Tag Archives: featured

Let’s embrace being the party of the NHS

Following another year’s Federal Autumn Conference, it is important to reflect on the position of the party. This is especially the case given that we may be only 12 months away from a general election campaign. We may finally have an opportunity to help to get rid of this dreadful Conservative government, and in the process, get many new Liberal Democrat MPs elected.

Britain cannot withstand five more years of the Conservatives. Nowhere is this clearer than with our National Health Service. The NHS is in turmoil. Years of Tory mismanagement and underfunding have led to our precious NHS struggling to cope. The morale of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff is at a severe low. While the number of vacancies in the NHS is at a “staggering” high. This is a time when the NHS funding gap continues to be wide and NHS dentistry has become dysfunctional, with people having to pull out their own teeth.

The NHS is of immense importance to us Liberal Democrats, not just because it is a vital public service in helping to advance individual freedom and social justice, but because we had a hand in its creation. The great Liberal social reformer, William Beveridge invented the idea of the NHS in his report into social services in 1942. The Beveridge Report became the blueprint for the post-war welfare state. A blueprint that was largely enacted by the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee. While it was a socialist, Labour’s radical Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan who introduced an established the NHS in 1948, the original idea was that of a Liberal.

The NHS, health and social care have become of central importance for Liberal Democrats once again. It was incredibly moving to listen to Ed Davey, during his leader’s speech on Tuesday, talk about how he had to care for his mother while she was dying of cancer. Health and social care have become a hallmark of Ed Davey’s leadership, inspired by his personal experience of being a carer himself. Earlier in the Conference, our Deputy Leader and Health and Social Care Spokesperson, Daisy Cooper spoke passionately about the need to address the crisis in mental health provision.

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Moving on after yesterday’s high drama

Lib Dem Conference is at its absolute best when it debates a hotly contested issues.

High quality speeches on both sides of the argument for Conference to decide upon. And if the leadership’s position is looking threatened, they just roll out a big hitter like Tim Farron to deliver a barnstormer and get them out of trouble.

Or, in the case of yesterday’s debate, not.

The issue in question was whether to have a national housing target. This has been debated at two Conferences in the recent past and on both occasions, Conference voted to retain a national annual target, in this case 380,000  homes, with (whatever happened in the debate) 150,000 for social rent. A great policy that many thought would give not just hope but homes to the hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have a secure home that they can afford.

With Conference having made its wishes known, it is odd that the leadership chose to pick this fight in the first place or prosecute it in the way that they did. The Federal Policy Committee was very closely balanced on this issue and, as I understand it, Ed insisted that housing targets were dropped. Inevitably, the Young Liberals put in an amendment to reinstate them.

Policy and research is one of the great strengths of the current crop of young Liberals. Chair Janey Little has already contributed huge knowledge and collaborative working skills on various policy issues, not least on violence against women and girls where she brought all the various stakeholders in and consulted them. She put those skills to good use. On her side of the argument were Council leaders like Stephen Robinson in Chelmsford, Keith House in Eastleigh and former Housing Minister Stephen Williams as well as current London Mayoral candidate Rob Blackie and his predecessor Luisa Porritt.

Unfortunately, the leadership response to this was to produce a series of leaflets rubbishing the Young Liberals’ amendment in a way that was always going to annoy Conference attendees. Certainly,  I had always been likely to support that amendment, but I did so with added passion and fury simply because of the aggression shown by the opposition and the fact that Ed was talking about the issue as though it was a done deal. The manner in which this was done was also a massive hostage to fortune. You know how in the American primaries candidates kick lumps out of each other until one emerges victorious? Well, that process does the opposition research for them. That is a lesson the leadership might like to learn for the future before it puts out simplistic, aggressive literature.

The debate yesterday started well with an inclusive speech from Helen Morgan in which she acknowledged the concerns that the Young Liberals had expressed in their amendment. By the time the argument got to the floor, though, it very much looked like it would go their way. Speeches were around 2:1 in favour of housing targets.

But not to worry, they still had their Trump card, Tim Farron.

Sadly, he took his role too literally and forgot for a moment that he wasn’t Donald Trump. His deeply insulting speech, in which he said that the amendment was the most right wing thing he had seen come to the floor of Conference since we’d sent Liz Truss on her sleeper mission to the Tories drew gasps from the audience. . He accused its proposers of being Thatcherites. This was clearly nonsense, given that the amendment was supported by the Radical Association and many members of the Social Liberal Forum.

It takes a lot to shock a Lib Dem Conference. We’re not a pearl clutching bunch as a rule, but he managed it. But there was no awe to go with it. Rob Blackie stood up and simply said at the beginning of his speech “Tim Farron: That was below you. You are better than that.”

If the amendment had not won before, that speech got it over the line. The vote wasn’t even close in the end.

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Keep our national housing target, tackle the housing crisis and WIN!

Tackling the housing crisis is one of the most important things Lib Dems can do. As the Leader of Chelmsford City Council I agonise about housing every day. We have over 450 homeless families in my city this week, and no houses to put them in. 

So I welcome the huge number of positive things in the conference housing motion F31 and policy paper that will allow us to do that.

But one of the other really important things I want to do as a Lib Dem council leader is to help get many more Lib Dem MPs elected.  And removing the national housing target (which we voted FOR just two years ago) will make that job harder.

We’ve already seen public criticism for the removal of targets. It doesn’t matter how much the leaders try to explain that “actually, removing the target will mean we are able to build more houses”. We should have learned long ago that when you’re explaining you’re losing.

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Reflections on the Housing Working Group

We’re in the final hours before conference debates our Housing paper and it’s been good to read the discussion taking place on Lib Dem Voice and elsewhere. I am looking forward to a similar debate in the conference hall on Monday. Liberal Democrat’s really care about housing and we all agree that we need to build more homes, our discussions are about how we best achieve this.

When we started our working group we wanted to achieve two things. To offer a credible housing policy for the Liberal Democrats to show we actually want to build homes, and to help those who don’t have a home to get one and be protected while they’re renting. And I believe we’ve achieved that.

I have led a council that is facing a housing crisis, I’ve seen people trapped in temporary accommodation unable to join the community, I’ve seen people have no choice but to leave their area. People can’t afford to live here in the Lake District and this is hurting our communities and our economy. Too many of the homes that are being built or that come up for sale are being sold into the second homes or holiday lets market and there simply aren’t enough smaller homes for people looking to buy their first home. Without new blood the Lake District will simply become a playground for the super wealthy and its communities and heritage will die.

In South Lakeland, we have built new social housing to help people get on the housing ladder. As leader I introduced a target of 1,000 affordable homes to rent and this has led to more homes being provided.

Across England we build around 8,000 new council homes a year and this number is outstripped by the losses. This is a result of Conservative governments deliberately and cynically seeking to reduce the social housing sector.

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A postcard from Sir Vince in Kyiv

The main evidence of war in Kyiv in the last few days has been a series of loud bangs in the middle of the night – Russian rockets meeting Patriot Missiles apart from the one which got through and hit a power plant.

Otherwise, Kyiv is a normal and beautiful, bustling European city of 3.5 million with busy pavement cafes and restaurants, flourishing shopping centres and street stalls, traffic jams and young people zooming round on e-scooters. After a while you notice the numbers of burly off-duty soldiers in uniform, the exhibitions in civic squares honouring war casualties and the forest of flags to the memory of those who died in Maidan Square in the 2014 Orange revolution. So, not so normal. A war for national survival is taking place, to expel the Russian invaders.

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Can Parliament take back control?

In a futile attempt to prevent Boris Johnson’s defenestration last year Jacob Rees Mogg tried to browbeat his ministerial colleagues by demanding that a change of Prime Minister required a General Election.  Johnson himself seemed equally deluded that he had achieved a personal mandate in 2019 to which no successor could lay claim.

Our constitution – at the moment at least – doesn’t work like that.  We don’t elect a President.  We vote for individual MPs who collectively give authority to an executive team, and (in theory) hold them to account.

But is it working like that ?

In recent months a range of commentators from across the political spectrum have identified a series of faults and follies, which call in question our democratic norms.  With some 53 years of parliamentary service between us we attempt a more comprehensive analysis in our book Can Parliament Take Back Control?, published this week.

Amidst all the other challenges which politicians will face after the next election the damaged relationship between Parliament and the executive may seem relatively less urgent.  Yet the insidious shift of power from the former to the latter in recent years may prove to undermine the very foundations of Britain’s democratic constitution.

In so doing, it could make it increasingly difficult to secure public support for practical responses to those other challenges.

This book highlights the various ways in which governments have neutered, side-lined and ignored Parliament to an extent which now demands a deliberate restoration of the balance of power.  We suggest that events since 2015, in particular, have caused slippage towards the “elective dictatorship” about which Lord Hailsham warned in his Dimbleby Lecture in 1976. Hence our subtitle:  “Britain’s Elective Dictatorship in the Johnson Aftermath”.   The text of the Lecture is reprinted as an Annex with the encouragement of the present Lord Hailsham.

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How a Universal Basic Income could make Britain more liberal

The news of a trial of universal basic income in Jarrow and East Finchley sparked a true watercooler moment. For a party like the Lib Dems, it is important to recognise what that means. It wasn’t a viral meme to like, or share, and it wasn’t a culture war issue that triggered rage, or anxiety. In conversations in staff rooms and pubs, in social media spaces from LADBible to Gransnet, people were talking about an idea. 

There are lots of reasons why. The cost of living crisis, obviously; the fear by every political party that they interrupt the Tories whilst they are making mistakes has led to a dearth of ideas; and, finally, the pandemic.  Arundhati Roy wrote in April 2020 “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

The idea is simple to grasp. It is money that is always there, if your life changes, or you want to change your life. It appeals to both optimists and pessimists. Post Covid, we all know that our lives can change in a moment. UBI supports those in need, with the dignity of liberal choices. 

This national conversation echoes the support we found on the doorstep and in focus groups. 

The trial will not tell us everything we need to know about basic income, but it will tell us a lot about damage the current welfare system causes. The gap between losing your job and receiving Universal Credit is a minimum of 5 weeks, and can be up to 12 weeks. Very few people can sustain that wait without getting into debt that is almost impossible to climb out of. Sanctions cause the same problem. Being unable to feed your family, owing money everyone you know, is bound to make you feel worthless and a failure. When a bill you cannot pay lands, you will panic. The cure is not antidepressants or mindfulness. The cure is money. The thousands of people queuing at foodbanks are not there because they need help to shop. They know how to do that, they just lack the means. 

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In support of robust and respectful debate at conference

“It’s a disgrace that someone can say something outrageous like that in a debate at Conference! They should be thrown out of the Party! How can I put in a complaint? I want them expelled!” I have heard this question time and time again over the years during Federal Conference.

The answer is simple. If you believe you need to make a complaint about the behaviour of a member of the Liberal Democrats, go to the party website and put in a formal complaint to the Lib Dem’s Independent Complaints Process. A decision will then be made by the Senior Adjudicators about whether the complaint should be heard, or whether it should be dismissed.

In debates things are often said that are downright annoying and may be deeply upsetting to hear, especially from another Party member. 

However, we must remember that the very nature of a debate is to invite opposing views. The Lib Dems are a Party which values free speech. Therefore, we cannot invite debate at conference and then routinely discipline our members, because of what they say on the platform.

People do put in complaints after Conference about things that were said in debates. The reality is that unless you can demonstrate in your complaint that a person may have broken the Members Code of Conduct or is likely to have brought the Party into disrepute, the complaint will be dismissed. 

If you can demonstrate a possible breach of the Members Code of Conduct, such a complaint would almost certainly be accepted for consideration by an Independent Panel of Adjudicators.

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Emily’s story – why Lib Dems must protect the human rights of Hong Kongers

I could only have ever joined the Liberal Democrats when I came to the UK from Hong Kong. Long before others, Paddy Ashdown fought for our right to come to the UK as British Nationals, and now Ed Davey and our parliamentarians continue to speak out to protect Hong Kongers and support those arriving in the UK. Some are dissidents, some come because they have family members here, but all are horrified at the behaviour of the CCP and the Hong Kong Authorities over recent years, killing democracy and removing human rights. 

Perhaps a real-life story will explain. “Emily” was a young mum who used to live in Hong Kong. Back in 2019, like most people in the city, she joined the peaceful protests against the Hong Kong government. She was fighting for not only her own civil liberties, but also for her family, particularly for her newborn child, so they could enjoy living in the city without fear.

But the Hong Kong National Security Law in 2020 and the crackdown of protest movements changed everything. Before, the city was a dynamic place with freedom guaranteed. Now, the city is under suppression. As Carrie Lam, the former Chief Executive, once said, “They have no stake in society which so many people have helped to build.” Protests against the government had become very risky, if not outrightly banned like the Tiananmen Square vigils.

“Emily” could not see the future of her family staying in the city, and followed her democratic beliefs. She decided to flee to the UK under the British National Overseas (‘BN(O)’) visa scheme – which Paddy had championed.

Once here she wanted to apply the right to abode for her newborn baby, so her child could live in an environment free from the fear of being arrested. When she spoke to the officials in the Home Office, astonishingly (& wrongly) they told her because her new-born child was born in Hong Kong, she needed to attend the Chinese embassy to obtain the relevant Chinese travel document before she could carry on with the application. 

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Caron’s guide to the Craziness of Conference – updated for Bournemouth 2023

In less than 5 days, after a gruelling 6:40 am flight, I hope to be in beautiful Bournemouth, my favourite Autumn Conference venue. We last met there in 2019. It was fantastic to see my friends in York in March, but Autumn Conference has the length and girth to satisfy even the most ardent activist.

I have revamped my Guide to the Craziness of Conference for this year. Enjoy. And if you have any questions, ask away in the comments.

Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. You will thoroughly enjoy every exhausting moment. If you’re new, it can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to the sensory overload. I had a long break from going to them and when I returned, in 2011, I spent the first day wandering round in a state of wide-eyed amazement,  like a child in a toy shop.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d throw together a fairly random list of tips and hints for getting the best out of the annual cornucopia of Liberal Democracy. If you have any other Conference survival tips, let me know.

If you have any questions, there are lots of places to get answers. There’s Federal Conference Committee helpdesk in the Bournemouth International Centre. And if they can’t help, ask someone on one of the party organisation stalls in the exhibition – if they don’t know the answer, they’ll probably be able to point you in the right direction.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day has a huge variety of things to do. As well as the debates in the hall,  there’s a comprehensive training programme and a massive fringe.  There are spokespeople Q & As. There are competing fringe choices to be made.  You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time.  Spend some time now poring over the Agenda and Directory to work out what you don’t want to miss.

Some events aren’t in there because they aren’t official conference meetings.  Layla Moran is being interviewed by Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith for their hilarious For the Many podcast. Who knows, they might even say something nice about the Lib Dems! If you want to join us, buy your ticket here.

Be aware as well that you can eat quite well for free by choosing the right fringe meetings – look for the refreshments symbol in the directory.

Believe me, it’s much easier if you sort out your diary in advance. The best laid plans will always be subject to a better offer or meeting someone you haven’t seen for years randomly in a corridor, but it’s best to at least try to get some order into the proceedings. The Conference App is a real help for this. You can download it from whichever App store you use on your phone (search for Lib Dem Conf). Fully updated now for Bournemouth, it allows you to add events to your schedule and has all the papers loaded on to it.

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National targets are essential to tackle the housing crisis

Do we face a housing crisis in Britain? It might not seem like it if you bought your house 20 years ago, but for everybody renting, or trying to buy, it’s out of control.

Consider these astonishing facts.

Britain spends more on housing benefits than any other rich country.

New houses in Britain are smaller than every other western European country. Dutch people, who live in one of the world’s most densely populated countries, live in houses 21% bigger than Brits.

Britain’s homes are cold and damp and expensive to heat too. Recent studies show that we have among the worst insulated in Europe too.

And while London looks like the richest part of Britain, it has the second highest poverty rate when you account for housing costs. Even if you are on the typical London full time salary of £33,000, you will, on average, spend more than half of your post tax income on rent. 

All of these reflect decades where we haven’t built enough homes.

Since 1990 Britain’s population has increased by 10 million people. Our housebuilding hasn’t kept up. We have so little spare capacity that Britain has fewer empty homes than Finland.

New evidence shows that all housebuilding, even for the richest people, brings down prices for everybody, as it sets off a chain of moves through sequentially cheaper housing. For instance in Auckland, New Zealand, when they allowed more housebuilding, rents fell 25% relative to Wellington, where this didn’t happen.

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Britain, what’s wrong?

Most parents might find (I know that we often do!) morning routine tricky at times; getting ready for work, waking up children, making sure that there is enough food in the fridge for breakfast and lunch. If anyone has kids in two or three different schools, “morning madness” becomes even more challenging or “interesting”.

We are the first full week in with our two eldest daughters and unfortunately, their school bus, which picks up children from different parts of Welwyn Hatfield, broke down twice in literally a couple of days. Yep, it does happen, I understand. However, after paying £825 (!) for one annual bus pass and almost £300 for an autumn term ticket (with a small discount), I would expect much better, much better service provision.

Both of these school-bus incidents made me think. First of all, in most European countries, children’s school journeys are subsidised by Local Authorities. I find it staggering that we talk so much about the impact of climate change and the environment in the UK and yet, a number of families simply have no choice but to drive as all the other ways to commute are far too expensive.

Moreover, after coming back from my summer holidays, it felt at times like returning not to a G7 or G20 economy but to a country that is literally falling apart. Yes, I know; the grass is always greener on the other side and all global or European economies are also struggling in one way or another. However, many families in the UK are not “living but surviving” as one of my friends told me recently. The inflation, cost of living crisis, filling up petrol or mortgages are still affecting millions of families. It must be extremely difficult for many people, not only on lower incomes but also those, who until recently, lived relatively comfortable lives.

Furthermore; where is the accountability, integrity and honesty that were promised by Mr Sunak? What happened with 40 new hospitals? Has the stop the boat slogan been implemented? I don’t think that any of us would last a week in any job after performing so badly and/or after a complete lack of competence to address some of these key pledges.

There are almost 8 million (!) people on the NHS waiting list. Yes, the NHS, “national treasure”, often described as the white elephant in the room, needs deep reforms and it can’t and won’t continue as it stands. However, it is just NOT good enough that people need to wait in ambulances to get any treatment. Even today, the Prime Minister admitted that he will not be able to meet the target of reducing waiting times, which he set out in his speech when he took office. Did he apologise? Of course not. He blamed the industrial actions.

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“Fat and anxious”

It probably wasn’t the greatest idea to read the searing Ockenden report (on maternity care at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust) whilst recovering from a gynae op myself. Reeling from the misogyny of my own experience there was so much evidence to point to the fact that I was not alone.

A year later I don’t remember much detail from the report, just the miserable stench of its accounts of patriarchal and hierarchical condescension towards women patients in their hour of need, sometimes with their newborn baby’s life hanging in the balance.  One comment, however, lingers in the memory: “Fat and very anxious”. 

A third or fourth degree in childbirth (a tear from the vagina to the anus) is legendarily painful. On p 132 of her report on the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust Ockenden highlights the following account: “In 2014 when a woman was reviewed in this clinic after a third degree tear the doctor wrote in the notes: “Well but fat and very anxious . Can try for a vaginal birth, risk of re-occurrence low”. This has echoes of a 2022 Panorama interview with a woman with a fourth-degree birth tear who, when she alerted doctors to the fact that she was passing stools through her vagina, was initially dismissed as having a “bit of a fanny fart”. 

Fat and anxious. This also stopped me in my tracks because it mirrored my own hospital notes from last year saying that I was “concerned about going up a dress size”. This was a clinician’s description of my request (after being gaslighted for 7 weeks) for an urgent review after a catastrophic reaction to the insertion of a coil which had seen me go up from a size 12 to a size 20 in a matter of days. I reached out for help on ten occasions, on nine of these I was told it would all settle down. Only on one occasion, at A and E, was I taken seriously. Much was made on the other occasions of my anxiety. Wouldn’t anyone be racked with anxiety when a medical device had caused them to expand like a barrage balloon without explanation?

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Layla Moran to appear with Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith in Bournemouth

Layla Moran MP will be the special guest star on Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith’s Lib Dem stop on their tour of Party Conferences.

The LBC Presenter and former Labour Home Secretary host a weekly podcast, For the Many, which is for me an unmissable hour of politics and outrageous filth. The live shows are a bit tamer. The presence of an audience is usually enough to remind them that someone else is actually listening.  Usually.

As many of you will be planning your Conference diaries in the next few days, make sure you include this show. It is bound to be hilarious. It’s happening on the Sunday night of Conference between 7 and 9 pm at Canvas, 24 Poole Hill, Bournemouth. You can get tickets here.

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Helen Morgan MP writes: It’s Liberal Democrats who build homes

Taking on the housing brief for the Liberal Democrats has been a huge privilege. One of the biggest challenges my constituents face is the lack of affordable housing; nearly a third of my casework is about unsuitable, temporary or downright dangerous housing, and my colleagues report the same. Our government lacks ambition on housing, it has repeatedly taken the easy road, failing to tackle the crisis facing millions across the country.

At the moment we’re facing a cost of living crisis making both renters and mortgage holders deeply worried about staying in their homes, a Levelling Up Bill that has been amended beyond recognition because the Government is too weak to face down its rebels, and yet another broken promise to make life better for renters by banning no-fault evictions.

I have worked hard to champion Liberal Democrat values by amending the Levelling Up Bill to review the broken Business Rates System, to ensure that new homes are built to a decent standard so bills and emissions are low, and for local authorities to be able to set tougher standards for new homes than national ones. Yet the Tories have blocked us every step of the way.

The proliferation of second homes and holiday lets is also harming holiday destinations, from London to York, and the Lake District to Cornwall. Local people are being priced out of the market and in rural areas communities are dying, local services like schools or GP surgeries are becoming unviable, and local shops and pubs are closing. Once again the Conservatives have failed to protect communities, instead protecting the right of people to buy second homes unchecked.

In my constituency, I have stood up for residents of new build properties against dodgy developers who have broken their promises. One developer didn’t build a sewage system leaving new homeowners with an extortionate bill to remedy the situation through no fault of their own. I have  repeatedly called for the end to “fleecehold”, where management companies increase fees extortionately when managing communal areas in new developments.

With all this in mind, I am delighted to be bringing forward the paper “Tackling the Housing Crisis” to this Autumn conference. This paper wants to build homes urgently, it gives significantly more powers to local authorities to build the homes we need and also to hold developers accountable when they don’t build. We will deliver smaller homes for those who want to get their first home or downsize rather than the executive mansions developers make the most profit on.

It will give local authorities binding local targets to build homes, that are independently-assessed to ensure that councils cannot avoid their responsibilities, alongside a national target for social homes – the homes we desperately need and that the government can actually build.  My constituents are desperate for new homes, particularly social homes and I’m delighted for the Liberal Democrats to be advocating for them.

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William Wallace writes: Michael Steed, his Liberal history

Liberal Democrats in Kent, Yorkshire and Manchester in particular will remember Michael Steed as a candidate, councillor, and activist on many issues over more than 60 years.  Others will recall him as party president in 1978-9, as a regular attender of party conferences in spite of being wheel-chair bound by a neurological disease that resisted precise diagnosis, and latterly as an active member of the Liberal History Group and of its journal’s editorial board.

Michael grew up on a farm in Kent, went to a local independent school, and took six months before he went to Cambridge University in 1959 to work on the continent, coming back a convinced European and internationalist. After narrowly losing election to the presidency of the university Liberal Club he became president of the Union of Liberal Students (then a separate organization from the Young Liberals).  There he cultivated closer links with ‘the World Federation of Liberal and Radical Youth’ and its Swedish president, Margareta Holmstedt.  They married some years later, and set up home in Todmorden.

He was, however, always as much of a scholar as a campaigner.  He was a student of David Butler at Nuffield College Oxford from 1963-65 (alongside Alan Beith), and then for many years a lecturer in government at Manchester University.  As a student he already demonstrated an astonishingly detailed knowledge of parliamentary and local government elections.  He contributed the statistical appendix to the Nuffield election studies through many elections, in later ones in cooperation with John Curtice.  Teaching about the British constitution and commitment to political and electoral reform linked his professional and political lives.

Michael was on the radical wing of the 1960 Young Liberals, becoming vice-chair of NLYL’. He campaigned on apartheid in South Africa, on gay rights and on joining the European Community. He fought his first parliamentary campaign in the Brierly Hill by-election in 1967, gaining less than 8% of the vote. From his study of constituency histories and results he then decided that Truro was one of the most promising prospects, and travelled down to fight it in the 1970 election – disappointingly coming third.  He came closest to entering Parliament in the bitter Manchester Exchange by-election in 1973 – a safe Labour seat, almost entirely council housing, where Labour reacted furiously to what councillors saw as a Liberal ‘invasion’, in the wake of by-election wins elsewhere.  After an enthusiastic campaign in a seat that had had no Liberal activity (and which Labour had taken for granted) he gained 36.5% of the vote.  Typically, he afterwards wrote an academic article which noted that the real winner had been the 56% who had not voted.

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Helping Emma and team in Mid Beds

Stephen (left) and François at Flitwick by-election HQ this morning

I’ve helped at the odd by-election (!) but normally I don’t see the candidate during brief visits to the HQ to pick up bundles of Focii.

At Mid Beds this week, I have had a double candidate “I Spy” score. As we were watching “Rookie” on Sunday evening, Emma Holland-Lindsay actually phoned me on our landline phone (which these days is a bit like the Carlsberg complaints phone).

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We need three or four stand-out policies!

Four by-election wins in little over two years, an encouraging set of council results in May, the governing party suffering dreadful poll ratings – it’s a time of optimism for the Liberal Democrats! Or is it? Sorry to prick the bubble, but there’s an elephant in the room.

That elephant is our national opinion poll rating, which is resolutely refusing to rise above the 10-12% range. With the Conservatives doing so badly, a feeling that a once-in-roughly-15-years change in government is approaching, and the reality of the Brexit disaster becoming clearer by the day, we should be up to 20% if not higher. Why aren’t we?

There’s another elephant in the room. We want a hung parliament at the next election, and the number of ‘don’t knows’ in current polls and stay-at-home Tory voters in recent elections suggests this is still possible. It will take a fair bit of tactical voting. But to persuade people to vote tactically, and for the Lib Dems to play a part in some power arrangement that gets us a change in the voting system, we have to tell people what we stand for. At the moment, the leadership of the party is not doing that.

This is what motivated a group of committed, loyal but very concerned Lib Dems to meet in York during spring conference to throw around ideas aimed at encouraging the leadership to give the party a clearer identity going into the next election. There’s no shortage of approved policies, but they need trumpeting, in particular the need for us to be the party committing to rebuild relationships between Britain and the EU, before someone else on the political stage denounces Brexit first (don’t rule out Starmer or Sunak doing so if it serves them).

The follow-up to that informal gathering in York is a formal fringe meeting in Bournemouth on Saturday 23 September to be chaired Layla Moran MP. Entitled ‘Shouldn’t we be doing better? – the need for bolder messaging’, the country’s leading psephologist and pollster John Curtice will explain how his polling shows that the Lib Dems should be scoring much higher. Curtice also believes we didn’t blow the 2019 election on our ‘revoke Brexit’ stance but by not standing for anything else, which reinforces the idea that we need three or four policies the public associate with us if they’re to lend us their votes.

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Hina Bokhari writes…Cargo bikes are an important tool towards cleaner air

Over the last few months, a heated debate has been taking place over the expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to outer London.

While this debate has continued to rage, we shouldn’t forget there are other ways in which we can reduce air pollution in London and other towns and cities across the UK.

One of the most interesting, but least reported methods for reducing air pollution in our cities is the use of cargo bikes.

Cargo bikes are bicycles that allow you to carry cargo (or heavy loads) easily, with electrically assisted models being able to carry loads of up to 250kg. The goal of their use in London has been to move freight and delivery transport away from polluting road vehicles and towards a more sustainable, clean air friendly and congestion free model – in many ways adapting the model pioneered by food delivery companies like Deliveroo for much larger goods.

This is important because freight vehicles (large goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles), make up 17% of total miles in London, but have a disproportionate impact on emissions and air quality. This amounts to a quarter of the total carbon emissions from transport, and around a third of the total nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from road transport.

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Vince Cable: The net zero consensus is over

How do you save the planet when we no longer agree on key measures to save the planet? These questions are posed by Vince Cable in his latest column for Comment Central. As Vince often does, he poses questions that some Liberal Democrats will find difficult, particularly in relation to North Sea Oil licences and relations with China.

Consensus between the parties is key to making long term plans to save the planet, he argues.

He sets out how far the Conservatives have fallen on climate change:

It was Margaret Thatcher who originally embraced the global warming issue and wider environmental stewardship and who demonstrated by championing the Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Layer the force of British leadership. David Cameron (initially) and Boris Johnson continued this tradition. The resigning Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, has told us, however, that this Prime Minister is simply uninterested. Or hostile. Or cynically preparing for what I call the CAT strategy in the coming election: climate; asylum; and transgender; a culture war campaign.

He outlines a series of uncomfortable trade-offs that he says we must be prepared to make to get to Net Zero.

One of those trade-offs is cost. Nothing fuels populist anger more than regressive levies on environmental bads. For families whose sole practical, means of transport is an old banger, environmental taxes are resented, no matter the impact on the planet or local air quality. Politicians may choose to press ahead but they cannot ignore the negative side effects. In practice, the trade-offs are more complex. The environmental levy paid on fuel bills to provide support for new renewables was criticised for increasing energy bills but has helped to drive down the cost of offshore wind to a point that it is now consistently cheaper than gas.

He says that nuclear must also be part of the package:

Indeed, hostility to this impeccably zero carbon and energy secure domestic source has been led by the same green campaigners who oppose fossil fuel use. What we need is a portfolio of different, low carbon and secure sources including new renewables, nuclear and carbon capture.

This will cheer those within the party who are challenging our longstanding anti nuclear energy policy. Last year a motion to include nuclear power as part of an energy security package was put to Scottish Conference and referred back.

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Sarah Green MP to speak at Social Liberal Forum pre conference dinner

Are you going to Lib Dem conference next month? Conference starts at 9am on the Saturday morning, so if you want to be there and not miss anything you probably need to arrive the day before. 

So what is happening on the day before on Friday evening? Well the conference program will not mention anything because conference has not started yet. There will be hundreds of Lib Dem members in Bournemouth, but nothing is happening. 

Apart from one event that we in Social Liberal Forum (SLF) are organising. For every in-person autumn Lib Dem conference the SLF have organised their pre-conference dinner and we would like to welcome LDV readers to come and join us. We are delighted to announce that our guest speaker at this event will be Sarah Green MP, winner of the Chesham and Amersham by-election and a former director of the SLF. This will be a great opportunity to meet other conference representatives before conference starts.

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Nadine finally quits – how you can help Lib Dem Emma Holland-Lindsay win Mid Beds

Nadine Dorries first announced her intention to resign her parliamentary seat “with immediate effect” on 9th June. And then she decides to actually do it 79 days later while I’m out celebrating my 35th wedding anniversary, returning to the scene of the crime for an absolutely delicious meal and some even lovelier cocktails.

So this means that the formal starting gun will likely be fired on the by-election campaign to replace her when Parliament resumes on 4th September. However, the Lib Dem campaign to get our brilliant candidate Emma Holland-Lindsay elected has been going on since the day after Nadine made her original announcement. Within hours, campaigners were gathering and swapping leaflets in supermarket car parks and the like.

If, as expected, the by-election takes place on 5th October, the publication of Nadine Dorries book about the downfall of Boris Johnson on 28 September, and any serialisation before, is bound to grab some headlines.

Ed Davey was questioned on whether the Lib Dems were the challengers on the For the Many Live podcast with Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith in Edinburgh:

He said he was feeling good about the prospect of a Mid Beds by-election as Labour party members there had told them they were voting for us. He said he wasn’t sure that we were going to win, but we were definitely the challengers. There was no way, he said, that people in the predominantly rural constituency were going to vote Labour to get the Tories out. He accused Nadine Dorries of an abuse of Parliament for her behaviour.

Last night, Ed said:

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An extra million pounds in donations boosts Lib Dem finances

The accounts of political parties with an annual income or expenditure of above £250,000 for the financial year ending 31 December 2022 have been published by the Electoral Commission.

The results show that the SNP and Conservative show a fall in income, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour are in a much stronger position. Figures show that the Liberal Democrats attracted £1 million more in donations than it did the previous year, a sign of success and donor confidence. What is crucially important is that the party has been able to bring in a significant rise in donations at an earlier stage in the electoral cycle, allowing crucial investment in the seats we hope to win at the next General Election.

From the Guardian:

For the Lib Dems, whose profile has been raised by a series of byelection wins, total income increased only marginally, but within this, money from donations rose from £1.9m to £2.9m.

One of the things that adversely affected our income last year was having to cancel our first planned in person Conference due to the period of national mourning when the Queen died.

For the SNP and the Conservatives, things are less healthy:

In contrast, the SNP’s donation income halved from just under £700,000 in 2021 to about £350,000 last year. The party is heavily reliant on membership income, which dropped slightly but still brought in more than £2.2m of the £4.2m total.

The Conservatives’ accounts show the party spent over £2m more than it earned during 2022, with total spending of just over £33m. During the same period, donations, which are traditionally the Tories’ major source of income, fell by slightly more than this deficit, from £20.5m to £18.1m.

You can see all the parties’ accounts on the Electoral Commission website with ours here and the full documents and financial reports filed by the party here.

In their report, the party’s officers say:

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LISTEN: Ed Davey on For the Many Live at Edinburgh

Ed Davey’s appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe is now available online.

He talked to Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith for their For the Many podcast.

Ed was in cracking form, very funny, bright and relaxed.

He came on stage while Iain and Jacqui were having a bit of a barney about women’s football. I had tweeted Jacqui after Iain told Harriet Harman that one thing that men could do better than women was play football. She got a lot of mileage out of that over the various shows. Anyway,  Ed was full of support for the Lionesses.

Jacqui then challenged Ed to come up with an act of heroism after Keir Starmer helped find a dog while he was on holiday in the Lake District. She might not have been expecting him to come up with an actual example, but he did rescue a woman from the path of an oncoming train.

Jacqui challenged him to get Iain Dale, who has said multiple times that he’s not sure who to vote for at the next General Election, to commit to voting Lib Dem. Ed is smarter than to fall for that trap, and, while he outlined lots of good reasons to vote Lib Dem, he recognised we might not gain Iain’s support.

Iain challenged him on why our national polling isn’t reflecting our by-election success. He pointed to local election success and the fact that we were talking to people about the issues they cared about.

His top task, he said, is to get the Conservatives out of Government.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes: Take Back Control?

For decades, I have been championing devolution; for communities to take back control over the decisions that affect their lives from the very local allocation of funding to improve an area, to wider service provision and structures.  The beauty of our local government is that it looks different in different areas, to suit local communities’ needs.  

However, no matter what the structure, funding has always been a problem for local services.  Back in 2013, Boris Johnson, as Mayor of London, commissioned Professor Tony Travers to Chair an expert panel called the London Finance Commission, which produced Raising the capital | London City Hall.  This report transformed the debate and voiced the need for London and other cities to have more financial control.

The EU referendum, and Britain now having left the EU, has made the case for devolution and fiscal devolution more urgent.  Whatever Leave voters felt they were voting for, it was not ‘business as usual’.  It was not an endorsement of centralised power, simply removing it from Brussels to Whitehall and job done.  People across the country feel isolated from the democratic process.

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

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Those A level grades are actually good news

Students who got their A Level, BTEC or T level results yesterday have had a tough few years. They took their GCSES in 2021 after 18 months of major disruption to their studies. That then had an impact on their choices at 16 and their ability to benefit from the next stage. This has all been well understood by their teachers, by exam boards and by universities. We should celebrate the students’ resilience and tenacity, and the ingenuity of the teachers who have been working through some very serious challenges.

Some of the headlines in the press have been rather strident. “Thousands miss top grades as A Level results plummet” is the headline in the print version of the Guardian, modified to “Thousands fewer students in England awarded top A-Level grades” online. That seemingly minor change in wording indicates that the situation is actually more nuanced than it first appeared.

This year the spread of A level grades has returned to close to that in 2019, which means that fewer students have been awarded the coveted A or A* grades. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that their futures are going to any different from their peers in 2022.

A levels and their equivalents act as gatekeepers to Higher Education. In theory, it doesn’t matter where the grade boundaries lie as long as the students’ achievements are ranked correctly. This enables the Universities to identify the students best suited to their courses. (Of course, it is more complicated than that, because we don’t have post-qualification admission, and offers have to be made on predicted grades – that introduces some inaccuracies into the system that may or may not be compensated for during clearing. But that’s a topic for another time.)

As it happens, Universities were aware that grades would be returning to “normal” this year so adjusted their offers accordingly, which should mean that the transition to Higher Education will be smooth for most students. In fact, 79% of students who applied to University this year achieved the grades to get into their first choice, compared with 74% in 2019 – so that left more students happy with their results than pre-pandemic.

Whilst that is the overall picture, there is one striking anomaly. The Guardian article mentioned above includes this statement: “Independent and grammar schools had the largest drop in top grades compared with last year”. Put another way, the students who benefitted most from the temporary assessment processes used during the pandemic were those in selective and fee paying schools – the very pupils who are already advantaged by our skewed education system.

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Radio phone-in highlights reality of homophobia

If i’m out and about with my husband and we hold hands, nobody bats an eyelid. If we see something that makes us laugh, we can look at each other and have a hug, we can o so without being hassled.  If he is meeting me off the train, I can rush up and give him a kiss. We can be pretty much as spontaneous as we like.

The stabbing outside The Two Brewers in Clapham on Sunday night, which is being treated as a homophobic incident, shows that not everyone can take the simple act of being out and about with their partner for granted.

In response to this appalling attack, the Young Liberals said:

Our account is run by two LGBTQ+ people who live in south London.

The appalling homophobic attack on two men in Lambeth on Saturday night is an horrific reminder that prejudice is alive and well in our capital.

Our thoughts are with the victims at this incredibly difficult time, and we would like to join @Ben_Curtis_1 and @LambethLibDems in sending our best wishes to the staff at the wonderful @2BrewersClapham for their response.

This incident is a reminder that we need to do so much more to tackle the hatred that our community faces, and we are glad to see the Met Police are treating this with the seriousness it needs.

A Radio 2 phone-in yesterday highlighted the everyday prejudice to which the LGBT+ community is subjected. Gay men described how they wouldn’t dare hold hands for fear of attracting trouble. Lesbians gave horrendous accounts of being sexually assaulted by men who were apparently trying to “turn” them. Even in a country where the majority of people back LGBT rights, too many can’t properly be themselves in public.

A friend told me that he and his partner of almost 10 years hardly ever hold hands in public and if they do, they do a risk assessment first. We also talked about how lesbians face both homophobia and misogyny.

It’s worth listening to the discussion on the programme to understand what LGBT+ people have to put up with.

Earlier this year, the UN’s independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity said that abusive rhetoric from politicians was to blame for a surge in hate crimes against LGBT+ people. In his report, he said:

Bolstered by strong protections of freedom of information in the UK, news media and social media are instruments for advocacy and visualizing violations of the human rights of LGBT persons. On the other hand, government authorities and civil society representatives in the UK informed the Independent Expert that those media channels are also spreading anti-trans discourse and stereotypical imagery of LGBT persons as dangerous, often employing homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.

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Ed Davey calls for action to help those struggling with rising bills

As inflation falls to 6.8%, Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey appeared on Sky News this morning to give our party’s reaction:

While it was positive news that prices aren’t using quite so fast, he said, but they are rising fast,  faster than they are in many other countries and faster than they have for many, many years.

Families and pensioners when they go and do their shopping, when they get their energy bill, when they pay their mortgage, their rents, they are still seeing them go up by huge amounts. And what is worrying Liberal Democrats today is that this month’s inflation figures will be used to calculate rail fares for next year and we are calling for a freeze as some way of helping people who are really really struggling.

Challenged that the Government has to balance the books, Ed said that we always do balance the books and go to the country with a fully costed manifesto, compared to the Conservatives who have been reckless with Government money and that’s why the country is in such a mess.

I listen to Conservative ministers and they seem so out of touch with the realities that most families and pensioners are facing. When we talk about these sorts of figures they seem quite complacent and give themselves a pat on the back when families are really struggling out there. I just want a Government that seems to care a bit more and this lot just don’t.

Let’s just pause a minute there. This “families and pensioners” phrase irks me a bit. It isn’t quite as bad as the awful “hard working families”, but it completely ignores a huge swathe of people who are struggling just as much as the soft Tory voters in the blue wall seats we are going after. They like the “families and pensioners” language because it has a comforting ring of deserving poor about it but that’s no excuse.

We need to make sure that the young people struggling to get by on low incomes, earning less and getting less in benefits despite living costs being just as high feel included, or the growing number of single person households with only themselves to rely on.

What’s wrong with just using people? Our mission as Liberal Democrats is to build a fair, free and open society where NO-ONE is enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity and our language should reflect that universality. We have so many good ideas that would help all people who are struggling so it seems a shame to limit our language.

Rant over and back to the interview. Ed was challenged that our plans to help people were not realistic. He said:

The real world is that the economy is struggling and we need to get people back to work. If you took up Liberal Democrat ideas to boost the economy, you would get more people using public transport which is more important for our economy, for the environment and so you have many benefits.

I just think the Government is so out of touch. They don’t seem to get how the combination of  price rises, mortgages, rents, energy bells railway fares, is hitting people.  We’ve calculated that a commuter family is going to be clobbered by an extra bill of £300 every month due to the combination of mortgage, food and rail fares. This is a huge amount and when I hear government ministers saying they can’t do anything. They could do something but they don’t. The fact that they don’t backs up my argument that they are out of touch and don’t care.

He was asked whether the energy price cap should be rethought as it harmed competition:

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Reality barges into Small Boats Week

As commemorative weeks go, it’s been a bad one for Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman. They waited all year for Small Boats Week only to have it spoiled by Leftie Lawyers, so-called fire safety ‘experts’ and an outbreak of lethal bacteria. 

On top of that, they suddenly had half the country shouting at them about human rights, compassion and other foreign ideas after six people drowned in the Channel. 

Never mind that they had done what their base wanted and blocked safe passages for refugees, given the French state-of-the-art kit to harass the migrants and even bought the immigrants a yacht. 

Ok, not exactly a yacht but close enough, right? They spent £1.6bn and then, inexplicably, no one wanted to move into their Barge of Death. 

You have to feel for them – no one had ever organised a Small Boats Week before, so they were in uncharted waters. Even if they’d had a map, how could they be expected to know what ‘Danger – Rocks’ meant, let alone ‘Danger – Moral and Ethical Hazard’? 

You may accuse them of setting sail without, a skipper, a rudder or even a destination, but what you have to understand about the Tories is that their approach to disaster planning is quite literal. 

Whether you are talking about the Asylum Crisis, the Sewage Crisis, the Housing Crisis, the Cost of Living Crisis or the Climate Crisis, the government knows that failing to plan is the first step in winging it. It gives ministers, backbenchers and tabloid hacks free rein to make up policy on the hoof – what could possibly go wrong? 

You may fret that a backlog of 175,000 asylum cases, costing the government £6m a day in temporary accommodation fees, is a sure-fire indication that something has gone wrong with their immigration policy, but the government knows it’s money well spent. 

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Review: Vince Cable at the Edinburgh Festival

Our Glorious Former Leader, Vince Cable, came to Edinburgh yesterday to talk to Iain Dale. It was great to see him for the first time Bournemouth  Conference in 2019. He looks well and hasn’t aged even now he’s turned 80.

There was a time when our press office held its breath whenever he came to Scotland. I remember one Conference in particular, ahead of the independence referendum where he said something that wasn’t quite our line which the press and the SNP made hay with. Today, he could not have been more on message, praising what Ed Davey was doing in terms of building the party’s infrastructure and campaigning capacity.

Talking of Ed, he’s going to be here on Saturday at 4 pm, talking to Iain and his For the Many partner Jacqui Smith. You can get tickets here. If you haven’t listened to this podcast, do, it is bloody hilarious and you need it in your life. And if you are going on Saturday, get in touch with me ([email protected]) and I’ll let you know where we are meeting beforehand.

Iain started by asking him about his time as a Labour Councillor in Glasgow in the 1970s. Vince described how he was chief whip at a time when corruption was rife, and four of his group ended up in Barlinnie. He left for the SDP and has never felt  tempted by Keir Starmer’s Labour who are not offering anything positive. He criticised Wes Streeting for saying that it is better to offer no hope than false hope and thinks that they should be doing more to inspire people.

Education, he says, should be the priority at the next election, rather than the NHS. The Tories have failed so comprehensively on it and it desperately needs investment to improve attainment.

He reckoned that there was not much chance of us going into coalition after the next election. We would be heavily outnumbered, and the party would be reluctant to go there again.

Iain asked him if he was “pissed off “that he was seen as too old to go for leader back in 2006. He was, but he accepted the mood to hand power to the next generation

He talked about the coalition years, saying that he winced along with many of us at the Rose Garden scenes.  He says he’s probably the last man standing, though, who thinks that we were right to go in to the coalition and reeled off a long list of things that we had done,  the Green Investment Bank, the industrial strategy, investing in children from deprived backgrounds in school.

He vigorously defended privatisation of Royal Mail saying it was the only option to enble it to modernise as it wasn’t allowed to borrow.  He blamed the union for not co-operating. Iain pushed back on him as he thought the union leader was pretty reasonable from his interviews with him on LBC but Vince said that if they had co-operated, the privatisation would have brought in more money for the taxpayer. He also said that the most recent problems within Royal Mail were the result of bad management rather than the privatisation.

He considered resigning several times during the coalition years – over the  sting when he said some inappropriate things about the BSkyB takeover, when cuts started to hit his department, particularly in the further education sector and  towards the end when it was all going wrong.

He talked about his time as leader and the stroke which led to him stepping down. While he made a full recovery, he decided to stay quiet about it at the time in case it was seen as s sign of weakness.

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