Tag Archives: devolution

We need fair devolution

Wales and Scotland have a devolved assembly/parliament and a single tier of local government. Northern Ireland could have if their politicians would sit down and agree a programme of government instead of playing yahoo politics.

In England there is no serious devolution and the system of local government is a dog’s breakfast with elected mayors, police commissioners, the London assembly and a wide range of councils with different powers.

Yet a working party in the Liberal Democrats has managed to come up with an even bigger mess than currently exists because they won’t argue for radical change.

‘Devolution on demand’ is a recipe for years of argument, disagreement and no action. Does anyone seriously believe that holding referenda on whether an area wants devolution will lead to a successful vote? Of course not. The anti politician brigade will be in full cry and the claim that it’s just another obstacle to people doing what they want will be pushed to stop it. No! If we want devolution, we should say so and legislate for it once we get the chance. Look at any country with a proper federal system (and our brave working party don’t even utter that word) and you will see that their devolved governmental units have common powers and that they are entrenched in the constitution.

Now I accept that there needs to be discussion about the boundaries of the devolved government for England, even though I personally favour a parliament for Yorkshire. What is wholly undesirable is different powers in different regions, because that is a recipe for total confusion.

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Devolution to the English Regions is not just a good thing – it’s absolutely essential.

The problems of the UK will never be solved while the whole of the Country is dominated by Westminster and Whitehall. I have believed that for all the 51 years I have been a member of our Party (or its predecessor!) I believe it now and that is why I am more than a little disappointed with the policy paper and motion being sent from the FPC to Party Conference. It just isn’t strong enough, urgent enough or angry enough!

Whilst still a Liberal member I was asked on Radio 4 to respond to the parody often created then of the average Liberal member being a long-haired, real ale drinker in sandals. My parody is somewhat different. I said then and I say now of our Party we protest with a campaign song which goes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual Change”

“When do we want it?”

“As soon as possible please if that’s all right with you old chap”.

I’m afraid that is just not good enough for me. For almost all political life I have been a campaigner in Liverpool. I have held all sorts of positions when we controlled the Council and for my first 22 years as a Councillor represented some of the poorest communities in the Country. I have always been aware during that time that the needs of the poorest of our communities have been held back by policies devised by nice people, often well meaning, in Whitehall and Westminster but who have absolutely no ideas what it is like to live in a ‘Toxteth’ or a ‘Sparkbrook’.

Policies are created to look at the needs of those who live in the London Evening Standard catchment area – and not even the poorest bits of that.

The centralisation of power in London has dragged many of the brightest, most capable and most articulate away from using their talents in the great Northern Cities and Towns. This has reduced our capacity to create good jobs in good businesses. The creative talents of the North fuel what has been an overheating economy of the South East. This is not good for the South-East. Staggering house prices; long commutes and a poor environment are the price paid for that overheating.

At Conference we will be debating a motion supported by a policy paper that I have had a hand in creating. The motion is looking at the way that the UK is governed with a particular look at the way England is governed. It’s not that there is anything in the paper that I disagree with. It’s just that it’s all a bit anaemic. It’s just not angry enough about the Stalinist control that Westminster and Whitehall have over ‘the provinces’.

Arguably, England is the most centralised state in Western Europe. Bureaucrats in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster micro manage communities throughout the country. They do it by the creation of laws and Statutory Instruments and enforce their rule through a series of inspectorates and regionally based bureaucrats such as Children’s Commissioners.

This is rigorously enforced by the financial controls that Westminster imposes. The theory of localism and do what you think is right is supplanted by ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Liberal Democrats think that this centralisation is wrong. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions over policies and spending should be made at the lowest possible and practical level. These levels will be different for different types of activity. 

A more muscular liberalism would want urgently to break the power of Westminster and Whitehall over issues of a domestic nature which should rightly be decided by those who have a clear understanding of the nature of problems and can devise local solutions.

  • The lowest level would be the neighbourhood perhaps 5,000 people
  • Then the district around 100,000 people
  • Then the Town or City – between 250,000 and 750,000 people
  • Then the County or Conurbation – between 750,000 and 2,500,000 people
  • Then the region which, following the devolved governmental system could be up to 5 million people.

I recognise that this will mean systems that look different in different parts of the Country. This is right. The way you provide services in a heavily rural area should look very different to the way they are provided in a heavily urban area.

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Winning back former south-western strongholds: looking beyond Brexit

As a member in the south-west of England I am acutely aware of how we have fallen behind in the rural areas of England where we used to be able to garner a large amount of support. The south-west has a quite rare mixture of very rural communities and a long liberal tradition. In fact, my own constituency of Tiverton and Honiton (now a deep blue Tory area) was once partly represented by Lord Palmerston who was the MP for Tiverton while Prime Minister. Given the past support in the south-west …

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Alistair Carmichael: Voting for what the SNP wanted would have left Scotland weaker

There’s been a lot of ill-informed nonsense on social media about the way the Liberal Democrats voted, or in fact didn’t vote, on devolution in the Commons the other night. I was going to write a post to explain it all but then found I didn’t have to, because Alistair Carmichael had done it for me, and better.

What I think was the problem is that we didn’t really get our story out in good enough time and allowed the SNP to put it about that we had somehow not stood up for Scotland. We need to learn from this and explain it all beforehand.

Actually, and unsurprisingly, the situation is very different. As Alistair explains here, if we’d voted the way the SNP wanted and had won that vote, we’d have gone back to the original clause of the Bill, which was awful because it would have repatriated all the EU powers to Westminster to be doled out from there. No thanks.

So, Alistair now takes us through what happened and comments on the extraordinary PMQs session yesterday.

There was a single motion voted on which was a government motion to agree with an amendment from the House of Lords (apologies some jargon is unavoidable here but I shall try to keep it to a minimum). This amendment related to the inclusion of a new clause in the bill dealing with the transfer of powers coming back from Brussels post-Brexit. I was not going to support that motion as there is not yet any agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments – the reason why Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament quite rightly voted against granting the legislative consent motion for the Bill.

At the same time, however, the Welsh Government HAVE reached agreement with the UK Government and that is what is now contained in the bill. If it is wrong to vote against the Scottish Parliament’s view then surely it is wrong to vote against the view of the Welsh Assembly. There was an amendment to the government motion from the Labour Party on the order paper that reflected the true position and it was originally my wish to vote for that. Unfortunately, however, that amendment was not put to the vote so, in the circumstances described, an abstention seemed like the appropriate thing to do. In this view we were joined by the Labour Party.

One further consideration. It may not have been what they intended but the actual effect of the SNP vote (if successful) would have been to restore the Bill to the position that it was in when it left the Commons – a much weaker position for Scotland than the one that the Bill currently provides!

There are serious points at issue here :

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Devolution – what is it good for?

The idea of devolving power to the “lowest possible level” is about as unifying an idea as there is for Liberal Democrats. But, as often happens with the best ideas of politicians, the current system of devolution to the regions is failing spectacularly.

This is because politicians, across both old parties, who become mayors, when they fail to deliver an improvement, have the get out clause of claiming its all the fault of central government for not funding them properly.

The latest example of this trend is the recent declaration by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, that the blame for the current …

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Put People in Power!

Networked peopleDevolution is boring. Nobody understands it. Nobody knows why it is important. Above all, nobody cares. Why on earth should Liberal Democrats consider put devolution front-and-centre?

At an Autumn Conference event run by a centrist think-tank, Radix, a floor member asked Norman Lamb a question. She said one word that stuck: powerless. The three most successful electoral campaigns in the Anglosphere in the last 10 years are, to my mind: Trump, Vote Leave, Obama.

Agree with them or not, they had two things in common. They were positive campaigns (whether or not …

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Champion the North of England

The Devolution agenda looks almost dead in the water to the eagle-eyed journalist looking for the first hint of a Government U-turn on the once flagship Conservative Party policy. 6 months on from the metro-mayor elections the big tests of devolution look to be too hard for its students.

The Northern Powerhouse, once the standard bearer for a new, devolved relationship which will finally bring the capital investment and foreign investment the region so desperately needs, is just a name. Like a flash in the pan celebrity it is now resigned to the history books or to the occasional nostalgic op-ed. Infrastructure investment withdrawal was the last in a list of governmental disappointments.

In the dark, cold corners of the Northern Cities however, things may not seem all lost. Sure, political leadership may be dead in these bastions of ex-industry and trade, but then there was not much of it in the first place. 6 months of political leadership in the hands of a Mayor with devolved budgets and more responsibilities than ever before has left me feeling… nothing.

No mayor policy leads, no new initiatives and certainly nothing to score a single political point in either the town hall or Westminster. Not even my own Manchester, home of science and industry, symbol of human endeavour, birthplace of the alternative can champion devolution under its leader Andy Burnham. That maybe unfair – he did announce the “oyster card for Manchester”, which though promised during the election has failed to live up to billing.

Manchester is the poster-boy of devolution. Its combined authority doesn’t just accept the economic geography of the region, it champions it. The increasing service industry and investment has weathered the financial storm and come out the other side. Cranes and girders litter the skyline. In South Manchester house prices have recovered and booming.

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Devolution to get excited about…Part 1

Whatever happens after the Brexit negotiations the problem of ordinary folk not having a voice in the ever expanding global village will remain.  Leaving the EU will not make a jot of difference to isolated Stoke or distant Newcastle.  I firmly believe that the only way to give people a meaningful  voice over their day to day living is through devolution.

As a Liberal Democrat I am excited by devolution.

Devolution is about bringing power, influence and decision making closer to those it affects. It is meant to mean “Power to the People!” So where is the enthusiasm? Where is the excitement? When did you last talk about it down at the pub or around your dinner table?

The truth is that the devolution conversation is limited to politicians who in their clunky, British, evolutionary way discuss, and agree, things like Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. One step at a time! This hasn’t stirred the local populous and I don’t see many people manning the barricades. We need a singular vision, focus and leadership to thrill people, to show them that there is an exciting future for where they live. A future rooted in their quality of life both at work and at play. This, and only this, will generate the clamour for change.

To develop a coherent and exciting picture for  devolution we have to cover a lot of ground including the areas of life we want to devolve alongside the actual power we are transferring from national government.  For me permission to spend national taxes under the watchful eye of Westminster is not devolution.  Hence I have called this first article Part 1 and rightly or wrongly I am going to start with the geography of devolution.

Like all good presentations I will start with a joke:

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Willie Rennie: Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of devolution

I was still living in England at the time of the 1997 election. As the results came through, I nipped upstairs in the sports centre in Chesterfield where I was at the count to watch some results on the telly. There were was one other person in the room, Tony Benn, who was eating a white chocolate Magnum. Anyway, I was quietly blubbing with joy because I knew that this result would mean that we would get a Scottish Parliament.

A lot has happened since then. Some of the Lib Dems’ finest moments came during their 8 years in coalition with Labour at Holyrood. Free personal care, STV for local government, free eye and dental checks, the smoking ban (ahead of similar measures down south), right to roam, decent freedom of information legislation were just some of the things that we got done. The paucity of the SNP’s achievements in their decade in power do not compare well.

On this 20th anniversary of the devolution referendum, Willie Rennie said:

Liberal Democrats are proud of the part we played in bringing about the devolution voted for in 1997 and enacted from 1999. A decentralised United Kingdom, with decision making closer to people, with a pluralist approach at its heart, reflected decades of campaigning for Britain to become a modern democracy.

Liberal Democrats were part of the civic movement in Scotland, through the Constitutional Convention, that set down the clear path for a devolved parliament with real powers. And they were able to take up their places inside the newly elected Scottish Parliament after the first elections.

Liberal Democrats can be proud that the big difference made to people’s lives in Scotland –free personal care for the elderly and the revolution in renewable energy to name just two – came as a result of the work of Liberal Democrats in the first term of office. People even now still demand that governments of all stripes get as much done in their terms of office as we did back then.

The whole of the UK has benefited from devolution and the transfers of powers that have taken place since 1999.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes…Brexit demands greater devolution – a new deal for our regions

Back in 2013 I wrote an article for Lib Dem Voice setting out the case for London and other cities to have more financial control.

The vote to leave the EU makes the case for devolution and fiscal devolution more urgent. Whatever Leave voters felt they were voting for, it was not ‘business as usual’. It was not an endorsement of centralised power, simply removing it from Brussels to Whitehall and job done.

The referendum result not only affects the country as a whole but also within our nations, regions and cities.  The uncertainties from Brexit may well be better managed at a local level, with local and regional government able to respond more effectively.

At present, virtually all taxation in the UK is determined by central government. Only council tax (and in England from April 2013, a proportion of business rates) can be seen as local taxation – and even this is subject to cumbersome controls, including referendum rules set by central Government.  When you compare this internationally you realise what control Whitehall holds.

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Farron: The Northern Powerhouse is a sham

Tim Farron has been in Yorkshire twice this week. He spoke at Yorkshire and the Humber (note, the name of the region is right this time) Liberal Democrat conference on Saturday and he was back for the Annual Dinner in Greg Mulholland’s seat on Wednesday.

While he was there, he spoke to the Yorkshire Post and was not impressed by the Conservative’s model of devolution:

One of the reasons the northern powerhouse is a sham and a failure is because this Government are now so obsessed with making sure that we reduce the size of the state that we are therefore not investing in the rail services that we need, in the housing that we need, the green energy we need, the broadband we need.

“Whilst the Labour Party is completely wrong-footed, completely in denial that the deficit needs to be reduced, cleared and to balance the books, George Osborne is mistaking the need to make sure you balance the books on your day to day expenditure with having to at the same time not invest in capital expenditure.

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How should we approach the devolution debate? A perspective from York

York Liberal Democrat Council GroupSince the elections in May Liberal Democrats in York have been faced with ongoing questions surrounding devolution. The recent Summer Budget announcements on devolution pose us with many challenges however they also gives us a welcome opportunity to ensure that decisions can be taken closer to the communities they affect, rather than in Whitehall.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has paved the way for devolution in England with Nick Clegg announcing their City Deal in March 2012. They will hold the first elections for a directly elected metro-mayor in 2017. Authorities across the country and in Yorkshire now have the opportunity to follow this path and submit a bid to gain similar access to devolved budgets and power.

Yorkshire is an enormous geographical area which already has two Combined Authorities and three Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) in its boundaries. The number of possible deals is almost endless. There are debates raging about which towns and cities should and should not be included in any proposals to government.

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Opinion: Ending the northern power cut

Yesterday, Patrick McLoughlin announced what many of us had feared but were hoping would never happen: electrification of the train line between Manchester and Leeds was to be postponed, and possibly cancelled. The lynchpin of the Northern Powerhouse was pulled out and the plan predictably fell apart at the seams.

Three months ago, the Conservatives promised that £38 bn would be invested in the national rail network, mostly into electrifying the old diesel lines. This was so important to the Tories, we were told, that it was at the top of the manifesto. On page 11, the Tories outlined their plans for £13 bn for the North alone, going towards new trains, new lines, and new wires. And in one speech today, McLoughlin snuffed out the flame of hope in such a way on the Tories can.

The rail network in the North is completely dire, and bears all of the hallmarks of central government in London meddling time and time again. Serco-Abellio were awarded all but the actually profitable lines and told to run a vast network in the North using Cold War-era trains under the assumption that there was to be no growth and no investment in the Northern network. And to their credit, they’ve done a good job from what they’ve been given.

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Opinion: ‘Scotland – where now?

 

The referendum is over and has settled nothing. The election has raised more questions than answers. And the Conservative Government’s first Queen’s Speech has set the direction of travel, while leaving the specifics nicely vague. What we do know is that plans for ‘English Votes for English Laws’, barring Scottish MPs from voting on whatever the executive decides are England-only matters, will see Scottish Votes for British Laws made increasingly irrelevant. We also know that further devolution to Scotland is going to happen, but not if the offer can satisfy the SNP’s short term ambitions.

So where are Liberal Democrats in all this? Our historical commitment is of course to Federalism, which differs from devolution in that the members of a federation usually cannot be abolished by their federal government, and that such members are usually equals – each state has the same amount of control over its own affairs, and the same relationship with the federal government. Not so with devolution, which has led to the creation of several assemblies in the UK, each with differing powers and responsibilities.

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LDV hosts debate on devolution – “Just do it”

Lib Dem Voice and the local government think tank Localis co-hosted a debate yesterday under the title ‘What should the Lib Dems offer on devolution in their manifesto?‘. I started by pointing out that our policies were not a secret and we had been discussing the manifesto for the last year or so, most recently in Liverpool. But the debate still threw up some interesting challenges.

Stephen Williams, the Communities Minister, argued strongly that the next government will have to devolve a range of powers to local government almost immediately after the election; not only do all the main parties advocate it but there is growing pressure to do so around the country, especially post Indyref. The UK devolves fewer powers away from central government than any other country in the EU.

The Lib Dem policy is for more substantial devolution on demand, and throughout the debate the Lib Dems emphasised that, rather than impose a unified system straightaway, it would be better to allow practice to emerge from the grassroots as areas became ready to take on more responsibilities, as has happened recently in Manchester. As a first step, Stephen would prefer to see a flatter structure, replacing two tier counties with unitaries, bringing power closer to the people.

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Paul Tyler writes… Devolution: Who’s next?

The eagle-eyed among LDV readers may have noticed last week good coverage for Nick Clegg’s trip to Cornwall on St Piran’s Day. As well as the usual round of school and business visits, Nick took the opportunity to publish a joint article on Cornish devolution with local Lib Dem Council Leader, Cllr Jeremy Rowe. For some reason the local papers, which published it, haven’t put it online, so here’s a link to it on my own website.

For the first time, Jeremy and Nick spell out how Cornwall could use the Lib Dems’ proposed Devolution Enabling Act to form a Cornish Assembly, with powers over housing, education, health and public transport. They write:

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Opinion: Decentralisation to the London Region – the case has yet to be fully made

Before the recent Scottish independence referendum, promises squeezed out of the ‘Westminster establishment’ over more decentralisation of power to Scotland. The independence referendum was a close run thing. Now those in favour of full independence for Scotland are in a majority, and it seems that this will be reflected in the coming UK General Election.

The UK government has also conceded to a small increase in the powers of the Welsh Government.

On independence and devolution, Scotland has form, of course. But there are more modern reasons for the recent rise of pro-independence sentiment.

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Opinion: The future isn’t so much local, it is small

people powered prosperityDanny Alexander started all this.  He asked me, back one day in 2012, about how local economies could find levers to regenerate themselves – rather than waiting around hopelessly for outside investment that never came (that isn’t how he put it).

The result was a dialogue between the Treasury and the local economic regeneration activists – local bankers, local energy organisers, local procurement advocates, local currencies – which revealed, it’s fair to say, something of a gulf between them.

As a result, and thanks to some funding from the Friends Provident Foundation, I have been organising a project to translate between the two – so that they at least understand each other.

I hope it will also form a narrative, once cities and places have more power, which can support their own economic efforts.  If you devolve powers from Whitehall, it makes no sense for them to carry on handling your whole economic destiny on your behalf.

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…Devolution Dialogue on Democracy Day

Today is “Democracy Day”, a project running across BBC TV and Radio.  It’s fitting that in this same week, Nick Harvey and I have published proposals to bring decisions closer to those whom they affect: a prerequisite for real democracy in Britain.

Here on Liberal Democrat Voice, we have already had considerable debate over the merit of “devolution on demand” as compared to a big-bang, devolution-everywhere-now solution.  My views are well rehearsed!

However, the benefit of the CentreForum Devolution Dialogue in which Nick and I set out our alternative positions is that it brought us together in a greater measure of consensus than we …

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Devolution must go beyond Westminster

Yesterday in parliament, William Hague announced four options to address the “English votes for English laws” issue. They are:

  1. Barring Scottish and Northern Irish MPs from any role in English and Welsh bills and limiting England-only bills to English MPs
  2. Allowing only English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, to consider relevant bills during their committee and report stages, where amendments are tabled and agreed, before allowing all MPs to vote on the final bill
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Devo-max for Scotland: what Lib Dem members think

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 747 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

On Thursday, the Smith Commission published its recommendations on how to take forward the promise made by all three party leaders to deliver extensive powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote.

As my co-editor Caron noted then: “Federalism was never going to come out of this. It couldn’t, given that you need the co-operation of the rest of the UK to do that. We need to keep campaigning for a proper UK wide constitutional convention after the election.”

Before Lord Smith had reported, though, we tested the water in our survey. How happy were Lib Dem members, most of whom are English, about the priority being afford to the Scots?

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Vow Max? Has the Smith Commission delivered for Scotland? And what next for Yorkshire and the north?

In the febrile pre-referendum atmosphere, the Daily Record put together a “Vow” signed by all 3 UK party leaders to deliver “extensive” powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote. There would always have been further devolution. This “Vow” just put the inevitable on a more detailed timetable.

A Commission under Lord Smith of Kelvin was put together to deliver on that timetable and has done a power of work in just over two months. They have consulted widely, taking submissions from the five main political parties and many civic organisations and individuals. I managed to get my own submission in at 2 minutes to the deadline.

In the august surroundings of the National Museum of Scotland, Smith and the 10 members of the Commission unveiled the consensus they had reached. I have to say that I have been a little sceptical about this process. I knew that in the interests of self preservation it would have to deliver something credible or we’d be back facing another referendum before we could blink.

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Opinion: Limited Devolution may be ok for Manchester, but Yorkshire deserves better

Yorkshire DalesThe news that George Osborne is offering further powers to Manchester (if – and only if – they turn their backs on the democratic will of the people and implement an elected Mayor in spite of Manchester voting “No” to having one) has been enthusiastically accepted by the Manchester Labour Party, because, as with all local Labour parties, they very much prefer a government that cannot be scrutinized and wields power in secret, unaccountable meetings.

Yorkshire deserves far better than this Tory & Labour stitch-up of an end-run around democracy and accountability.

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Opinion: Why I signed up for Devo Manc and a mayor for Greater Manchester

On Monday morning I was very pleased to be able to sign up to Devo Manc. I was deputising for Stockport’s Lib Dem leader Sue Derbyshire, joined in Manchester Town Hall by the leaders of the other nine Greater Manchester authorities along with George Osborne.

The Greater Manchester devolution deal came out of months of negotiation with the government, and it gives the city region more devolved powers than anywhere else in England, London included. I was surprised at how much we got. To give one example, I was assured just weeks ago that a regulated bus network for Greater Manchester was quite impossible: the DfT would never allow it. Yet there it is, in the deal.

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Last chance to make your views heard on more powers for Scotland..

Well, not the last chance ever, but certainly the last chance to make a submission to the Smith Commission, which is looking into delivering more powers for Scotland in the wake of the independence referendum.

My view is that it was very clear that people wanted significantly more powers. I don’t think that was predominantly why they voted No, but it was clearly indicated during the debate.

The difficulty that the Commission has now is that the Labour Party, which has been dragging its feet on more powers anyway, now has no leader and no direction. Like the other parties, it has submitted its own recommendations, which are by far the most timid, but how is it going to get its act together enough to agree anything more substantial. It will have to, because  the most basic instincts of self preservation tell you that “The Vow” made must be kept.

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The Independent View: Time for the Lib Dems to capitalise on their cities’ opportunity

ldv centre for cities fringe - oct 2014There has been a flurry of interest in cities and the economic regeneration of the North from all sides of the political spectrum over the past few months, so it was not surprising to see them feature strongly during party conference season.

Over the three weeks, we created a platform for each of the parties to debate and explore how their parties could turn the rhetoric into reality, and win the hearts and minds of Britain’s cities at the 2015 Election. It was fascinating to see representatives of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems argue that their party alone possessed an unrivalled philosophical affinity with urban voters.

(Pictured is the Centre for Cities fringe meeting, co-hosted with LibDemVoice – “Urban battlegrounds: how can the Liberal Democrats win in cities in 2015?” – with Stephen Williams MP, Cllr Wendy Taylor (Newcastle) and Lord (Ben) Stoneham.)

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Opinion: And you thought EVEL was difficult…

Manchester Town Hall ClockOur party has saddled itself with a totally unworkable policy on devolution, but the formulators and protagonists of devolution on demand simply don’t understand why it’s a passport to total confusion.

Let’s consider a future House of Commons where legislation is being considered for schools. A vote is needed. Ah, but not everyone can vote because there’s been some devolution.  Let’s see now. This legislation won’t cover Scotland and Wales or Northern Ireland, but neither will it cover Yorkshire (except for Selby which opted out), Cornwall, the city regions of Manchester and Birmingham (minus Solihull which didn’t join) and of course education is now the responsibility of the Mayor in London and a quango in the North East. So who exactly will be able to vote? And if an English Committee for English laws is OK in the Commons what will happen in the still unreformed House of Lords?  Will it be necessary to stop peers who come from the devolved regions from voting?

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Opinion: A once in a generation chance for democracy

Yorkshire I wrote an opinion piece for LibDem Voice on 26th August arguing for devolution for the regions.  My piece elicited a mixed response.  The events of the last few days, in my opinion, have made this viewpoint more mainstream and catapulted this issue up the political agenda.  We have a once in a lifetime chance to change the way we are governed in this country for the better and repair the damage done by scandal, expenses and the notion that we are governed by a small number of people from the same socio-economic background.  We have an opportunity to re-invent a truly democratic model of governance at a national and local level.

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Strong language from Nick Clegg on more powers for Scotland: This opportunity cannot be hijacked

I had a sneak preview of an article Nick Clegg wrote for today’s Sunday Post. I was a bit disappointed in its blandness. We needed more robust language, I felt. Why? Well, when Cameron had just had almost half of Scots who voted tell him they wanted out of the Union, his main message in response was to pick a fight with Labour on the so-called “West Lothian Question.” Really, Dave, is that what you take from all of this? By making more powers for Scotland seem contingent on resolving the English votes for English laws issues, he exacerbated tensions up here.

Yes supporters were already, entirely understandably, devastated. I only need to think of the anxiety I’ve felt over the last couple of weeks to understand entirely how it feels for them. The last thing these people needed to do was to find themselves in the middle of a scrap between the Tories and Labour over something that was irrelevant to them. There needed to be a very clear message that the powers would be delivered on time. If they aren’t, then, frankly, the three pro-UK parties are completely stuffed. As Ming Campbell memorably put it on the BBC News Channel on Friday night, you might as well hand out free membership of the SNP.

Rather than use his resignation statement to bring people together and soothe people’s emotions, Alex Salmond sought to raise tensions by suggesting that David Cameron had reneged on a commitment to have the Second Reading of the new Scotland Bill by 27th March. That was never part of the deal. As an MP of 20 years’ standing, Salmond should know that even if it had had its second reading by then, it would have fallen as Parliament is due to be dissolved days later. The commitment was to have a Bill ready to be debated by the next Parliament immediately after the election. That’s what the Better Together election poster explicitly said:

Better Together election poster

 

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Opinion: Getting serious about localism

Local growth deals are a good thing. Of course they are. How could they not be? Now what are they again?

The mechanics of government finance never cease to amaze or bore. But we do need to care because when it comes to devolution, it’s a question of ‘follow the money’.

There are in fact, according to a Local Government Association report last week, 124 funding streams for local growth and regeneration. These are spread across 20 Government departments and agencies and account for a total of £22 billion, all to be spent in your local area on your local things.

So when the Government announces it is devolving £2 billion on LGFs, context becomes rather significant. As does the essentially pointless complexity, worthy of an abbey full of medieval theologians.

Those in the know are fully on top of the difference between the Custom Build fund, the Community Right to Build fund, the Beds in Sheds fund, the New Homes Bonus and the Decent Homes fund. And the difference between the Linking Places fund, the Local Pinch Point fund, the Local Sustainable Transport fund and the Better Bus Areas fund. I could go on. But I promise I won’t.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 17 Comments
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