Tag Archives: featured

Why Lib Dems should support measures to limit smoking this week

I am writing in both a personal and professional capacity urging you to support the Tobacco and Vapes Bill due for second reading tomorrow. 

As a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Hull, I am the Portfolio Holder for Adult Services and Public Health and have responsibility for reducing smoking in a part of the country with some of the highest rates, with 500 people every year dying from smoking related illness. The impact is profound in a low-income community like Hull, and the cost to our local economy is around £390 million a year. 

I am an ex-smoker. I worked as a nurse for over 40 years; most of it in critical care in the operating theatres. There I witnessed over time the devastating effects smoking had on people’s lives. Often when going off duty I would pass patients all lined up outside, still smoking. Seeing this happening I made several attempts to quit smoking myself, but it was not easy.  My husband, Mike, did not give up smoking but supported me in my attempt.

I did not manage to quit before smoking permanently damaged my health and I now have COPD, a condition common among those of us who smoked for many years.

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The culture war of the “gender-critical” has broken the NHS

The Cass Report, billed as an independent review into NHS provision of transgender provision for adolescents was published today. I’ve read the summary and recommendations (the whole report runs to over 300 pages), and running throughout it are the scars of the so-called “culture war”—a social movement where transphobes who hold so-called “gender critical” beliefs have been campaigning to marginalise trans people and roll-back hard won protection in equality law.

The report itself acknowledges the toxicity of debate around transgender healthcare. I’m going to try and be fair to the report here and deal with it as neutrally as I can. Transphobia does not seem to be seeping out of its pores in the same way that a recent Department for Education consultation did, which explicitly framed the discussion through the lens of the “gender critical” philosophy.

It is undeniable the harm that the culture war fuelled by transphobia has caused, and this comes through in the report.

Anti-trans campaigners are litigious and well-funded (allegedly by far-right American fundamentalists), and using these legal weapons has been effective in securing their campaign goals in places with a management culture focussed on risk management and minimisation.

The result of this atmosphere of fear created by the anti-trans movement is one the review describes as a situation where other services in healthcare are scared to do anything when gender dysphoria is present. Instead, everyone is referred to the specialist gender services for unrelated or co-existing conditions, which they might not be able to deal with. This is well-known in the trans community as “trans broken arm syndrome“. This is true in both children and adults.

There is no doubt that in part this is due to the fear within the healthcare community of being dragged into the frontline of the culture wars, which has had the chilling effect of marginalising trans people so that only the gender clinics can help.

The Cass Review strongly advocates moving away from single specialist centres to a regional model of trans healthcare, closer to primary care. This is also something many trans people and advocates (including myself) believe would be a better system of healthcare delivery, but it describes the current situation as far from that. Other recommendations in the report are fair assessments of the current situation. In the void left by the failure of NHS healthcare, private providers like GenderGP have emerged, but their standards of care fall short of best practice (trans streamer F1nn5ter recently did a video about this). The Cass Report is right to be critical of this, and this is one of the biggest indicators of how current NHS provision fails.

Much is made in the report of the lack of quality research covering transgender health. Transgender health has often been seen as at best niche, and at worst, something to be actively destroyed. During Nazi rule, the world’s first and leading research centre was ransacked and the research burnt, as well as trans people being among the identities targeted in the holocaust. Other research has overly focussed on transgender women and bears an undercurrent of the fetishisation that we’re often targets of, yet remained influential in the field for decades.

One example of this is that there has never been a longitudinal study of the impact of progesterone alongside estrogen in feminising hormones, which are routinely denied due to evidence showing no effect on breast growth, but anecdotally has an effect on mental health, which has never been evaluated. The assumption of medical researchers that trans women are only interested in breast development, and not in the mental health benefits of the hormone which is available to cis women, is one example of research being rooted in trans misogyny.

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Sometimes sorry just isn’t enough

Wednesday was a day filled with sorrow and reflection as I learned about a tragic event unfolding in Gaza. A missile strike by the Israeli Defence Force claimed the lives of seven individuals associated with the World Central KitchenAid organization. Among them were three British citizens: John Chapman, James Anderson, and James Kirby. My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives in this catastrophe, particularly those working tirelessly to alleviate the severe food shortages plaguing the people of Gaza.

The mission of World Central Kitchen, to feed the most vulnerable under dire conditions, where some have had to resort to animal feed for sustenance, is nothing short of heroic. This calamity, however, casts a shadow on their noble work, revealing the precarious nature of providing aid in conflict zones.

The admission by IDF Chief Herzi Halevi, attributing the strike to misidentification, does little to assuage the gravity of the situation. The meticulous targeting of vehicles marked with the World Central Kitchen emblem seems to point to a breakdown not just in the fog of war but in accountability and oversight by one of the world’s most technologically advanced militaries.

In a separate, equally disturbing event, a suspected Israeli strike demolished the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria. This act, resulting in the death of seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), escalates tensions further and breaches the sanctity of diplomatic missions, a cornerstone of international relations.

These events have reignited the discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict, underscoring the urgent need for peace and the problematic nature of ongoing arms sales to Israel. Calls for a ceasefire from former Supreme Court Justices and reconsideration of support for UNWRA highlight the potential complicity in serious violations of international law.

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Behind the lurid headlines: What the Scottish hate crime legislation actually says

An author got herself a tonne of publicity earlier this week by posting some very unpleasant, disrespectful and insulting comments on social media. She basically dared the Police to arrest her under Scotland’s new hate crime legislation.

There was never a chance of that happening. The threshold of what actually counts as a hate crime is pretty high and Police Scotland confirmed that no action would be taken against this person.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of this fuss is that it drives a coach and horses through the claims of many on the right that this new law is going to end up with anyone who says anything that isn’t “woke” being put on a list and carted off to jail. This is, to be clear, complete and utter bollocks.

Someone I know had been scared by her GB News addict dad that she could lose her job if she blurted out some of the stuff she comes out with after a few glasses of wine.  To be fair to her, it’s sometimes a bit gross but none of it constitutes either hate or a crime. She was worried nonetheless.

Thankfully, the Equality Network has published a very helpful guide to the new legislation which reassured her. Essentially, to face consequences, you have to commit a crime that is motivated by prejudice:

It is important though to know that many forms of prejudiced or offensive behaviour are NOT hate crimes. It is not a crime to be prejudiced, and the right to freedom of expression means that people may express their prejudice in offensive, shocking or disturbing ways, without crossing the line into criminal behaviour.

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Lib Dems mark Transgender Day of Visibility

This Transgender Day of Visibility, the message to trans people from the Lib Dems, and this site, is very much “we see you, we love you, we have your backs.”

For a community under daily attack in the media, it is vital that we stand with them. Our trans siblings are real live people with lives, ambitions, hopes, feelings and needs, not weapons in a right wing culture war.

My trans loved ones are amongst the bravest people I know and I for one will not stand by and see them vilified and demonised. Wherever the attacks come from, I will be there for them. I hope that everyone reading this site will be with me on that one.

It’s good to see that the party is so supportive of trans people. Ed Davey and senior Liberal Democrats have regular meetings with trans members to learn from them what barriers they are facing and how we can help as a party.  It’s so important to have that dialogue when there is so much wilful misinformation out there.

On Twitter today, the party said:

On #TransDayOfVisibility we celebrate trans people and stand with the trans community against hatred and discrimination. To all our trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming members, supporters, friends and followers: we respect you, we value you – today and every day.

Cllr Chris Northwood, who is our Deputy Group Leader in Manchester, has written for the LGA especially for Trans Day of Visibility. She talked about the toxicity of social media but also said that away from that, people are more concerned with things like road safety and affordable housing. She said:

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WATCH: Ed Davey’s Easter message

Watch Ed Davey’s Easter message below:

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Ed Davey: “The Lib Dems and Labour aren’t fighting each other”

Embed from Getty Images

There’s a very interesting article over on the New Statesman website. George Eaton writes on his interview with Ed Davey.

The article covers a variety of fascinating topics – how many seats the LibDems will win the general election, working with other parties, the chances of Reform UK, Keir Starmer, John Rawls, the Orange Book, the Post Office scandal, and where the LibDems sit on the political spectrum:

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The regulation of the funeral industry

Normally that headline would have produced a big yawn and a switch to another post.  But, after the heart-breaking stories emerging from the criminal investigation in Hull, we hope to hold your attention for a little longer.

The very first speech I gave at Conference, back in 1998, was on precisely that subject.

Incidentally I always advise people to plan their first speech at Conference on a niche topic. Some debates scheduled in the “graveyard slot” attract few speakers so the chances of being called are very high. It can be really dispiriting to sit through a long debate on a hot subject waiting to be called – and the call never comes.

As it happens I did know a little bit about the industry, because members of my family have conducted many funeral services between them.

At the time of my speech the concern was that large American companies were buying up small family run funeral businesses, and injecting a stronger profit-making ethos. I had heard of bereaved people, at a highly vulnerable time in their lives, being harassed to buy more expensive coffins and memorial plaques. In contrast, a community based funeral director would know many of the families and provide appropriate and valuable support – indeed their reputation depended on it.

The industry is still not regulated by Government, and, shockingly, that means that anyone can set up themselves up as a funeral director. However, there are two trade bodies:  the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), and they do provide a level of protection for the public.  Each has a code of practice. The NAFD Funeral Director Code is a comprehensive, professional code of practice, including a disciplinary procedure, but they recognise that it has no statutory status. SAIF has a similar Code of Practice for members.

You can check out whether a funeral director is a member of either body – here for NAFD and here for SAIF.

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WATCH: Alistair Carmichael’s speech to Conference

On Sunday morning, Alistair Carmichael gave his keynote speech to Conference. It was as funny, liberal and hard=hitting as you would think.

Governments and babies’ nappies need changing often, much for the same reason, he said.

Liberal Democrats will have no truck with the demonisation of desperate people. We will crush the people smuggling market by giving people safe and legal routes to get here, he promised.

 

He said that Liberal Democrats mustn’t just tell people what we’re against. We must say what we are for. We champion the rights of the individual to do what they like as long as it doesn’t harm others.  We also understand that meaningful freedom means pooling freedoms to form communities and upwards to nation states.

We are a party of law and order, he said, because we can’t be free if we don’t feel safe to leave our homes as he attacked the Conservative record on community policing.

He highlighted how the Conservatives are upping use of facial recognition technology like that used in China and how that had never been authorised properly by Parliament. Any influence we have in the next Parliament will be used to put the money wasted on this into frontline policing.

He warned that we might be sleepwalking into a surveillance state. He tackled that line much favoured by those who want to lead us down an increasingly authoritarian path “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.” We are all perfectly entitled to hide things. It’s called privacy.

He reminded us of some of Labour’s failings on civil liberties – their “authoritarian streak a mile wide” with DNA databases and 90 day detention. We will not support any of that agenda should they go into power.

Liberal Democrats are not about splitting the difference between the Tories and Labour. We trust the people, they want to control them. We demand a change in the way we are governed. We demand a stronger, greener, fairer and more United Kingdom.

We need to get out there and fight of that door by door and street by street as if the future of our nation depends on it – because it does.

Watch the whole thing here:

The full text is below.

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Caron’s Conference Part 1: A glimpse to the future

I’m now back from York, having stayed on for a bit of a tourist break. I’ve spent so much time in the city over the years, but have rarely deviated from the Golden Triangle of the Barbican, Novotel and Mason’s Arms.  I did not know until Monday that I had walked past the grave of Dick Turpin many times.

Thursday and Friday

I am writing this in York on Friday morning in an exceptionally comfortable and cosy room, propped up in bed with lots of plump and luscious pillows. A cup of Earl Grey at my side. It is always strange when I am away to have a whole bed to myself and not to have find a space clinging to the edge of the bed while my husband clings to the other edge and two spaniels take up all the space they can.

I arrived in York yesterday lunchtime and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the pub (me drinking tea I’ll have you know) with my friends.

In the evening we went to Toto’s, the Italian near the Barbican. The food was brilliant and the company stunningly good. I had prawns with avocado and Marie Rose sauce – a very generous portion – and then tagliatelle with a creamy salmon sauces. The Tiramisu was chocolaty and creamy though I would have added more amaretto.

Afterwards back to the Mason’s Arms, traditionally Awkward Squad HQ and where 6 of us are staying. The landlord had kindly bought in supplies of Whitley Neill Black Cherry gin. Jennie Rigg and I had drunk them out of that by the Friday night last year.

It was great to catch up with Our Hero of Rochdale Iain Donaldson and hear all the intel about the by-election and the aftermath. All you need to know is that George Galloway is far from being universally loved on that patch.

My path to the bar was blocked by beautiful border terrier Betty who very much needed a belly rub and that was the most important thing ever.

I got to bed at a civilised hour.

Friday started in very relaxed fashion.

It was Long Covid Awareness Day, I am acutely aware of how much smaller Conference has become for me. I can no longer cope with the whirlwind from day to night. If I don’t rest in the afternoon I pretty much collapse in a heap and that can set me back for days.

So a slow start was essential laziness.

The first thing I had to do was the Social Liberal Forum lunch at 12. I need to plan and pace everything within an inch of its life which does not really come easy to as free and impetuous a spirit as me.

The Social Liberal Forum gave, I very much hope, a glimpse into the future. The three speakers are PPCs in highly winnable seats: Victoria Collins our hope for Harpenden and Berkhamsted, Josh Babarinde for Eastbourne and Bobby Dean for Carshalton and Wallington. The links to their website are included in the hope that you get on to them, donate all the money you can afford to their campaigns and do what you can to help them. They all have so much to bring to the parliamentary party and we need them to get elected.

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WATCH: Ed Davey’s speech to Spring Conference

There were some very interesting nuggets from Ed Davey’s speech on Saturday. At last we seem to be showing a bit of what we’re about. And what better a place to start than with sorting out our democracy by showing people the harm the current system does to them:

It distorts democracy.

It leaves millions of people feeling powerless and excluded.

Unable to hold those in power properly to account.

Conference, we know proportional representation would be so much fairer…

So much better for our politics and our country.

And a majority of the British people now back electoral reform.

So why hasn’t it changed? Why are we still the only party fighting for political change?

He also mentioned the word Europe in such a way as to send the Daily Telegraph into a tailspin:

Only Liberal Democrats have a clear plan to rebuild this relationship with a better deal for Britain.

To renew the ties of trust and friendship,

To set us on the path back to the Single Market.

Our plan to repair the damage the Conservatives have done,

And, in time, to restore Britain’s place at the heart of Europe. Where we belong.

There’s nothing new in there. It’s been our policy since 2021, but he did say the single market phrase out loud.

Watch here.

The text is below:

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WATCH: Layla Moran’s speech to Conference

I wasn’t in the hall for this but you can tell the quality of a speech from people’s faces as they came out. They were full of admiration for Layla, whose wisdom and compassion has impressed people across not just the UK but the world.

Layla’s Mum Randa was in the audience to watch her.

She described her family’s pre 1948 life in Palestine and the catastrophe that followed.

She said that the war was serving the wicked fusion  of Netanyahu’s government, calling their rhetoric genocidal.

Just as Hamas can’t remain in power, she said, Netanyahu and all who back his government must go too. They are all dangers and blockers to peace.

She reaffirmed the Liberal Democrats commitent to an International Criminal Couet investigation.  This is a fight between the extremists and the peacemakers and it’s spilling on to our streets, she said. She said that those flames were being fanned by the Conservative Party as much as anyone else.

Liberal Democrats do not pick a side she said, we stand for compassion, humanity and peace.

She talked about her deep despair for the Gazans who are trapped, her relatives who have spent the  past 5 months seeking refuge in a church. When she went to the area a few months ago, she described how an Israeli peace activist comforted her. She said she was astounded by how many people met chose not the path of anger, but to strive for peace.

She talked about the importance of  UNWRA in distributing aid in Gaza and called on the Government to restore funding to the agency.

She set out the Liberal Democrat approach and announced we are now calling on sanctions to apply to anyone who supports  and enables the “insidious settler movement.”

“No longer should acting with impunity go without consequence. When we say we believe in international law, we mean it.”

She says she is proud of our party and how our MPs have voted for a bilateral ceasefire at every opportunity. She condemned those who played petty party politics with Palestinian and Israeli lives with harsh words for SNP, Labour (who put electoral gain before its moral compass) and the Conservatives. The country, and the world, needs the Liberal Democrats more than ever.

It’s an incredible speech.  I defy you to watch it without getting something in your eye.

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Why we need good Cancer care

I’m grateful to see the motion on Cancer care passed at Conference  but  I am sorry to my core that it had to be written in the first place.

I’m coming from a slightly different place than you might expect, partly because that place is Scotland and I know what is called for wouldn’t apply, but I wanted to tell a story which whilst does not have a happy ending, it had a happy-ish journey.

My mum died of cancer just over 18 months ago. She was diagnosed in December, and left us in the following July.

There wasn’t much time for the system not to work for her.

I would be lying if I said there were things in terms of her care I wouldn’t change, but I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and I’m lucky enough to be able to speak to the positives of our experience.

She spent a lot of her time in a specialist palliative care unit. Somewhere which was welcoming and spacious, with the most beautiful garden to look out on and spend time in.

If you were to look up kindness or heart or positivity in the dictionary there you would see all of the doctors and nurses we encountered.

They were always there. We never had to worry about that. We laughed and we shared fruit the children of one of the nurses had picked earlier that day. They genuinely brought us a lot of joy.

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But what happens next?

A political collapse along the lines of that suffered by the Canadian Conservatives in 1993 – when they fell from a Parliamentary majority to just 2 seats – has long been the stuff of fantasy in British politics.  Such implosions hardly ever happen in Western democracies and yet the chances a near repeat by the British Conservatives later this year have climbed from “impossible” to merely “highly improbably”.

Conservatives whips are struggling, I am told, to identify more than fifty colleagues confident of victory in the Autumn, while the steady trickle of senior Conservative MPs standing down – Theresa May last week, Brandon Lewis this – reinforces the impression of sinking ships and guinea pig-like rodents.

Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform UK is likely to be more an effect than a cause of decline but party leaders fear that things could quickly snowball, were others to follow suit.  And that’s without Farage showing his hand, which many suspect could tip the Conservative party over the edge.

In a ‘normal’ election, the roughly 35-40% of the right-wing vote consolidates over the course of the campaign around the Conservatives, driven by fear of the alternative, but what if Labour is insufficiently fear-inspiring to drive voters home and the right wing vote splits down the middle?

It is perfectly conceivable that the Conservatives and Reform UK might each finish on between 15% and 20% with the Lib Dems just behind on 10%-12%.  Under the perversities of first past the post, Labour might then reasonably expect 400+ seats in return for its 40-42% vote share, with the Conservatives might indeed plunge below 100 with the Lib Dems either side of fifty.  Meanwhile, a disgruntled Reform UK, despite potentially even coming second in terms of the popular vote, might be lucky to return more than the handful of seats the Liberal party achieved with its 19% of the vote in February 1974.

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Sunday at Conference: What’s on?

Top o’ the morning to you this St Patrick’s Day!

Here’s what’s on on the last day of our Spring Conference in York. All details, including the text of motions are in the agenda.

09.00-09.45 F16 Emergency motion

Navalny and sorting our pitiful, cruel, brutal asylum system out

09.45-10.25 F17 Report: Federal Board

F18 Report: Campaign for Gender Balance

F19 Report: Federal Communications and Elections Committee

F20 Report: Federal International Relations Committee

F21 Report: Federal Council

10.25-10.40 F22 Speech: Alistair Carmichael MP

10.40-11.25 F23 Policy motion: The Funding Crisis in Local Government

Another one that’s a potential flashpoint. Tony Vickers writes here why he thinks the motion is not …

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What’s on at Conference today?

I’m writing this in my bed in York on Friday morning, propped up in bed with lots of plump and luscious pillow, a cup of Earl Grey at my side.

I arrived here on Thursday lunchtime and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the pub (me drinking tea I’ll have you know) with my friends.

In the evening we went to Toto’s the Italian near the Barbican. Eat there if you get the chance. The food was brilliant and the company stunningly good. I had prawns with avocado and Marie Rose sauce – a very generous portion – and then tagliatelle with a creamy salmon sauces. The Tiramisu was chocolate and creamy though I would have added more amaretto.

Afterwards back to the Mason’s Arms, traditionally Awkward Squad HQ and where 6 of us are staying. It was great to catch up with Our Hero of Rochdale Iain Donaldson and hear all the stuff about the by-election.

Generally the party is in good shape as we approach what might be our last Conference before the General Election. Rishi Sunak has ruled out 2 May, but not 9, 16, 23, etc etc. Honestly, I think most of us wish he’s just bloody get on with it.

We are anxious though. We know that so much brilliant work has gone into building extremely strong foundations in our target seats. We should do well. We know how important it is to get rid of the Conservatives. They are ruining our public services and doing all they can to make people suspicious of each other and worse.

The last thing we want is to wake up the morning after the election to another five years of their incompetence, disdain for ordinary people, division and lack of ideas. We will want to hear an inspiring melody that will attract voters to us.

Our slogan, For a Fair Deal, is not uniquely liberal and we need to have a key USP as part of our offer. It could go the way of Put Recovery First and end up being adopted by everyone and neutralised at the start of the campaign. People vote with their emotions and we need to give them some good ones.

Anyway, here’s what’s on today with a bit of added commentary. All details, including the text of motions are available here. I want to be in the hall at 4pm. It’ll be good:

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The building blocks to a sustainable built environment

Did you know the UK’s built environment is responsible for 42% of carbon emissions, 62% of waste and 50% of material use? These shocking statistics highlight why buildings, infrastructure and land use must be central to our approach to addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency.

Last night I attended the launch of Building Blocks, a manifesto to transform the Built Environment and turn a climate catastrophe into a climate opportunity. The climate emergency can often feel daunting and insurmountable. But it was truly uplifting to join experts focused on practical, implementable, and positive responses. Adopting optimistic, radical alternative approaches can turn waste and climate headaches into solutions to build a fairer, greener, and more prosperous planet.

Architects Declare —a movement of over 1300 architectural practices in the UK – are advocating for a more sustainable built environment. Their message is clear: our current approach to design and construction is not enough to address the urgent climate crisis. We must embrace fundamental change, aligning ourselves with regenerative models to secure a sustainable future for generations to come.

The evidence is undeniable. Despite three decades of sustainable design efforts, we are still far from meeting our climate goals.

Building Blocks is a bold vision for transformation, rooted in systemic change. It outlines practical steps to reduce carbon emissions, promote circular economies, and restore social and natural infrastructure. It’s a roadmap for creating a built environment that not only mitigates climate change, but also fosters thriving communities and ecosystems.

Key among these Building Blocks is the imperative to prioritise resource efficiency. We need legislation to limit embedded carbon emissions in construction (greenhouse gas emissions generated from producing and transporting goods), minimise carbon emission from buildings and align building standards with net zero trajectories (France has already done this). Business can support this and some do. Speaking at the launch Kevin McCloud, from Grand Designs, cited the case of a developer in the North West who builds to passive house standards and still make a decent profit. The more this type of development becomes the norm the quicker costs will come down too.

Local authorities also need greater powers to demand higher standards from developers. Westminster City Council recently unveiled a ‘retrofit first’ approach. It’s facing resistance from those used to traditional development, but it is worth persevering with.  A nationwide retrofit strategy would create around 500,000 jobs, a £300bn boost to the economy , and eliminate fuel poverty—all while reducing emissions from existing buildings. It’s good for the planet, and good for our pockets too. If every home in Manchester were retrofitted it would save £10bn in energy bills.

Transitioning to a circular economy is another vital component. Health, wealth, and wellbeing all improve in a circular economy. By reducing waste and maximising material reuse, we can not only cut carbon emissions but also stimulate economic growth, and protect natural resources. Financial incentives and removing VAT on retrofit would support this shift, encouraging businesses to prioritise sustainability. We need to make sure we are designing all buildings with deconstruction and the reuse of materials in mind.

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Solving the crisis in Local Government

What’s the point of a Motion bemoaning a crisis but failing to suggest a solution?

Liberal Democrats have conferences to decide Party policy, not indulge in hand-wringing! Declaring that local government has a funding crisis without stating what we’d do about wastes our time and money as conference-goers. That’s why I’m asking for a reference back to FPC for F23 at York.

The Party last seriously debated local government  and its funding in 1998 – the year I co-founded ALTER. We’ve progressed since then but in 2019 we funked the big one: reform of Council Tax.

In the 1998 policy paper the most significant citation was a 1996 House of Lords report that “demolished the circular argument” that local government expenditure is all part of national government expenditure, saying it’s “Humpty Dumpty” logic! Its only because Treasury says so and only because councils are over-controlled and haven’t in living memory had real freedom of action: “other economies can be successful while doing things differently” (4.1.5).

If we believe in devolution then what Whitehall compels councils to do, as minimum levels of statutory services, ought to be funded centrally – 100%, taking appropriate account of geographic and demographic differences in cost of delivering services. Councillors should only be held to account by local electors for how efficiently they use those external funds. 

Anything that democratically elected councils decide to do in addition should be 100% funded from local taxes, set locally using their local choice of tax bases, as was decided by Conference in 1999.

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Introducing Digital Lib Dems

As we get ever closer to an election, it is essential a Liberal Democrat voice and viewpoint is in every policy sphere – including tech and digital policy. Policy-making on online safety, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data protection, and digital competition will shape everyday life in Britain, as well as our success as a country on the world stage.

Our counterparts, DigitalTories and LabourDigital, frequently speak out about their parties’ viewpoints on tech and digital matters so it is crucial for the Liberal Democrats to be equally represented in this conversation. That’s why we are proud to announce the launch of the Digital Lib Dems.

This network will bring together Lib Dems across the digital and technology sectors to collaborate, develop high-quality policy proposals, share valuable opportunities, and represent the party in tech and digital spaces. By harnessing the expertise and insights of professionals within these sectors, we can ensure that our party’s policies are informed, innovative, and responsive to the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.

If you’re passionate about shaping the future of tech and digital policy and want to play a vital role in influencing the direction of the Liberal Democrats, we invite you to join us. By becoming a member of the Digital LibDems, you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to meaningful policy development, connect with like-minded individuals, and help shape the party’s stance on key issues.

To get involved, simply follow the link here and sign up to join the network. 

We will be launching the network at the upcoming Spring Conference in York. RSVP today to secure your spot, as spaces are limited. If you register your interest, we’ll be in touch soon with confirmation and further details.

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A strategy for winning more seats in Westminster

Lib Dem members have received an email from Mike Dixon , the party’s CEO. It is one of his long explainer emails and it is full of useful information  – and bar charts! I would strongly advise members to read it in full before commenting below.

In the email Mike discusses our strategy going into a General Election. He asks:

How do we get the balance right between winning in target Westminster seats and making progress right across the country?

What message cuts through to voters right now? What’s the right balance between attacking the Government and setting out a positive vision?

What is the likely outcome at the next election? And what does that mean for our strategy?

I’m not going to spill all the beans here, but there are a couple of points that I want to reflect on.

The first is how to address the challenges of winning more seats under First Past The Post. Mike points out that in 2019 our strategy was to increase our vote share nationally, by focussing on our anti-Brexit stance. It worked. We drew in 1.3 million more votes than in 2017. Under PR that would have given us 80 seats in Parliament, but because we do not yet live under that system we only won 11.

From my perspective we should not see that totally as a failed strategy. What it did do was boost our chances in local elections where elections are more granular. In 2021 we gained control of one more council; in 2022 we added 3 more councils; in 2023 we added a further 12.  Over that period we took 639 MORE council seats.  And we all know that, as a general rule, we don’t win Westminster seats in a General Election unless we have already gained control of the relevant Council seats.

As Mike explains, after 2019 our strategy changed. The new aim was to win as many Westminster seats as possible in 2024, alongside boosting local and regional successes.  We have learnt to our cost the downside of winning fewer seats – as the fourth party in Westminster we have not only lost our privileges in the House, but we also find it much more difficult to attract coverage in the media.

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Lib Dems react to Budget

Well, there you go. Another Conservative budget served with more invective directed against the Lib Dems than you might expect. You would be forgiven for thinking that they were frightened of us in the Blue Wall. Tim Farron was quick to jump in on Twitter:

The Chancellor wouldn’t waste his breath slagging off the Lib Dems if he wasn’t terrified of losing to us.

A speech carefully crafted into soundbytes for social media. Lots of impressive sounding numbers, but being a big number doesn’t mean it’s an adequate number. It’s so annoying when politicians of all flavours do this. Here’s £xoo million to build y million houses. Why don’t they express themselves in terms that actually reflect the human impact and the scale of the problem?  Because their solution is simply not good enough.

Anyway, what do our leaders make of the electioneering effort put in by Jeremy Hunt today? Ed says that it’s time to just get on with the Election:

This is a bottom-of-the-barrel Budget from a Conservative government that has given up on governing. Rishi’s recession is being followed by Hunt’s hangover, with years of unfair tax hikes while local health services are stretched to breaking point.

This Budget had nothing to offer for people seeing their mortgage soar due to Conservative chaos or being left waiting for months in pain for NHS treatment.

The public will see this for what is: a desperate last throw of the dice by a Conservative government that has neglected the NHS, trashed the economy and overseen a record fall in living standards. It couldn’t be clearer that we need a general election now so voters can finally kick this tired and out-of-touch government out of office.

The thing is, people still feel under a lot of economic pressure. They blame the Government for it and that is bound to affect their vote.

By-election winner Helen Morgan echoed Ed’s message:

Don’t be fooled by the Chancellor’s efforts to pull the wool over people’s eyes. This budget won’t touch the sides for people facing soaring mortgage bills, paying more at the fuel pump, and seeing the cost of going to the shops rise every week. We need a General Election now.

Helen also mentioned a crucial omission:

The Chancellor spent a lot of time listing parts of the country today (notable exception of Shropshire). Yet the Budget itself includes NO mention of rural areas and NO mention of farming. Further proof the Conservatives don’t care about the countryside.

Alistair Carmichael says that voters are past listening to the Conservatives;

The Chancellor has tried to paper over a Tory recession and Tory tax hikes which have hit families across the country. Ministers have searched for election gimmicks but voters are past listening. Few would take this government at its word after years of falling living standards.

Wera Hobhouse was right to point out that the extension of the Household Support Fund for 6 months was far from enough to tackle poverty when the safety net has so many holes in it that it is barely there any more:

I am glad that the Chancellor has heeded my calls to extend the Household Support Fund in today’s Spring Budget. But for the thousands in Bath who rely on its support to put food on their plates and heat their homes – a sixth month extension simply doesn’t cut it.

Wendy Chamberlain did highlight one Lib Dem win, though:

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Ed Davey: I have just returned from the Middle East

Ed Davey has been on a visit to Israel and Palestine. He has sent out this email:

I’ve just returned from a visit to Israel and Palestine.

The 7 October attacks and the ongoing conflict and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza have affected so many lives. They have also had a profound impact on many communities here in the UK.

I felt that it was vital to travel to the region and meet with those whose lives have been turned upside down these past few months, and speak to politicians and civil society leaders about how we get to an immediate bilateral ceasefire and a two state solution.

In the past few days I’ve heard the stories of people whose lives have been changed by this conflict: Itzik Horn, whose two sons are right now being held hostage by Hamas; Palestinians whose lives in the West Bank are now a misery, thanks to settler violence and huge restrictions on their ability to work and travel.

I also met the United Nations Humanitarian Agency, UNOCHA, hearing about how vital it is that the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza is ramped up immediately.

You can read all about my visit to the region, as well as what we’ve done as a party since 7 October, here:

Read more  ➜

Since my return, I’ve called on the UK Government to sanction two far-right, extremist Israeli ministers who are figureheads for the illegal settler movement, a movement that wants to ensure that a two-state solution is impossible, in breach of international law.

Read more  ➜

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On a Virtual Ward

Last week my husband, Ian, was bluelighted into Kingston Hospital. He was very unwell, and eventually – not immediately – they diagnosed Covid. He is clinically vulnerable because of a number of medical conditions, and we shielded carefully through full and partial lockdowns. Neither of us has had Covid up until now. Given the way it attacked him this time we could see why shielding had been essential for him before vaccines became available.

The A&E staff at the hospital were brilliant and he was kept for 48 hours in the Resus unit, but what I want to tell you about is what happened next. Ian was sent home on Saturday, with an oxygen supply and lots of pills, to a Virtual Ward. He was given a kit consisting of an internet Home Hub, a tablet, a wearable monitoring device that sits on his arm, a blood pressure device (to be used 4 times a day), a bespoke charger and an oximeter.

We were left on our own to set it up – even though I am tech savvy I did find that a bit daunting at the end of a tiring and stressful day. However the instructions were crystal clear and it all worked perfectly. His kit was made by Current Health but there are other brands in use.

Ian’s health data is being followed for 24 hours a day at the Monitoring Hub, which covers several hospitals. We have a phone number that we can call at any time for advice or help. They also call us when, for example, his monitoring device fell off and they weren’t getting readings. They asked me to have my mobile by the bed so they can wake me if any readings are a cause for concern during the night.

The Virtual Ward team at Kingston Hospital is on duty between 8am and 6pm each day. Every day they have a case conference on each of the patients in the Virtual Ward. Someone from the team – usually a nurse, but sometimes a doctor – phones each day to discuss Ian’s progress. Usually we switch to a video call on the tablet for that.

The pharmacist phoned one day to explain a change in medication, and the new prescription was delivered to the door by the team physiotherapist. She is the only medical practitioner we have met in person throughout the whole process and she seemed pleased to meet one of her patients face-to-face.

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If Liberal Democrats are serious about Housing, we will fix ‘Right to Buy’

Right to Buy is back in the news after it emerged Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner made a £48,500 profit on her ex-council house using the scheme. Whatever you think about this, I do agree with Angela that housing aspiration isn’t the issue – it’s failing to replace homes that are sold off. Liberal Democrats need to lead the charge to reform Right to Buy.

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government introduced the Right to Buy scheme in the United Kingdom, allowing council tenants to purchase their homes at discounted prices. At the time, it was hailed as revolutionary, promising social mobility and homeownership for the masses.

As the years have passed, it has become increasingly evident that Right to Buy has failed to live up to its lofty aspirations, exacerbating rather than alleviating the housing crisis in the UK.

By allowing tenants to buy their council homes at discounted rates, the government inadvertently depleted the stock of affordable housing available for those in need. This has created a vicious cycle where the demand for social housing far exceeds the supply, leading to skyrocketing rents and homelessness. The cost of building new homes is simply not covered by the receipts from Right to Buy.

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Ed on Kuenssberg: Lib Dems are excited and confident about election

Ed Davey did his first interveiw of the year on Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday this morning. The first question, was, of course, on the Post Office scandal and Ed’s role as Minister.

Her first question : Why did it take you so long to say sorry?

I probably should have said sooner early on.

It’s a huge scandal and our hearts go out to postmasters. They need to get exonerations and compensation quickly and we need to get the truth from the enquiry.

He talked about two sub postmasters in his constituency, one of whom spent 16 months in prison.

I’m going to fight for those and join others in making sure that the Government gives the sub postmasters the fair deal they deserve.

He actually has been fighting for them since there was evidence that there were flaws with Horizon and called for the enquiry back in 2015.

Kuenssberg showed him the letter he wrote to Alan Bates in 2010 saying that there would be no point to a meeting.  Ed replied that he had only been in office for 11 days and  was advised by his officials not to. When Bates wrote to him again, though, he wanted to know more about his concerns and was the first post office minister on record to meet him.

When that meeting took place in late 2010, he said he was concerned about the issues Alan Bates raised about Horizon. He took the concerns to his officials and the Post Office and was given categorical assurances that there was no remote access.

He said that it turns out that the Post Office were lying to him and that conspiracy of lies means that we need systemic change in how we deal with things like this.

Kuenssberg asked him if he’d never stopped to think that there must be something going on here.

He said that he wasn’t asked about it in Parliament. He said that things didn’t really change until the BBC’s Panorama programme found hard evidence in the form of a whistleblower from Fujitsu in August 2015.

Kuenssberg then moved on to the General Election, asking  if we weren’t embarrassed by the results in the by-elections last week.

Ed responded:

What we are seeing in this Parliament is huge success for Liberal Democrats. In those 4 by-elections we had staggering success in true blue areas.

We’ve had some of our best local elections ever and we have had by far the best success in local government by-elections.

We go into the next election with a real sense of excitement. There’s loads of areas where if you want to get rid of your Conservative MP, you’ve got to vote for the Liberal Democrats. I’ve talked about the “Blue Wall” where we are having massive success against the Conservatives and the south west as well, we are coming back there. So we go into this election year more confident than for many a year.

Kuenssberg asked if he was confident that we can be the third party again. His answer was simple. “Yes.”

Earlier she  brought up the Guardian letter signed by 30 prominent party members back in November as we reported here.

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Observations of an ex pat: Space Wars

In the distant past, 1967 to be precise, world leaders hammered out something called “The Outer Space Treaty.”

It remains in effect, but for how long? And what would be the result of its disappearance from the international statute books?

The reason it may be overwhelmed by circumstances is that thousands of satellites have been launched into space since 1967. They have become an essential part of modern life.

They are vital weather satellites; GPS systems that direct are travels; link our mobile phones and banking business and they are the space-based links for the all-powerful worldwide web.

The satellites are also a formidable military tool, providing vital intelligence about troop dispositions which can be immediately transmitted to ground forces. American satellite intelligence is a vital part of Ukraine’s war effort.

All of this, means that the orbiting satellites are an important target in case of war. And at the moment, they are completely unprotected. If they can be quickly knocked out then your enemy’s economy would be instantly destroyed and its satellite eyes pulled from their space sockets.

But for such an instant attack to be effective it has to be big and instant. That probably means a nuclear bomb, or series of nuclear bombs or some other as yet unknown weapon of mass destruction.

The Outer Space Treaty forbids this. The prescient clause reads: “States shall not place nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other way.”

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ALDC’s by-election report – 22 February 2024

It’s been the busiest week so far this year for local council by-elections – with 8 principal council elections taking places. The first bit of great news is there was a Liberal Democrat candidate in every single contest and thanks to our excellent candidates and local teams on the ground we can celebrate some excellent results. 

There was one Lib Dem gain on Thursday which came on Wiltshire Council in Calne, Chilvester and Abberd ward. Congratulations to Councillor Rob MacNaughton and the local Lib Dem for increasing the Lib Dem vote share by 18% and gaining the ward from the Conservatives. An amazing result and already our fourth by-election gain this year.  

Wiltshire UA, Calne, Chilvester and Abberd
Liberal Democrats (Robert Macnaughton): 424 (45.3%, +18.1)
Conservative: 283 (30.2%, -16.8%)
Labour: 172 (18.4%, +3.7%)
Green Party: 58 (6.2%, -5%)

There were two by elections on Buckinghamshire Council this week – and both saw the Lib Dems secure very positive results with significantly improvements in our share of the vote. 

A huge well done to Carol Linton who finished a close second to the Conservatives in Common and Burnham Beeches ward. Carol increased the Lib Dem vote share by over 11% and picked 41.5% of the total vote. A brilliant base to being upon. 

Similarly Mark Titterington increased the Lib Dem vote by over 13% in Hazelmere ward to finish in a very strong 3rd place – and cutting the gap to the winning Conservative candidate from 1000 at the last election to just over 200 this time!

Well done to both candidates and the local team in Buckinghamshire. 

Buckinghamshire UA, Common and Burnham Beeches
Conservative: 860 (51.8%, -4.2%)
Liberal Democrats (Carol Linton): 689 (41.5%, +11.2%)
Labour: 111 (6.7%, -7%)

Buckinghamshire UA, Hazelmere
Conservative: 687 (36.5%, -4.2%)
Independent: 654 (34.8%, -5.8%)
Liberal Democrats (Mark Titterington): 426 (22.7%, +13.4%)
Labour: 113 (6%, -3.5%)

There were also 2 by-elections on Derbyshire Dales DC

First of all in Bakewell ward, Claire Cadogan increased the Lib Dem vote share by 5% and jumped ahead of the Green Party to claim 3rd place. A great step forwards so well done and thank you to Claire. Labour gained the ward from the Conservatives overall squeezing in by 15 votes. 

Robin Shirtcliffe flew the flag for the Lib Dems in Norbury ward. The Lib Dems did not contest the ward at the previous election. So a huge thank you to Rob for making sure voters had a Lib Dem choice this time. The Conservatives held the ward overall. 

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Layla Moran’s speech in tonight’s debate: We need to stop this now

I thought about putting Layla’s speech in the last post, but I didn’t want it getting lost. Her clarity and wisdom and persuasiveness, and her liberal desire to bring people together have been a huge credit to her and to this party in recent months. We can all be incredibly proud of her, especially when this has been so personally painful for her.

She spoke in the debate and her words in full are below:

I am speechless at the way this debate began. As the House knows, there has been scant opportunity for me to tell the story not just of my family or the hundreds in the church where they are in northern Gaza, but of Palestinians on the ground and, indeed, those who lost people in the horrendous attacks on 7 October, whether through murder or abduction. I am grateful that we have this opportunity. In the hours of debate in front of us, my first ask of anyone who speaks after me is, please, to hold all those people in their hearts as they say what they say. I believe sincerely that this House is moving towards a right position, and I will explain what I think that is in a moment. On the suggestion that this House is in some way against a ceasefire—I would hope an immediate one, however the semantics play out in the votes later—can we please try to send a message in particular to the Palestinian people perishing in their tens of thousands on the ground, and to those hostage families that, fundamentally, we need this to stop now? I do not care what we call it.

I should have started by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. I sit as an unpaid adviser on the board of the International Centre for Justice for Palestinians.

Last week I went to Israel and Palestine with Yachad, and I will start with a story. On the first day, we went down to the southern border with Gaza, to a place called Nativ Ha’asara, a place I have visited before. We met an incredible woman called Roni, who had lost family members—16 from that kibbutzim had perished. As I went there, I looked across at northern Gaza. I saw the plumes of smoke. I heard the drones and the “pop pop pop” of the gunfire, and I broke down. As I walked back through the village, Roni, an Israeli peace activist, took me to one side, gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry”, which I said back. We both cried and held each other.

It is important to remember that although those voices of peace in Israel have been silent for some time, many of the people killed on that day were allies of the Palestinian people who had been calling for decades against the occupation, calling out Netanyahu’s Government, and condemning Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. It is for that reason that I welcome the sanctions on those extremist settlers, because there is a direct link between the right wing elements of Netanyahu’s Government and those extremist settlers. The amendment that the Lib Dems tabled to the motion stated that we should not finish there. We need to continue those sanctions on those people and their connected entities.

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Ed on tonight’s drama in Parliament: We need an urgent end to the humanitarian catastrophe

So I managed to sleep thoughout tonight’s drama.

Waking up to a phone glowing with WhatsApp messages, I realised there had been a bit of a rammy in the Commons. I checked out the BBC summary and my immediate and instinctive reaction is that the Speaker had been right to allow votes on three distinctive positions on such a huge issue. The SNP’s motion called for an immediate ceasefire, the Government’s called for a humanitarian pause and Labour’s had a bit more meat on its bones about how you actually get to a lasting peace. Normally on an opposition day, you’d get the motion and a Government amendment. It is unusual to have a third option, but in this instance, it made sense to reflect as broad a consensus as possible. He could have done better by including a fourth option, ours.

Ours said:

Expresses its devastation at the mounting humanitarian disaster in Gaza with tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians killed, millions displaced and thousands of homes destroyed; calls on the Prime Minister to oppose publicly and at the UN Security Council the proposed IDF offensive in Rafah; further urges Hamas to unconditionally and immediately release the over 100 hostages taken following the deplorable attacks on 7 October 2023; notes the unprecedented levels of illegal settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories left unchecked by the Israeli Government; welcomes the recent sanctions by the UK Government against four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank; urges the UK Government to sanction all violent settlers and their connected entities; calls on the UK Government to uphold international law and the judgments of international courts under all circumstances; further notes that the only path to regional security is a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with Hamas not in power; condemns Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated assertions that there is no future for a Palestinian state; and further urges the UK Government to call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in Gaza, which will allow an end to the humanitarian devastation, get the hostages out and provide an opportunity for a political process leading to a two-state solution, providing security and dignity for all peoples in Palestine and Israel.”

You would hope that when discussing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters and most dangerous conflicts we have seen in a long time, the Mother of Parliaments would model generous, collaborative behaviour. It was not beyond the wit of the SNP to work with the other opposition parties to bring together something that truly reflected the will of the House.

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Through my lens: navigating Islamophobia

In the aftermath of 9/11, the global surge in Islamophobia has cast a pervasive shadow over my experiences as a Muslim navigating through these mysterious and confusing times.

Growing up during the war on terror years meant that my childhood was far from ordinary. The constant fear, fueled by negative perceptions of my chosen faith, transformed seemingly simple tasks like walking home alone at night into daunting challenges. No child should bear the weight of such fear merely due to their religious beliefs.

Witnessing far-right politicians exploit Islamophobia for their gains adds another layer to this complex journey. A striking example is Marine Le Pen in France, who instrumentalised Muslims as a political punching bag. Comparing those praying in the streets of Paris to Nazis, she employed inflammatory rhetoric that not only deepens societal divides but also fosters an environment where Muslims feel increasingly marginalized and vulnerable to attacks.

In the United Kingdom, the aftermath of the Hamas attack saw a staggering 600% rise in Islamophobic events. The former home secretary’s actions further exacerbated the situation, fanning the flames of hatred towards the Muslim community.

Muslims collectively find themselves caught in the crossfire of divisive political narratives, contributing to an atmosphere of increasing hostility.

The media’s role in shaping public opinion cannot be overlooked in this narrative. A major analysis by the Muslim Council of Britain highlighted a disturbing trend of negative portrayals of Muslims in mainstream British news outlets. The Mail on Sunday, for instance, showcased a disconcerting 78% negative coverage, well above the industry average of 59%. It’s troubling to see how media outlets, consciously or not, perpetuate harmful stereotypes that contribute to the broader issue of Islamophobia.

One striking example is the comment made by Trevor Kavanagh on Rupert Murdoch’s Talk TV, insinuating that Muslims are born to be anti-Jewish. This type of rhetoric perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, contributing to the negative narrative surrounding Muslims. As a Muslim, it’s disheartening to see such comments, especially when they lack any basis in reality. It’s crucial for media figures to be held accountable for their words, as they have a profound impact on public perceptions.

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