocery Code Adjudicator

In my constituency, farming is an extremely important industry and as local MP I have been campaigning for fair prices for our farmers in a market which, for too long, has been balanced in favour of big supermarkets.  This is why last week I welcomed further progress on the Government’s Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill which received its Second Reading in the House of Commons.

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Opinion: Farewell to Lib Dem News

As a former Editor, I’m sad to see that Liberal Democrat News is now compiling its final issue.

The idea of a weekly newspaper began in 1947.There were numerous attempts to axe it. I fought off at least two, and it was only thanks to the likes of David Steel, John Pardoe, and the ALC, that the treasurer was persuaded otherwise in the 1970s. Then, the party was financially bust, despite Trevor Jones delivering a string of remarkable by-election successes that

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In other news… on Jess Ennis, Judy Steel & other stories

Here’s a round-up of stories we haven’t had time to cover on the site this past few days…

Campaign to rename Tudor Square in honour of Jess (Postcode Gazette)

Sheffield politicians want to rename Tudor Square in honour of Jessica Ennis. The Liberal Democrats have backed a campaign which went viral on twitter on Saturday night, following Jessica’s victory in the women’s heptathlon. The suggestion follows calls by Nick Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, that Ennis be granted Freedom of the City. Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Sheffield Council, said: “Every Sheffielder will have been bursting

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Lord Rennard: “There’s no substitute for democracy”

Liberal Democrat peer and campaigning guru Chris Rennard went on Radio 4 yesterday to respond to the Earl of Glasgow saying that we should back down on Lords reform.

Lord Rennard said that there have been  plans for an elected Lords were not Nick Clegg’s alone and that there had been efforts to reform the upper House for 50 years before Nick Clegg was born.

He took a mild swipe at his Liberal Democrat colleague Lord Steel when asked about the latter’s plans to limit the reforms to allowing voluntary retirement and sacking those peers who don’t attend. Those things, said Rennard, …

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Opinion: Why are we waiting?

We have played the waiting game before. It didn’t work in the 1980s, and it won’t work now.

In the 1983 Election, the Alliance reached a high water mark with a 26% vote. But there was discord. The Liberals, who won most seats, felt they should take the lead. The SDP, with their heavyweight experience, saw things differently. Problems grew when Owen took over, refused to collaborate properly, and set out to undermine theAlliancefrom within. A stalemate developed, and a waiting game began.

The Alliance announced to a stunned public that two-headed leadership was the new future. Their slogan “Not Left, Not …

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Lord Tyler writes… Only the Government’s Bill can take the hereditary principle out of Parliament

There has for some years been a conceit in the House of Lords that the place could gain stature and authority simply by doing a bit of tidying up at the edges, and by ending the hereditary principle. There has been a further conceit that this work can be done without controversy or delay.

Our own David Steel has been a doughty proponent of this approach, as a logical precursor to more comprehensive reform. Last Friday, he gave Peers their best opportunity ever to prove that it could work.

Yet the Lords showed itself resistant even to the modest changes on offer. …

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The failure of David Steel’s Lords reform measure is good news

The attitude of former Liberal Party leader David Steel to Nick Clegg’s House of Lords reform proposals has been lukewarm at best. Although the party he headed up repeatedly called for a democratic upper house, Steel has not been supporting Nick Clegg’s attempt to turn those often made demands into policy. He even signed a cross-party letter against the proposals that was published the day of Clegg’s formal announcement.

Instead, Steel has been pursuing a different, much more modest, line – arguing that some modest reforms can be secured and they should be banked immediately as radical reform will take …

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