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Ed Davey on Marr: We need £150 billion green recovery, not weak and timid government

“We are not a rejoin party” was one of the first things Ed Davey said in his New Year interview with Andrew Marr. The starkness of that statement is bound to disappoint some Liberal Democrat members and activists who are committed to this country ultimately being part of the EU again. Party strategists are adamant that now is not the time to have that argument and that we need to re-establish our credibility after the 2019 election. Perhaps being proven right will take care of some of that issue. We just need to make sure that we can be better at benefitting from being right than we have been all the other times when we have called a major issue correctly – think Iraq and the 2008 economic crisis.

It’s also not what our policy, passed at Conference in September, says:

Conference resolves to support a longer term objective of UK membership of the EU.

I would have preferred to see a very quick addition to Ed’s line that we didn’t support Brexit for all the reasons we can see it going wrong before he emphasises the need for the closest possible relationship with the EU. There is nothing wrong with saying that while rejoin isn’t on the table now, we think we’ll get to a place where it will be a viable option. There is nothing wrong with keeping that hope alive.

However, he was very strong on one issue that differentiates us from the Labour Party. Keir Starmer is not going to fight for freedom of movement of people. The Liberal Democrats will. Ed said that taking away the freedom to live, work and raise families across the EU is illiberal. The issue is one that impacts on so many families in this country and should increase our support.

That’s a major point of difference with Labour and should attract young people.

The conversation then turned to students. Ed said that the Government had let down schools, universities and students. He called Gavin Williamson the worst education secretary in living memory, who had mismanaged the crisis for everyone in the education sector. He argued that students should be refunded some of their fees and the Government, not the universities should pay for this.

Marr then turned to another really important issue for Lib Dem voters – the environment.

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January report from the President

The Party President, Mark Pack, has published his monthly report:

The chaotic incompetence of a government that declares schools safe on a Sunday, sends children back for a day and then closes them is the sort of thing that should be the domain of political fiction.

Sadly and tragically, it’s the government we suffer from in Westminster. It is a reminder about how important it is that we recover as a party, and a spur to our efforts to ensure we do our part in defeating the Conservatives at the ballot box.

The elections due in May across England, Scotland and Wales are an important part of that.

The May Elections

Will the elections be delayed? The simple answer is, we don’t know. But we do know that we need to campaign to do well in them whenever they happen. Other parties can gamble on trying to win an election without much time to campaign beforehand. We can’t.

That is why we need to continue with our preparations and build-up as if the May elections will happen, and treat any extra time as a bonus. Better that than be caught out thinking something wouldn’t happen and then not having time to prepare when it does.

Of course, our work should always take into account coronavirus health risks, and always carefully follow the party’s advice, which is regularly reviewed and updated when necessary.

There is a wide range of free training available to help you hone your campaigning skills and learn how to campaign best in the face of coronavirus. Do take a look at the listings on the party website and on the ALDC site.

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Ed Davey: PM dodged the difficult decisions and acted too late

Boris Johnson as good as said in his address announcing a new “March-style” lockdown that we we would have succeeded in beating Covid if it hadn’t been for this pesky new variant. The variant he’s known about for three months and done little to combat. Brazen or what?

Not even 36 hours had passed since his Marr interview yesterday, when he said that parents should send their kids to school today. Now, the decision he should have taken before Christmas has been made.

Ed Davey pointed out these errors of judgement in his reaction to the PM’s statement. He had earlier called for a lockdown, and so the party will be supporting these measures. However, we also want to see better support for those who have so far been excluded from the Government schemes, investment in mental health services and an increase to Carer’s Allowance.

Ed said:

This is the public health policy the Prime Minister should have announced before Christmas, but yet again, Boris Johnson ducked the difficult decisions, failed to listen to experts and acted too late.

Just yesterday morning Johnson was telling parents that schools were safe and children should definitely go. Today he is telling us that they must all move to remote learning but without any proper future plan.

The Prime Minister’s failure to act earlier means we are seeing record numbers of new infections, a rising death rate, hospitals overwhelmed and NHS and care staff exhausted.

With this new lockdown, Liberal Democrats believe it’s urgent that the Government announce a new comprehensive economic plan for businesses and the self-employed; a plan to increase Carer’s allowance in line with the increases in Universal Credit and must fully take account of the impact of these developments on the mental health of young people and vulnerable individuals who are going through an incredibly difficult time.

All around the world, the evidence is that acting early is critical to minimising damage to the economy and protecting public health. We need a Prime Minister who can act in time, not one who acts when it is too late.

There’s one interesting difference between the PM’s statement and the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon this afternoon.

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Lib Dems to vote against Boris Johnson’s “threadbare” EU trade deal

Ed Davey has announced tonight, in news that will surprise few people, that the Liberal Democrats will be opposing Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal because it fails to deliver on the promises the Brexiteers made to the electorate and it makes the country so much worse off.

It’s not about tariffs. The whole point of being in the single market was not to have to bother with bureaucracy and red tape. Businesses who have been watching these ads saying that things are changing on 1st January (but we have no idea how) are going to find out for the first time in almost 30 years what a pain in the backside it is to have to fill in paperwork to trade with our closest neighbours.

We will no doubt be attacked for our stance as we will be told that the alternative is no deal and we’re against that. However this is going to to through tomorrow whether we like it or not given that most Tories and Labour MPs will vote for it. It is entirely consistent with our approach to Brexit.

There was a coherent case to be made for abstention on the grounds that it was at least better than no deal and it puts distance between us and the ultra nationalists both north and south of the border. Having said that, we’ve spent all my political life fighting off accusations of fence-sitting and being wishy-washy so do we really want to just sit on our hands? I’ve seen other people argue well that we should vote in favour, rather than abstain, for the same reason. However I think it is important that the Brexiteers are made to own this. When it all goes wrong, I don’t want them saying “but you voted for it.” We’ve come too far on our internationalist and open values to suddenly become shields for those who have taken us to this place.

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EU Trade Deal: there are no good options left

European and British flags.

I hate 13th December. I really, really do.

On this day in 1984, my Grandma died, way too soon, at the age of 64. I still miss her.

And last year, in the early hours, any hope of avoiding Brexit evaporated as Boris Johnson got a majority that could have enabled him to govern with more wisdom and flexibility from the constraints of the reckless extremes of his party. He chose not to take that chance.

On top of it all, we lost Jo. I’m still not over that. She remains one of the most exceptionally talented people I have ever known. She’s proof that the best people don’t always win in politics.

An election once Jo had had the time to establish herself would, I suspect, have had a very different result.

We are where we are though. And it isn’t fun. 2020 has not excelled itself. A couple of bright spots – the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to be confirmed by the Electoral College tomorrow, the development of effective vaccines against Covid have not lifted the gloom by much.

Now the dreaded 13th December is the day we enter the final stage of the Brexit drama.

Whatever emerges from the EU negotiations over the next hours is going to be far from good. We’re looking at a catastrophic no deal or a damaging fig leaf of a deal that will hurt our businesses and cost people their jobs and homes. Let’s be clear. The Government is choosing this path. It had better options open to it. When we were gripped in the first wave of Covid, they could have done the responsible thing and requested an extension to the transition period. We’d have voted for it, so would the SNP. Labour probably would and the EU would almost certainly have granted it. The more excitable ERG types on the Conservative benches would have made a lot of noise, but we would have bought ourselves some time and stability.

I’ve always thought that the Brexit agenda was mostly about turning our economy into a low regulation, rights-free zone. This is why they are so resistant to any future improvements in things like environmental standards or workers’ rights. They dress it up as sovereignty, but it’s an oligarch’s charter really.

They manipulated people’s feeling of powerlessness with false promises of taking back control. The truth is that those people at the sharp end, the lowest paid and most vulnerable, will have less control than they had before.

There should be no problem with accepting the EU’s reasonable level playing field requirement in the trade deal. I doubt that there will be any major changes within the next few years anyway. These things take time to get through and would take even longer to actually come into force. If there were any changes, we could debate them and decide whether to accept them or take the consequences.

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Your last chance to get drafting advice for Conference motions…

The dates for the Scottish and Federal Spring conferences have been set as we reported last week.

Scottish Conference will meet virtually from 5-6 March and Federal Conference will meet virtually two weeks later 19-21 March.

The great thing about our Conferences is that even in their virtual form, members have been able to submit policy motions and amendments for debate. In our party, we give our members actual power to make policy and set the direction of the party.

This is your reminder that if you want any of the nice people from the respective Committees to help you draft a policy motion, you only have until Tuesday (Scotland) and Thursday (Federal) to request it.

You don’t actually have to get drafting advice and you will still be able to submit motions by the deadlines of 6th January (federal) and 8th January (Scotland).

The Scottish LIb Dems have a really useful guide on how to draft a well-structured motion which you can see here.

1. What does the Committee look for?

A motion should be easy to understand, logically argued and well presented. If the Committee finds it difficult to understand the purpose of a motion or to follow the case it argues, it is likely that conference will also have problems. Equally – though this is harder for anyone drafting a motion to predict – the motion should be in a subject area where it is desirable for the party to develop new policy or make its existing policies or achievements known. Other things being equal, a shorter motion usually has an advantage over a longer one.

2. What features will reduce the chances of a motion being chosen?

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Why Holyrood 2021 has me (SN)Paranoid

Embed from Getty Images

It’s approaching that time again, another four years have past and another government will be voted in. Next year Scotland will be holding the Scottish Parliament election in May.

As an activist and a proud political geek, I should be excited and ready to campaign till I’m blue in the face. But unfortunately that isn’t the case. On December 2nd Ipsos Mori published the latest polls, predicting the estimated results of the election. From a first glance, it’s hard to feel worried about the potential landslide form the Scottish National Party. At current the polls show the SNP set to earn 55% (in constituencies) of the vote (-3 when compared to early in October) and a clear majority government. However, you should never trust fully in election polls, they can go from 100% to completely and utterly wrong, and anything in-between.

The SNP first came to power in 2007 and have been in government for 13 years. This hasn’t been the 13 years of a “stronger for Scotland” government they have promised. Just broken promises, public lies and scandals that make you really question if they have the welfare of Scottish people at heart.

Since 2007 the SNP have lead a full frontal siege against our vital services. Scotland’s young people are stuck waiting nearly a year for mental health support, our councils are being cut to the point of near collapse under the strain of keeping things running, our industrial pillars such as the Caley rail yard in Springburn and Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) are being ignored and left to go to ruin, our education system has went from one of the top ranking education systems in the world to average level, they’ve promised full support to fix the climate emergency then do a complete U-turn, and they fully support the oil industries who are scarring our countrysides and seas (fully backed by the Scottish Greens as well) – the list could go on but the article would be an essay if I was to mention every time the SNP have failed the people of Scotland.

Looking at this it all seems doom and gloom, especially when the Scottish Lib Dems are sitting at 6% (+2% since October) in the polls, but we need to  take the positives and learn lessons from the victories we’re achieving and the progress we are making. Our Willie Rennie and the rest of our fantastic MSP team have appeared more and more in the headlines of newspapers, news segments and on the TV, asking all the tough questions. Now Councillor Liz Barrett went from 3rd place to winning the seat of Perth City south, beating the SNP and the Conservatives as well. In last year’s General Election we managed to get now MP Wendy Chamberlain elected in North East Fife, cementing our grip on the area in both Holyrood and Westminster.

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Racism in football still hasn’t been kicked out

It’s been 27 years since the establishment of Kick It Out, English football’s equality and inclusion organisation, which works with the football, education and community sectors to challenge discrimination and encourage inclusive practices.

Sadly, racism, abuse and discrimination are still rife in society, but the very nature of chanting in football stadiums makes some believe it is a licence to hurl insults at team players.

On Saturday 5 December 2020, at a Millwall home match against Derby County, some of the 2,000 fans booed players who “took the knee” before the start of the game. Although players, officials and staff at Premier League and English Football League games have been taking the knee before games since June, Saturday’s match was the first to host fans since the second lockdown was lifted. Boos were also heard amongst the 1,000 fans in the JobServe Community Stadium, Colchester, prior to the match between Colchester United and Grimsby Town.

Although Millwall’s supporters’ club claimed that the motives behind the booing were not racist, no other explanation was given as to what the motive was. As Kick It Out Chairman, Sanjay Bhandari said, “Racists rarely admit they are racists — they try to hide their backlash under a seemingly respectable cloak.”

On Monday 30 November, BBC One aired the documentary Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism and Me, in which the now retired Queens Park Rangers’ footballer spoke about the constant racial abuse that he suffered, including an on-pitch incident in 2011 in which Chelsea player, John Terry, used racially abusive language. Terry was eventually found guilty, fined £220,0000 and banned for just four matches by the FA. Ferdinand also received bullets in the post and missiles were thrown at this mothers’ house.

A House of Lords’ Library Briefing earlier this year (Racism in Football: Tackling Abusive Behaviour) showed that there has been an increase in the number of racist incidents reported in professional and grassroots football in recent years.

According to the Public Order Act 1986, a person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

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Cllr Liz Barrett: How I won Perth City South

You can imagine how much I enjoyed writing Cllr Liz Barrett in the ehadline. I am still ridiculously excited about Cllr Barrett’s victory in the Parth City South by-election on

Liz is the second person in her household to be elected a Councillor. Her husband Peter has represented Perth City Centre ward since 2003. We will let him away with getting Liz’s ward wrong in his tweet.

Liz has written an email to party members about how she won:

Subject: Here’s how I WON in Perth South

Three years ago I missed out on becoming Perth City South Councillor in a by-election, but last Thursday I WON!  We came from third place, beat the Tories, and took a seat off the SNP.

 It’s no secret the last few years have been tough for our party. Couple that with a global pandemic and associated restrictions, it’s easy to get caught up in a campaigning black hole.

 But, I can tell you, working hard locally really does put you in pole position to reap the rewards. 

 We have been campaigning non-stop through surveys, petitions, street letters and regular Focus leaflets ever since I lost that day three years ago. Since lockdown, we’ve been sending e-news to over 350 residents, and growing.

 In July, we stole a march on both the Conservatives and SNP by getting two leaflets out in quick succession after deliveries were authorised by the Party.  

 We also knew we had to get our message across the doorsteps in person, so, when rules have allowed, a team of us have been out pounding the pavements, talking to residents and hearing their concerns. 

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Breaking….Liz Barrett wins for the Liberal Democrats in Perth

I am actually bursting with excitement right now.

Great news from Perth where Liz Barrett has won a Council by-election, taking a seat from the SNP:

I have known Liz for a long time and she is one of the most competent and caring people I have ever met. She spent the pandemic making PPE for carers and organising a community foodbank. She was just 29 votes from victory in a by-election in the ward almost exactly three years ago and she hasn’t stopped working since.

She joins Scottish Party President Willie Wilson as Councilor for the ward.

Here’s the result of the first preferences count. She’s only 75 votes behind the SNP but wins on transfers under the AV system.

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Wendy Chamberlain on winning back N E Fife and her first 10 months as an MP

I had held off publishing Wendy Chamberlain’s speech delivered to Scottish Conference the other weekend because I had heard that it might be put up on You Tube.

However this hasn’t happened yet and I wanted you to have the chance to read it.

Heartfelt and honest, it’s one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen a parliamentarian deliver at Conference. Wendy talks about how she’s trying to help her constituents through some pretty complex problems and it’s clear how driven she is to get results for them and how much she cares about the injustices they face.

Here is her speech in full. Enjoy.

October 31st, 2019. 

The Early Parliamentary General Election Act was given Royal Assent by the Queen. Parliament was to be dissolved, and the campaign began. 

It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago today.  A year ago since we all donned our coats and wellies – and headed out for one of the hardest, and certainly the coldest, campaigns of our lives. 

I cam to this office to start my campaigning. North East Fife was the most marginal of marginal seats – I’m sure I don’t need to remind you: just two votes between us and the SNP. It did mean that we had the best bar chart in Lib Dem history!

But it wasn’t just the bar chart. Because it wasn’t just two votes we had to make up. 

In 2019, the SNP vote went up by 7 percent. The bar was as high as it will ever be. I received as many votes as Ming (who I am privileged to follow on from as a Liberal Democrat MP for the seat) did in 2005. His majority was 33% – mine is 3%. 

So how did we get it over the line? There were three key steps. 

First, I was selected early. We had the infrastructure and people in place – and a fantastic team headed up by Kevin Lang and Celyn Ashworth. Celyn is now running Liz Barrett’s Perth by-election campaign and I urge everyone here to support however you can – it’s absolutely winnable. Without them we wouldn’t have won – and we hit the ground running.

That’s exactly the same situation that all of our fantastic candidates who’ve been selected this weekend are in. Many of them have already been campaigning for months. I know they are going to fight an amazing campaign. 

Secondly, we collected lots of data. 

And then, we used that data to be ruthless. We targeted exactly who we needed to – soft Tory and Labour voters. We saw the largest fall in the Conservative vote anywhere in the UK (other than the Speakers seat – which doesn’t really count) and historically low Labour vote too

And that’s how we took back North East Fife for the Liberal Democrats. 

***

Now when you get elected as an MP, the first thing that happens as you leave the stage is that you get handed an envelope with MP on it. 

Inside, there’s a piece of paper with a phone number on it. 

You ring the number, you’re told how to get down to Westminster and you’re informed that your email account is now open for business! 

Immediately, constituents are getting touch – with queries ranging from supertrawlers to dangerous dogs; from Dominic Cummings to trespassing cats.  

In the last ten months, my team have dealt with over 5,000 pieces of casework, ranging from helping the St Andrews Aquarium access funds, to mobile caterers with no income or events to attend, to visa issues for seasonal workers and families; and constituents stuck abroad during the pandemic’s early stages. You name it. 

It’s one of the most important things about being an MP. Making sure that your constituents are given a voice – because if you’re contacting your MP for help, it’s probably because you’ve exhausted every other option. 

So much of what I and my team do is trying to ‘unblock’ things where people are not getting anywhere with the council, or the Scottish Government, or Westminster. 

And sadly, for a lot of my constituents who get in touch, it’s the welfare system that’s the problem. They’re trying to navigate and they are, through no fault of their own, hopelessly stuck. The welfare system is meant to be a safety net – but it’s leaving too many people tied up in knots. 

These people aren’t just any people – they’re our most vulnerable. Our society has to be judged on how it treats the disadvantaged. And so it is a total failure of our government that a great deal of the people who contact me about the benefit system are people with disabilities, who patently should be receiving disability benefits – PIP or ESA – but the Department for Work and Pensions has cruelly denied them.   

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How bullying casts a long shadow…a post updated with reflections on Priti Patel and Dominic Cummings

It is ten years since I first wrote this, and I share it every year during Anti-Bullying Week. I could write something else, but it took some emotional energy to write the first time and I’m not really up for putting myself through that again. 

Let’s not put up with anyone being treated like this, whether at school, in the workplace or within politics. It’s important that anyone in any sort of leadership role in any organisation has the skills to recognise and intervene to stop bullying and support those affected by it. It casts a very long shadow and destroys lives. Its costs are massive in terms of wellbeing. Also, if you are bothered about the money and the economy, happier people are more productive.  It’s entirely preventable and we should do all we can to eradicate it.

It is ironic that I share this during this year’s anti bullying week a day after a Prime Minister defends a Cabinet Minister who has been found to have broken the Ministerial Code in the way that she treated her civil servants:

My advice is that the home secretary has not consistently met the high standards required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.

Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.

I think the report is quite lenient on her, almost justifying shouting and swearing at officials. There is no circumstance in which that is ever justifiable in a workplace. The idea that she gets off because nobody raised it with her in the Home Office is utterly ridiculous. It takes some courage to raise these issues with the person in charge who shouts and swears at you. 

By all accounts, the way the recently departed Dominic Cummings treated people was even worse than the allegations against Patel. This Government has so far been fuelled by bullying. A toxic culture in which people are working in an atmosphere of fear and loathing is never going to be conducive to getting stuff done well. And this is actually costing lives. You can’t perform well if you are constantly fearful and anxious about the behaviour of an individual. You can’t effectively challenge their thinking and ideas. When you are making decisions that are a matter of life and death for many people, you need to make sure that they are properly thought through. A wise person I know says that the most important person in the room is the person who disagrees with you, because their input helps make your performance better. 

If staff in any workplace wake up with that same nausea that I faced when I was bullied, it saps energy that they could be putting into their work. And that is entirely the fault of the bully. 

We have a Prime Minister who clearly doesn’t get the impact of bullying in the workplace, and who is prepared to overlook the most egregious instances of it. 

Priti Patel should have been sacked. Dominic Cummings’ behaviour as Michael Gove’s Special Adviser at Education should have  meant that he never got over the door of Downing Street. 

It is incredibly worrying that the person in charge is willing to let this sort of unforgivable behaviour pass. The example that sets to other employers is extremely unhelpful, to say the least. 

And now on to that 10 year old piece.

I’ve been procrastinating like anything to avoid writing this post because although I know the events I’m going to describe took place a long time ago, they cast a long shadow. Their stranglehold on my life is long gone, but the memories are not. I might have teased my sister for posting something inane on my Facebook wall a while ago when she has important work she needs to do, but how would I know if I hadn’t similarly been wasting time.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a very long time, but now is probably the right time. When Stephen wrote so movingly about how his experiences of homophobic bullying had almost led him to the brink of suicide, I thought about telling my story too. His account of standing on the breakwater as a 17 year old brought vividly to my mind those dark occasions I’d stood far above the sea and contemplated jumping as a young teenager myself. I wasn’t bullied for homophobic reasons. In fact, it was made very clear to me that no man, woman or even beast would ever find me attractive.

The bullying started in earnest when I went to secondary school. I was in a very dark place as a 12 year old. This isn’t the right place to explain why but when I experienced those feelings again in later life, the doctor called it Depression. To add to that, we’d moved so I was far away from the emotional bedrocks my wonderful grannies provided. I was vulnerable, alone and, let’s be honest, not very likeable. I certainly didn’t like myself much anyway.

During the first three years of high school, I was primarily known by two names, neither of which had been given to me by my parents. In English one day in first year, we were taking it in turns to read out a scene from a play. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was but as fate would have it, the line I had to read was “I want a yak.” Quick as a flash, the boy in front of me yelled out “I always thought you were one……” Cue the entire class, including the teacher, to collapse in laughter. That spread like wildfire, and before long it became my name to the entire pupil body.

If we’d had Google images then, I might have discovered pretty quickly that yaks are really kind of cute, but I never really saw it that way at the time and I really don’t think that the name was an affectionate one.

The other name came from the fact that, yes, I do have weird eyes. For that reason, people would hiss like a cat when they saw me coming, and spit out “Cat’s Eyes” as I passed.

I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much, but when you hear one or other of those things round every corner every day, you do feel less than human.

I became adept at varying my route to and from school to try to avoid the bullies who were there to pull my hair, or steal my stuff or point, or laugh, or kick or trip me up. They liked to mix it up a bit so I never really knew what I was walking into. I know it’s all quite low level, but it wore me down. I lived in perpetual fear and carrying that around everywhere was exhausting.

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Reflections on the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Cross posted from the Scottish Lib Dems website

A few years ago, I took a trip to London with some young people. 

They had the choice of any West End musical we could get cheap tickets for on the Saturday night. 

They chose instead to go to a vigil remembering victims of hate crimes . 

So, instead of being in a warm theatre, we spent several hours in rain and freezing cold. It was an incredibly moving  event. The most sombre part was when the names of people who had lost their lives was read out. 

Each one of these names was a human being with hopes, interests, emotions, ambitions. All they wanted to do was get on with their lives in peace. Those lives were cut short because of prejudice and hatred.

A year or so after that trip to London, one of those young people came out as transgender. They were only too well aware of the sort of prejudice they faced if they revealed their true self. To do so in those circumstances takes incredible courage. 

Fortunately, they had supportive family and friends and are now doing very well.

November 20th is the Transgender Day of Remembrance when we remember transgender people across the world who have been murdered because of who they are. This year, the number is 350, not far off one person every single day. 

For several years now, trans and non binary people in this country have been constantly marginalised, the target of well-funded misinformation.

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Help me pile pressure on Royal Mail to offer free post for care homes

Times have never been tougher, and this Christmas will be one of the most challenging yet. We’ve got to come together like never before. That means reaching out and staying connected with the most vulnerable and isolated members of our community.

It would be heartbreaking if family members or friends in care homes went without love this Christmas.

Earlier this year, An Post—Ireland’s postal service—announced it would carry letters, large envelopes, packets and parcels up to 2Kg addressed to residents in nursing homes, residential accommodation in the mental health or disability sectors and convalescent homes for free until 31st January 2021.

It’s a wonderful gesture that will support families and loved ones living in care homes, who have been so terribly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s why I wrote to Royal Mail last month and asked them to follow An Post’s lead and offer free postage to and from care homes in the UK.

The Royal Mail’s role in response to the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be understated. Their staff have battled through in the toughest of times with professionalism and dedication.

By October, they had already handled more letters and parcels than they did in the whole of 2019—and the peak Christmas period for 2020 is only just beginning.

But with the national lockdown reimposed, and evidence suggesting that restrictions could be in place until the New Year, this is one small way to ensure that no one is left behind this winter.

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William Wallace writes…Plutocratic populism

The Anglo-Saxon version of authoritarian populism is ‘plutocratic populism’, or pluto-populism .  A Princeton professor described it, in the Financial Times last week, as ‘consisting of policies that mostly benefit the top 1%, in combination with relentless culture wars which distract from economic ideas’.  Trump is, of course, the model that he and others are describing.  But we have faced a similar phenomenon in the UK, and we need to think carefully about how to combat it here.

Money, media and loose electoral regulation fuel pluto-populism.  The US  Supreme Court’s decision to free political fundraising from the constraints that Democratic Administrations had enacted has entrenched the power of money in US politics.  Right-wing billionaires, benefitting from lax rules on foundations and favourable taxes, fund think tanks and lobbies.  The Murdoch press has also fuelled its rise, above all through Fox News, with its relentless attacks on ‘the liberal elite’, its openness to conspiracy theories and its willingness to support ‘alternative facts.’  Trump rose to political prominence through television, and has exploited social media to consolidate his appeal.

Constraints on spending in British politics have not yet broken down, but in recent elections and in the 2016 Referendum the rules have been successfully bent.  Conservative HQ sent targeted mailings and media messages to marginal seats, not accounted for under constituency expenditure.  Semi-autonomous bodies mounted media campaigns to underpin Tory messages and to influence voters away from other candidates.  Peter Geoghegan, in Democracy for Sale (2020, well worth reading), tells us that ‘College Green Group’, run by the son of a wealthy Tory MP, placed pro-SNP messages in Jo Swinson’s constituency and pro-Labour ones in LibDem target seats in the South-West, as well as similar negative messages in Caroline Lucas’s seat. 

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Thank heavens for that! Tears all round as Harris and Biden finally win

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

When I went to bed at 4:30 am on Wednesday I was so utterly miserable and depressed. It was looking like Trump might actually have won a second term with all the suffering and irreversible damage to the planet and division that would entail.

But, since then, it’s been looking like it was increasingly a matter of time until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared the victors. That moment happened just before 4:30 pm this afternoon. I turned on the telly after an afternoon of delivering leaflets and dog walking just as the declaration was made. I would like to thank all my friends in various WhatsApp groups for helping me to say sane. The Scottish Lib Dem Women chat and the  chat which Steve Jolly set up must have had 3 million messages by now at least, and all of them have been therapeutic.

I’m not going to lie, the tears have not stopped much since then. And every time they seem to be about to stop, something like this happens:

Like many others, I’ve been addicted to CNN for the past 4 days. What a brilliant team they are. They are not afraid to call out the bullshit when they see it. John King, Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Abby Phillip, Alisyn Camerota and many others have all managed to make sense of what is going on. We are all more familiar with places we had never heard of. I feel like I need to visit Maricopa County, Eyrie County, Fulton County and the like, as the places where history was made.

One of the most powerful moments came from Van Jones this afternoon. Someone who has been on the sharp end of Trump’s divisive, racist actions over the past four years. It makes you realise the damage Trump has done. President and Trump are two words which should never have gone together.

Ed Davey has sent his congratulations to the winners

People around the world will now be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Over the past four years Donald Trump has fed a new divisive form of politics, testing American democracy to its very limits. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s victory isn’t just democratic, it may have saved US democracy.

“I’d like to congratulate Joe Biden and urge him not only to deliver on his promise to restore liberal values in the United States, but also to ensure the US will play a constructive role in the international battle to beat Coronavirus. The virus, like all of the world’s biggest problems, can only be solved if we work together as an international community.

“I hope Joe Biden will be a president who fights alongside progressives for social justice and climate action at home and abroad.”

Other Lib Dems also welcomed the news:

Typical Jamie

This day belongs not just to Kamala and Joe but to people like Stacey Abrams. Narrowly beaten in the Georgia governor’s race two years ago because of voter suppression, she served her revenge cold by trying to bust down the barriers Republicans put up. And she’s helped secure not one but two Georgia Senate run-offs on 5th January. One of the Democrats, Jon Ossoff, is a mate of Alistair Carmichael’s from his days trying to save Troy Davis from execution. And there’s also the Crooked Media team, former Obama staffers whose media and activist network has given us hours of pleasure over the past four years since they formed in the wake of Hillary’s defeat.

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Tony Greaves writes: A week to remember in the Lords

Oh what a week that was!

Liberal Democrat peers can hold up their heads in some pride after a remarkable week in the Lords in which the Government suffered a massive defeat on the Internal Market Bill, three issues were ping-ponged back to the Commons, and Liberal Democrats fought the battles while the Labour Party disgraced themselves by abstaining on several vital motions.

There’s a pattern. Since the August recess the government have been defeated in the Lords no fewer than 17 times. But they’ve won eleven votes and on all but one of those the Labour Party sat on their hands. Of course they have a right to whip their members as they decide – or as instructed by their party bosses in the House of Commons. But when, as this week, they have already gone through the lobby at an earlier stage of a Bill, questions must asked about their courage and determination to oppose the Government on matters of principle.

In these strange times, we don’t queue through the division lobbies – a foolish practice we leave to the Commons. The Lords is meeting as a Hybrid House, centred on the Chamber where up to 30 peers can sit at any time, suitably distanced from each other. Other members ask questions and speak, visible on the monitors strung around the balconies. But everyone votes via their computers and devices on a natty little app called PeerHub. 

The first vote of the week on Monday was on the Second Reading of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the measure that the Government itself admits could mean breaking international law. The Lords customarily do not vote on the Second Reading of Bills, holding that the government of the day has the right to have its legislation scrutinised by the Upper House. 

But Lord Judge moved an amendment to add at the end of the motion to give the Bill a Second Reading “but that this House regrets that Part 5 of the bill contains provisions which, if enacted, would undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom.” Lord Judge is Convenor of the Crossbenches – 181 peers who sit as Independents – and a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. (And yes his family name really is Judge).His amendment was passed by 395 votes to 169, a massive 226 vote majority. As often happens the Liberal Democrat group had the highest percentage turnout (91%). And 39 Conservatives voted against the Government. On its own this vote has no legal effect but it threatens the government with a very difficult time as the Bill starts its detailed scrutiny in the coming week.

On Tuesday we played Ping-Pong with the Agriculture Bill. Ping-Pong is the technical term for the final stages of a Government Bill when it is sent back and forth between the Lords and the Commons until both Houses agree the exact wording. In this case the Lords had passed a series of amendments before sending the Bill back to the Commons, which promptly reversed them.

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Remembering the News Chronicle

Sixty years ago today the great Liberal-supporting newspaper the News Chronicle disappeared despite boasting a circulation of more than a million – considerably more than some of today’s nationals.

On the morning of October 17 1960 – “Black Monday” as it would become known – the News Chron appeared as normal. Staff turning up at the newspaper’s offices in London were sent out on assignment as usual while the newsroom tape machines clattered out the day’s happenings.

But when darkness fell it was announced that the paper had been “merged” with mid-market rival the Daily Mail in a move that sent shock waves through Fleet Street. Work stopped on the paper shortly after 5pm and the editorial staff adjourned to the nearest pub to drown their sorrows.

Laurence Cadbury, proprietor of the News Chronicle expressed “deep regret” at the passing of the paper but said “mounting costs and continued losses” had made it “impossible” for the Chronicle to continue as “a separate entity”.

Just about every national newspaper carried an obituary. The Guardian said: “To write dispassionately about the death of friends is not easy”, while the Daily Herald was also fulsome in its praise, observing: “The News Chronicle was unique. Nothing can replace it.” Even the Conservative- supporting Daily Express was magnanimous, declaring: “Last night a fine newspaper died. Families grew up with the paper: it was their voice. Now that voice is stilled.”

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Six things I learnt from Lib Dem Virtual Conference

1. Multitasking is a benefit and a hindrance

It was hugely enabling to be able to attend lively, stimulating debates and hear from the great and the good on how we can make Britain better for everyone, whilst in my slippers and nursing my baby. It meant that my other half didn’t have to manage our toddler on his own for a weekend and we could still enjoy our family meals and bedtimes together. The downside was that we still had family meals and bedtimes: my ability to get fully immersed in conference life, meeting people, attending sessions, ruminating on what had been discussed was diminished because in between or even during sessions, I was trying to soothe a crying child or distract a toddler from a tantrum. It felt great to be able to juggle family and political life, but it is a juggle – and there were definitely moments where I felt I was doing neither justice.

My learning: I should treat virtual conference like real conference, and ensure I book out time and space to get engaged rather than seeing it as an opportunity to do it all.

2. Virtual sessions enable the speakers to speak and the audience to listen

How many times at a conference or event does the room get dominated by the loudest voice or someone who pretends they have a question when what they really just want is a mic? The video nature of sessions during online conference enabled us to hear from the panel, and for the chat to highlight the biggest talking points that should be put to the panel, rather than the Chair somewhat rolling the dice based on who put their hands up. The best sessions were ones where there was someone monitoring the chat and able to feed back to the Chair on what common or contentious discussion points were, and then where the Chair made best use of the people and time to field this. I would love to see real life Chairs able to be so strong in managing the room and conversation to keep things on point.

3. Video should bring down the barriers for people to speak rather than put people off.

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Lib Dems back long term aspiration to rejoin EU

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home


Well, that was tense!

Of all the votes to have technical issues, it would just have to be the one between two hotly contested amendments, wouldn’t it?

Thankfully, the outcome wasn’t even close with 331 backing the more emphatic “Rejoin now” Amendment 1 and 1071  backing Amendment 2 proposed by Duncan Brack and eventually accepted by the leadership. It’s a huge number of people taking part and was the outcome I thought most likely but at times did not seem assured.

The debate was at times a bit fractious, with speeches on both sides going a bit over the top.

However, there were some very thoughtful and measured contributions which probably did more to persuade people.

There was a small moment of drama when Wera Hobhouse MP was called. It had been reported that she would support Amendment 1, but she confirmed straight away that she was supporting Amendment 2.

So what have we passed? You can read the main motion on page 11 here.

It’s as you would expect, pointing out the problems with Brexit, the Government’s appalling handling of it and affirming our support for freedom of movement, EU Citizens and all manner of food and environmental and security co-operation.

The contentious bit was this:

In the longer term, conference resolves to keep all options open for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including membership at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

The amendment passed changed that last bit to:

In the longer term, Conference resolves to support a longer term objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

So here are some of the highlights of the debate in tweets:

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Ten former MEPs write….Why now is not the right time to campaign to rejoin the EU

This weekend at our party conference we will debate our Europe motion, clarifying the party’s policy on our relations with and towards the EU.

The main focus of debate between members is likely to be around  ‘r’. Not the COVID ‘r’, which we have all become used to, but the Brexit ‘r’ word – rejoin. 

We all remember the joy we felt last May when our representation in Europe went from one solitary MEP, Catherine Bearder, to a surprisingly fulsome group of 16 from right across the country – several of whom had not expected to be elected. 

It was a symbol of how strongly people felt about Brexit, and, thanks to a proportional electoral system, their commitment to EU membership was reflected in our election result. 

I can honestly say no one in the party, or outside it, regrets our departure from Europe more strongly than the 16 of us. 

But the world has changed since 31st January beyond what any of us could have imagined.

Hard though it is to accept, for those of us who fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit, most people’s attention is now far more  are now far more focused distracted by on COVID and the implications it is having for their families and jobs, the economy, education and our health and social care services. 

As a party, it would be wise for us  to focus on the fact that only 2% of UK voters now think Brexit is the most important issue facing us. We are back to the sort of numbers seen before the EU referendum was even a thing. Remember that? When no one ever talked about our relationship with Europe – except the Daily Mail!

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A post for Bisexual Visibility Day

As I hurtled uncontrollably towards my 30th birthday at the beginning of January and felt as though I was stuck in a rut, I decided that this milestone year would be the year my life would change – and that would start with me finally being open and proud of who I am.

I realised that I was bisexual when I was a teenager, thinking first that I was straight, and then gay, before finally recognising that I did not fit into either monosexual identity. I told some of my friends at the time, while for others it was an “open secret”. For the most part, though, my sexual identity was, at best, something I did not speak about – and, at worst, something I have since actively repressed.

However, on 26 January this year, I finally came out as bi with the help of the above heavily-Photoshopped (or, rather, as a good Lib Dem, heavily-Photoplussed) photo.

Today I am marking my first Bi Visibility Day since coming out in the only way possible – by spending all day at work and the evening in a local party executive meeting.

Bi Visibility Day is not just about the bi community celebrating our identity. It is about raising awareness and challenging bisexual and biromantic erasure.

Sadly, not everyone who identifies as bi is lucky enough to have had a positive experience since coming out – while many do not feel able to come out at all. Indeed, according to Stonewall’s 2018 LGBT in Britain – Health Report, 30 per cent of bi men and eight per cent of bi women said they were unable to be open about their sexual orientation, compared to just two per cent of gay men and one per cent of lesbians.

Similarly, 38 per cent of bi people are not out to any of their work colleagues, compared to seven per cent of gay men and four per cent of lesbians, while in 2016 it was reported that bi men earned 30 per cent less than their gay colleagues. Although published four years ago, this does suggest that bi men are at the rough end of the LGBT+ pay gap which was revealed last year.

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Julian Huppert writes….’The Generous Society’ – a vision for a liberal Britain

Liberalism has offered a lot to the UK over the decades. Liberal thinker John Stewart Mill was an early champion of female suffrage and the abolition of the slave trade. The last Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, started the modern welfare state; the Liberal William Beveridge’s totemic report led to the creation of the National Health Service, and the great Liberal economist John Maynard Keynes set out how economic tools operate and could be used to benefit citizens.

Liberalism is still a crucial philosophy now – possibly the only antidote to the authoritarian, centralising tendencies coming from some on the economic left and right, and the best response to surveillance capitalism, excessive consumerism, and the perils of an over-free market.

However, at the present time it is not well articulated. Its values are too often conflated with neo-liberalism or libertarianism – two very different world views, for all their linguistic similarity. The Liberal Democrats, who still carry the banner of liberalism, have stumbled in recent years, too often lost in discussions of the Coalition and seen as fundamentally pro-European, rather than fundamentally Liberal. It has failed to articulate a clear liberal vision for too long.

There are liberals in almost all UK parties, and among those who do not feel connected to any political movement. Some do not realise that they are liberals, because they have not yet seen a clear description of what a liberal is, and what the underpinning drive is for liberalism.

It is for all these reasons that we set out to produce a vision for what Britain could be. Entitled ‘the Generous Society’, it dreams of a country where we can all be generous, to ourselves and to each other. Our vision is to see individual freedom, human diversity and ingenuity, and natural beauty flourish and advance within a generous and free society.

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Paul Tyler writes…..Listening is just the start…

Once we have honed our listening skills we should surely seek to improve ways in which people are themselves empowered.  How can they make their voices and their votes more effective ?

Here are a few immediate and urgent opportunities:

Fair Votes 

Despite the Conservative manifesto promise to make sure “every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy” the current inequality is outrageous.  It takes 33 times as many votes for Green Party supporters to elect an MP as for SNP supporters, with big differences for Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in between. Voters are cheated by the First-Past-The-Post system.

Ed Davey has committed himself to the cross-party campaign.    But what should be the first priority?   Persuading the Labour leadership to wake up, and accept the strong support of their membership for reform of elections to the Commons?   Or concentrate on extending the STV success in local authority elections in Scotland – now to be repeated in Wales – to ensure voters in England do not miss out?  

If the electoral system is the bedrock of our democracy, then surely some consistency throughout the UK is essential ?

Who Votes?

Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for votes for all citizens when they reach 16.  We led national efforts to extend the franchise for the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and were only thwarted by combined Conservative and Labour Peers when we pressed then for 16-year-olds to be able to vote in the 2016 EU Referendum.   Again, Scotland and Wales are leading the way, and the case for UK consistency is now overwhelming.

UK citizens working or living abroad are often affected by political decisions taken here – most notoriously on Brexit – but their representation is inadequate.  We want them to vote in separate constituencies so that they have MPs who are committed to looking after their particular interests.

Similarly, EU residents working and resident in the UK make a substantial contribution, not least with various local taxes, and should continue to be allowed to vote in local elections.

Subsidiarity

The imminent Devolution White Paper, we are told, will force through the amalgamation of two-tier councils to create more unitary authorities, all with the compulsory addition of elected mayors.   This looks suspiciously like centralisation rather than decentralisation, and is certainly not devolution. Whitehall retains the financial stranglehold, treating elected local representatives as simply a delivery mechanism for national policy priorities.

We have long championed subsidiarity = bringing decisions as close as possible to those who will be affected by them.  The present Government is moving in the opposite direction. 

The example of the SNP Government is also salutary.  Concentrating power at that level, with little devolution to lower tiers of governance at community levels, is no way to spread empowerment.

Transparency

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UPDATED: Davey reshuffle part 2 – The full team

Ed Davey’s reshuffle of his top team is being done in parts.

Yesterday, he announced the top three offices of state. Christine Jardine is going to Treasury, Layla Moran to Foreign Affairs and Alistair Carmichael takes on the Home Affairs brief.

Today, we discovered via Twitter that Wendy Chamberlain is taking on the role of Chief Whip alongside the Scotland and Wales and Work and Pensions briefs.

Wendy’s professional experience as a Police Officer and as a manager and trainer makes her an ideal choice for this role. The Chief Whip also has a role in managing the LIb Dem parliamentary staff and she’ll totally excel at that.

Daisy Cooper takes over at Education. She loses her Culture, Media and Sport portfolio to former pantomime dame Jamie Stone and will no doubt take on other responsibilities. There is speculation that she will end up as Deputy Leader, a position that is decided by MPs alone.

Jamie Stone retains his defence portfolio.

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What’s the point?

In the few days since Ed Davey was announced as our new leader, I’ve been saddened to see more than a few  people, good solid liberals,  thinking about leaving the party. It’s worrying that both young people, and longstanding activists and councillors, are questioning whether the party can recover sufficiently to deliver the liberal country where no-one is enslaved by poverty ignorance and conformity, to quote the preamble to our Constitution, that we all want to see.

I’ve had many such conversations over the last few days. What has been particularly disappointing is the way in which some supporters of Ed have been so aggressive to those expressing their concerns on social media. One senior activist who should know better told another to “jog on” out of the party. The aggressors sounded more like the Brexiteers baiting Remainers in the aftermath of the EU referendum than members of a liberal party and it was really sad to see. Of course people are going to let their emotions show on social media when they’ve lost and the way to deal with it is with grace, sensitivity and kindness, not aggression and cruelty. I am pretty sure that Ed himself would not condone this behaviour and they do him no credit whatsoever.

So why is it that people are questioning their future in the party, particularly those who survived the coalition years?

It’s nothing personal about Ed. It’s more that the party has seemingly chosen a path that will lead to more of what they see as the bland managerial centrism that, let’s face it, has not done us many favours in the past 10 years. They are simply not up for more of the same and don’t believe that the party can recover if it pursues this tactic. “What’s the point?” is something I’ve heard a few times.

I do have some sympathy with that. This party is at its best when it is bold and radical and does the right thing, not necessarily the popular thing. The voters weren’t exactly clamouring for Paddy to stand up for the rights of citizens of Hong Kong, but it was the right thing to do and he enhanced his reputation by making that argument.  We forget how massive a thing it was when Charles Kennedy opposed the Iraq War. It took a huge amount of political courage to take that stance and he took absolute pelters for it at the time, but he was ultimately proved right.

It is the language we use and how it resonates with people that will be crucial in our future success. We have not been very good at articulating what we are for and telling our story. Ed Davey was right to say that we are going to concentrate on listening to voters. That part of his acceptance speech jarred with me a bit because that is our trademark in so many of our local campaigns that we actually give a damn what people think. But then, that is not the perception people have of us nationally and, let’s face it, party members were not the focus of his remarks. However, I did find the phrase “National Listening Project” more Orwellian than empathetic. They might want to fine tune that one.

I do understand why people have been thinking about leaving the party and I really hope that they don’t. Ed has his mandate now and he needs to be given the chance to show that he can deliver on what he said during the campaign. I will be staying because I strongly believe that the immense talent within the parliamentary party, within our council groups up and down the country and amongst our talented staff and volunteers up and down the country can get us back on track if we work together and co-ordinate our efforts. We need to show that we are operating on the same set of values across the whole of the UK.

If I have any anxieties it is on tactics, not values. If I thought that any of our leaders didn’t share the values in our Preamble, I’d have been out the door a long time ago. And you can see how they have been living our principles in what they have been doing in Parliament. Jamie Stone fighting for those who have excluded from government help during the pandemic. Christine Jardine trying to achieve indefinite leave to remain for NHS and care staff who have been on the Covid front line (more on that later this week when she launches her Bill on that subject), Layla leading with her Coronavirus enquiry making sensible recommendations to avoid a second wave of the virus, Munira holding the government to account for its failures on test and trace and in care homes to name many issues, Alistair pushing the government to do more to press China on their horrific treatment of the Uighurs. Daisy fighting for freelancers and for more help for the creative industries.

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Ed’s experience can help him rebuild the Liberal Democrats

In his acceptance speech Ed Davey claimed to have been a member of our Party for 30 years. This surprised me as I worked in the same Liberal Democrat Whips’ office as Ed in 1989/90 and had assumed he was already a member.  I can’t claim to have influenced him in joining, but I can imagine some of the other great people who were in that team might have done.

My surprise was down to Ed’s keenness at the time to ensure we had a credible economic message and his enthusiasm for campaigning at the grass roots to get that message across, combined with his natural Liberal responses to the issues of the day we discussed each morning as we put the press cuttings together for our MPs. 

It was a small and effective team that saw our opinion poll rise from an asterix to near double figures thanks in part to the campaign materials we produced in association with ALDC. Known as the People First campaign it was promoted through ALDC and the tiny but talented campaigns team in Cowley Street. It was a first and much missed example of integrated campaigning the new leader might wish to remind himself of.

I also recall that it was Ed who came up with our distinct economic policy to give the Bank of England independence. This policy helped broaden the Party’s appeal beyond the inspiring leadership of Paddy Ashdown and our community campaigning. It was a policy that became one of the first things the new Labour Government did despite it not featuring in their General Election campaign.

In the run up to the 1997 election there seemed to be a wide understanding, probably learnt through the extensive local government experience within the Party, that you can have radical views and policies, but you can’t vote for them if you don’t get Liberal Democrats elected. This is where the targeting of messages and resources was developed that proved so important in helping to win seats like Twickenham and Oxford West & Abingdon for the first time since universal suffrage. 

Sadly, after the 2010 election we ignored the lessons and moved away from the tactics that had secured our bridgehead which has left Tim, Jo and now Ed with an enormous challenge to overcome. 

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+++Breaking news – the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats is …

Congratulations to Ed Davey who has just been elected by members as Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

If you missed the announcement and speech by the new Leader, then you can catch up here.

Huge thanks must go to both Ed Davey and Layla Moran who fought a clean but impassioned fight, demonstrating what great assets they both are to our party.

Votes cast were:

Ed Davey: 42,756

Layla Moran: 24,564

Turnout: 57.6%

 

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Ed Davey writes: I want to rebuild our party and take on the Tories

As we wrap up the Liberal Democrat leadership election, I wanted to thank the thousands of people who have taken part in hustings, sent in questions to the campaigns and engaged in this contest.

It’s absolutely right that there is a robust process that properly tests our next leader, and makes sure that whoever wins on Thursday has been put through their paces by the party. Whatever happens later this week, I know that Liberal Democrats will come together and turn our hand to doing what we do best, getting out campaigning and standing up for communities up and down the country.

If you haven’t returned your ballot yet then there is still time to vote for me so that we can rebuild our party on solid foundations, and campaign for a fairer, greener and more caring society. That’s my vision for the future of our party, and I know I’ve got the experience we need to deliver it. 

With your support, I want to rebuild our party and take on the Tories, and put more Liberal Democrats in town halls, council chambers and Parliaments right across the country.

But we have to be realistic with the challenge that we face. Even a quick glance at our election review will tell you that the next leader, whoever it is, will be taking on a big job. There are deep, structural challenges that the party faces and it will take time for us to fix the problems Dorothy Thornhill identified in her review, and put the party in the best place to get back to winning elections.

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Coronavirus crisis test for education services

After becoming York’s Executive Member for Children’s Services in 2019, I immediately started on the task of putting together an improvement plan to deliver the best possible services for the future generations in York. But, eight months into the role, we found ourselves unexpectedly having to deal with a national emergency which would see both Children’s Services and Education facing an unprecedented crisis. Our administration’s response in York can be best characterised as converting what had seemed ‘impossible’ into ‘possible’.  Yet the contradictions, confusion and periods of silence from our Government, have turned the challenge of the last few months into something which will shape our services for years to come. 

Since the introduction of ‘lockdown’ in late March, York’s teachers and school staff have gone above and beyond to help young people, parents and carers through this incredibly difficult time.  Whilst our city’s 63 maintained schools, academies and special schools have been taking care of our most vulnerable students and the children of our amazing key workers, the Government has stoked-up the levels of confusion and distress through ever-changing guidance on safety regulations, timescales for re-opening as well as the support available for the most disadvantaged students. 

Like elsewhere in the country, teachers here in York have been doing fantastic work in incredibly difficult and unusual circumstances. I am proud of the support that they have given pupils throughout lockdown by providing stimulating online learning materials across all year groups.  Government was quick to note the importance of providing access to remote learning through initiatives like free laptops and a temporary data charge exemption on sites which provide vital education for children, yet it was months into lockdown before the most disadvantaged children would receive any such help. York’s first delivery of laptops, allocated under arbitrarily strict Government guidance, arrived at the end of June.  And we have yet to receive a response to a letter sent to the School’s Minister warning of the urgency of the provision of this help. 

Similarly, Children’s Social Services, caring for the most vulnerable children in the city, had to adapt quickly to working more remotely.  Because fewer face-to-face meetings could take place due to health guidance, our staff put incredible effort into finding ways to contact all children and families safely. With a growing increase in the demand for such services as lockdown progressed, staff have gone above and beyond in making sure no child in need is left behind at this challenging time. 

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