Tag Archives: featured

Happy marching, everyone – and what you can do if you can’t go

Just over five months ago, I set out for London on a beautiful, sunny morning just so I could walk from Hyde Park to Parliament Square. That relatively short stroll took me about 4 hours. Sharing it with 700,000 like minded people was one of the best experiences of my life.

We were marching then for a People’s Vote. Today, the “Put it to the People” march takes to the streets of London as we face the very imminent prospect of leaving the EU in circumstances which will make us poorer and smaller in spirit as well as pocket. The behaviour of our Prime Minister this week, pitting this rather nebulous concept of “the will of the people” against MPs who are (mostly) trying valiantly to avert disaster, has been a source of national shame. The Prime Minister who says that the people “voted for pain” rather than for £350 million a week for the NHS needs to be shown how strongly we feel about staying in the EU.

I would love to be in London today but a difficult family situation means that I simply can’t be 400 miles from home. I will absolutely be there in spirit though. Those who are marching will show that it is possible for huge numbers of people to gather to make their point with  joy and kindness.

One tweet in particular from the many in my timeline who are heading to London made me very happy indeed:

I suspect that he won’t be the only one.

But what can you do if, like me, you can’t go?

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#RevokeArticle50 is now Lib Dem policy

As Theresa May twists and turns in Europe trying to square the Brexit circle, it’s worth noting what isn’t going to happen – any agreement in Westminster on her Withdrawal Agreement today, Friday 22nd March.

The House of Commons petition to Revoke Article 50 notification has become a record breaker with over 2 million signatures,repeatedly bringing the petitions website down and attracting thousands of signatures per minute. Many organisations are shifting to support revocation, and it seems this Saturday’s march will contain more Revoke groups than those supporting a fresh referendum.

Our party leadership has repeatedly claimed that we are marching for a Peoples’ Vote, which they call the “only way out” of Brexit. They have confused the goal – an Exit from Brexit – with just one possible mechanism to deliver it. The debate has moved on, and the party risks looking irrelevant to the Remain movement in these vital days.

The Lib Dems’ Brexit policy has included an option to revoke Article 50 notification since Autumn 2018, when it was introduced by ordinary members as a policy amendment, then opposed by the party leadership. Last week in York, Liberal Democrat members voted for Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake’s policy on Brexit. This updates our option to revoke:

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Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry write: The Independent Group and the Lib Dems working together is grown up politics

Today one of The Independent Group of MPs (TIG), Anna Soubry, will be speaking at a fringe event organised by IPPR North at the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference.  Inevitably, the Westminster village will ask why and speculate as to what this means.  But outside of Westminster, the idea that people who share similar values and have common views on things should work together is not news, its common sense.

There is no doubt that our politics is broken and needs fundamental change. We have a Government and an Official Opposition who are deeply divided, have failed to provide coherent leadership and to discharge their duties with the competence the British public are entitled to expect.  All public opinion research shows millions of politically homeless people are crying out for an alternative and something new – we left the main parties to create one.

A key facet of the culture of TIG is that we are non tribal – we share the same progressive values but we hail from different political traditions.  The fact people come from different political backgrounds should not preclude anyone working with others where there is agreement.  It is this belief that paved the way for the formation of our group and it is precisely why we had all worked with Liberal Democrat MPs long before our group formed on a number of issues, especially on Brexit, and will continue to do so. This is made easier by the fact that, unlike the main parties, the Lib Dems have not been taken over by parties within parties promoting the extremes of left or right.

In this sense, it should come as no surprise that at this time – when Brexit is the dominant issue facing our nation – our Brexit spokesperson should be speaking on a platform with Jo Swinson, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. We were delighted to have the full support of all Lib Dem MPs for Sarah Wollaston’s cross party Peoples Vote amendment which was voted on in the House of Commons last night.

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Trust our voters to choose our leader

I chair the Federal Committee that designed the structures for the Supporter Scheme. My committee members worked incredibly hard on these discussions, reading long reports and complex spreadsheets and interpreting data to come to the best decisions for this new project. On almost everything we reached consensus views. The one area where there was no consensus was the most controversial question – whether these new supporters should be allowed to vote in Party Leadership elections.

I absolutely understand why this is a difficult issue. There are good, sensible reasons to pause and worry. I was very against the idea at first but, after a lot of thought, I changed my mind. I now, personally, think we should feel the fear and do it anyway.

At a General Election, many voters are temporarily hypnotised by the media into thinking they are voting for the next Prime Minister. They forget that they are a voter of Anytown, and are voting for Anytown’s MP. Instead, they get caught up in ‘who do I prefer as Prime Minister’? They vote for the Party they want to see in Government. 

This narrative often causes a big squeeze on our Party’s vote. That’s why we need all our leaflets, to remind people that their vote decides who represents their area in Parliament. But it’s impossible to stop people from looking at Party Leaders as the people they are voting for. 

This is the heart of why I think supporters voting for Leader is sensible. We need a Leader who inspires our members, who understands our Party and has good internal leadership. But we also need our Leader to appeal to our voters. To be someone who they are inspired by and with whom they feel a sense of connection. It’s not enough to be a Lib Dem Leader who inspires internally. They must inspire our voters too.

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Jane Dodds selected to fight Brecon and Radnorshire

Good news from Wales. The Welsh Lib Dem Leader, Jane Dodds, has been selected as the Westminster candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. Jane is a brilliant and caring politician who has been championing issues such as tackling loneliness. Last week, she wrote about her wish to see Universal Basic Income trialled in Wales.

We held the Westminster seat until 2015 and Kirsty Williams holds the seat at Welsh Assembly level. We also did well in the last local elections

Jane said:

I am really pleased that members from across Brecon and Radnorshire have put their trust in me to be their candidate for Westminster and I am proud to be part of the Welsh Liberal Democrat team for Mid-Wales.

Brecon and Radnorshire is being let down by our existing Conservative MP. Under the Conservatives, we’ve seen a sharp increase in cases of homelessness, the botched rollout of Universal Credit continues and, with only 20 days to go, we still don’t even know what is going to happen with Brexit.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats demand better than this debacle. We want to see a Wales which is fairer, international and puts a new green economy at the heart of everything we do.

I think I bring a new perspective on the issues which affect people in our communities and I look forward to working with our great Liberal Democrat Councillors and those who share our liberal values to bring about real and effective change which genuinely changes our society for the better.

Her colleague and predecessor as leader Kirsty Williams welcomed Jane’s selection:

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Help elect April in May

I first came across April Preston in, I think, 2016 when she crowdfunded the money to put on a proper feminist fringe at Conference. She got Jo Swinson to speak and it was one of the best fringes I have ever been to. I thought then what a fabulous elected representative she would make, speaking her mind and getting proper liberal stuff done.

So I really hope she gets elected in Withington ward in Manchester this year. Her campaign needs money, though. Here’s why:

Withington Ward Liberal Democrats work to put community back into the Council and with your support we will be able to challenge officials that neglect our beloved city.

Our candidate in this year’s elections is April Preston. April was the first spokesperson for Stockport Young Carers and has been passionate activist from the age of 10 and continues to campaign on a wide on a wide range of issues from mental health to children leaving care.

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Visit My Mosque Day – a fantastic initiative that we can all engage with

It is easy to see our country as divided, especially when we watch the news about Brexit or, most recently, the public reaction to Shamima Begum’s situation. There is no denying that hate crime has risen and that extremists on either side of the political spectrum are increasingly exhibiting intolerance and prejudice.    

Sunday’s “Visit My Mosque Day” initiative was, therefore, a very welcome and timely reminder that, for the most part, people from different faiths and communities rub along nicely and are very happy  to celebrate the tremendous diversity and multiculturalism that make our capital and county so great. 

Joined by other GLA candidates and London members, we embraced the initiative with a tour of three Mosques in the capital.  We started with the Suleymaniye Cultural Centre – a beautiful Ottoman style mosque with a Turkish focus.  From there we went to the East London Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in Europe with a largely Bangladeshi congregation.  Our final visit of the day was to the regal Central Mosque in Regents Park, a mosque that was officially opened by King George VI in 1944 and which serves a very diverse and international community of worshipers.

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Am I a Liberal?

On Monday 4th March at 7.30pm if you are in or around London the NLC is the place to be. The Social Liberal Forum is launching its new publication and Ian Kearns will be speaking. Admission is free. Full details are on the SLF website. Dr Seth Thevoz reviews the publication for Lib Dem Voice. The SLF will also be holding a fringe meeting with Ian Kearns about the book at the Spring Conference inYork.

The Social Liberal Forum has given us a very welcome republication of John Maynard Keynes’s Am I a Liberal?, alongside a new essay by Ian Kearns, asking that same question. Indeed, it’s doubly timely, as the piece by Labour defector-turned-Lib Dem Kearns asks some particularly topical questions, at a time when we are still trying to make sense of what the new Labour breakaway Independent Group stands for, or even seeks to do.

Keynes’s original essay prompted a serious assessment as to what liberalism means in the modern world – he argued that remaining Gladstonian shibboleths such as Free Trade and Temperance were not, in themselves, enough to sustain a mass ideology. Instead, he proposed five new dimensions that any Liberal should apply themselves to:

  • Peace Questions
  • Questions of Government
  • Sex Questions
  • Drug Questions
  • Economic Questions

The essay remains ahead of its time in many of its conclusions, and its vindication can be found in the number of ardent Liberal converts over the years, recruited on these very issues – although parts of the essay are also dated. The sections on women’s rights, for instance, are reminiscent of Bertram Russell’s Marriage and Morals (1929), in essentially being a feminist text, written by a man who does not reference any women or early feminist writers. Despite these serious setbacks, the essay is original, and buzzing with ideas; and it is well worth a read, 96 years on, for the sometimes-uncomfortable questions it raises.

Kearns’s essay is a more personal one, following on from some of Keynes’s themes – especially the passages excised from the original version of Keynes’s paper, as delivered at the 1925 Liberal Summer School. Kearns looks at much at other ideologies, and while he has nothing positive to say about conservatism, he focuses his real fire on the modern Labour Party, and its shortcomings as a vehicle for Liberal thought or action. 

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Sal Brinton writes: A chance to change the face of our politics by engaging with supporters

At Spring Conference at York we will be debating the role of supporters of the party. This follows the extensive consultation we had in the Autumn. You will remember that we had two consultation sessions at Brighton (you can find the consultation document here , after which the Federal Board arranged for a series of further consultation sessions around the country, as well as member webinars and an online survey. Many thanks to the thousands of you who asked questions and also responded to the survey.  At these sessions we promised that members would have the final say on the details of a registered supporter scheme, and we will vote on them on Saturday afternoon at Conference. You can find the Business Motion setting out the arrangements starting on Page 42, with constitutional amendments starting on Page 46, of the Conference Agenda.

Most of you told us that you liked the idea of registered supporters, and understood that the idea of attracting people who might not want to join the party straight away, but who were valuable campaigners, both online and in person, was something we should focus on. The Federal Board has been applying these principles to our Exit from Brexit campaign, and in a few short months 250,000 people have supported the campaign, many donating to the party. 

The proposals say that we should look at giving registered supporters some rights – not as many as members: members should always have an increased level of rights. These include allowing registered supporters the right to vote for a potential leader of the party (but not to nominate a candidate for Leader: that remains with members only). It also proposes allowing non-MPs to stand for Leader, broadening our base. These latter proposals require changes to the Constitution, so will be voted on separately requiring a 2/3 majority. 

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LibLink: David Boyle – The Lib Dems should act decisively – and join the Independent Group now

Embed from Getty Images

Over on the Guardian’s Comment is Free, David Boyle uses his first-hand experience of the Liberal party/SDP merger to reflect on the new situation with the Independent Group of MPs:

…this is what I believe Vince Cable should do. As soon as possible, the Lib Dems should join the Independent Group in parliament. I suggest this partly for the good of the independents. Joining the 11 Lib Dems (plus Stephen Lloyd, who resigned the whip recently, but who would surely then follow suit) would double their size and give them momentum. The new group would then be almost two-thirds of the way to becoming the third largest party (currently the SNP with 35 seats), and closer to the public funding attached for policymaking.

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Christine Jardine MP writes….Let’s invite people in who want to help us build a movement

It was when Charles Kennedy was standing to be leader that I found it most frustrating not to be a member.

I had supported the Liberal Democrats since I was old enough to vote.

Here was a man whose political ideals epitomised what I believed in and I desperately wanted him to leader.

But I couldn’t do anything to help him, or support the party.

I was a journalist. I worked for the BBC, often covered politics and, throughout my career, my impartiality had to be transparent.

When I was eventually able to join the party it was at a point in my career where I had moved away from reporting.

It still took some time to persuade my husband that there would be a professional life after joining and, significantly, that it would not damage his career or reflect on him.

If only there had been a supporters scheme then I could have been involved, voted for the leader and done my bit to help without jeopardising my livelihood.

And I was not alone in that.

I remember losing an active, and effective campaigner, in the highlands because he was promoted and his new role was politically restricted.

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“Those bloody Liberal Democrats are in town”

The main hall in the Town House in the South Lanarkshire Town of Hamilton was the room where it happened this weekend (see what I did there?). The song from the musical Hamilton tells us to “Talk less, smile more” but there was actually a lot of both this weekend as Scottish Liberal Democrats gathered for Conference.

I have to admit, I was sceptical about this new venue and the hour I spent dragging my suitcase round empty streets in the dark on Thursday night trying to find the hotel did not improve my mood.

One of our number overhead in the ASDA across the road from the conference hotel “Those bloody Liberal Democrats are in town this weekend.”

However, the Town House is a lovely building, even more so when lit up purple by LGBT Youth Scotland for Purple Friday, the last Friday of LGBT History Month. The staff there and in the Town House were so  friendly and helpful.

We had some intense debates over the weekend. I actually ended up making five speeches, which is unheard of. I had planned to do three – I was proposing a motion on providing better housing support for victims of domestic abuse, summating the Scottish Young Liberals’ motion on trans rights and I’d hoped to be called in the debate on sex work.

I ended up also speaking about the problems people face with housing and the social security system when they leave prison and proposing the constitutional amendment which would allow the implementation of the new disciplinary process in Scotland.

The latter struck true terror into my heart. It meant going up against Scotland’s wonderful constitutional guru, John Lawrie who had concerns that we were giving too much power to the Federal Party. Actually, Sheila had cannily drafted the amendment so that we retain the power and delegate the functions so covering all our bases.

As persistent troublemaker (in the best possible way) Richard Coxon said in his speech, two inalienable truths of the Scottish Party are that Sheila Ritchie (the convener who wrote the amendment) is always right. And John Lawrie is always right. The party dealt with the conflict in Sheila’s favour this time.

One of my best highlights was the look of utter surprise and mild irritation on Sheila’s face when she won the Scottish Lib Dem Women’s award for the person who had done most to advance diversity. She has become a real driving force for the implementation of the Alderdice Review, showing local parties how to engage more with BAME people and get them involved in the party. She absolutely deserved the accolade. The SLDW AGM, by the way, decided to name the award after Helen Watt, who devoted so much time to the organisation until her far too early death in 2016.

I shall tell you more about the weekend in the next few days, but the agenda was absolutely packed with things that actually provoked debate. An attempt to overturn our policy on decriminalising sex work and replace it with the controversial Nordic model was unsuccessful, but the summating speech in favour of the motion affected everyone, whichever side of the debate you were on.

Diane Martin, who experienced the most awful treatment by exploitative pimps and ended up being trafficked for sex work, described her horrendous experience in an incredibly moving way. There was shock as she told how she was raped by a man with a gun who told her he was having a “freebie.” Diane won the award for the best speech of the Conference.

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Young Liberals launch Young & Winning 2019 to support young candidates

It’s no secret that this year is going to be big for us Liberal Democrats, and the Young Liberals are no exception.

Last year, we provided thousands to young candidates across the country. We contributed to getting some fantastic young councillors elected, now serving their community.

In 2019 we’re doing the same with more support to elect young councillors. The aim is to give young people the community voice which they deserve and need.

This support can range from grants for literature to subsidised action days and more.

In 2018, we supported almost every candidate that applied. In almost every case, young candidates we supported saw increase in vote share. Many were successful in their bids, some came within less than 10 votes of taking their ward.

It’s clear to me that we need more young voices in local government. It’s clear that we can make that happen, and it’s imperative that we do.

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TIG’s not it

When you are an active member of a political party, the amount of the infrastructure of your life that is embedded in it is colossal. My husband knows that we have a bird of liberty as well as a spaniel determinedly pushing its way between us when we try to grab some time together.

Our lives revolve round election cycles and meetings and protest marches. And this blog.

Most of my best friends are in the Liberal Democrats. To be honest, I think they would still be my best friends wherever our lives took us, but, still, I share stuff with them that if we were in different parties I wouldn’t be able to any more.

Making the decision to leave is difficult and painful and not at all easily taken.

So when I see people leaving the Labour Party when they have finally reached the end of their rope with Jeremy Corbyn, I know how hard it must have been for them. I respect them for having the courage to do so.

I like some of them a lot on a personal level and I have no problem with working with them on the areas where we share common aims.

However, I am underwhelmed by their statement of values on their website. Some of them are fine – just a bit motherhood and apple pie.However, parts of it made me cringe:

…the first duty of government must be to defend its people and do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security.

It’s a bit hawkish. I get that they are trying to get away from the spectre of Corbyn, but the first thing above all else, when 3 million of our citizens are about to have their rights massively downgraded and people have trouble putting food on the table? Really?

There are also some real deserving/undeserving poor undertones to it – and an echo of that awful phrase “hard working families.”

I think the thing that bothered me most, though, was:

We believe that our parliamentary democracy in which our elected representatives deliberate, decide and provide leadership, held accountable by their whole electorate is the best system of representing the views of the British people.

I get that they are restating the obvious that democracy is a good thing, but you can’t say that politics is broken and then say that our way of doing it is best. How much more powerful would it have been if they had said, as we do, that our political institutions need redesigning and rebuilding so that people get the Parliament that they ask for. If they did, the country would not be in its current disastrous pickle.

I lived through the birth of the SDP 40 years ago and it genuinely felt exciting. They used phrases like “breaking the mould” and talked about pursuing a reforming agenda in every area of life. This doesn’t have that coherent approach. It’s like TIG’s members can agree what they’re against – the various circles of Hell in Corbyn’s Labour – but writing a coherent vision statement has not come easy. In some ways their statement is more cry of pain than beacon lighting our path.

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ICYMI: Jo tears into Theresa May for claiming credit for shared parental leave

Jo Swinson was on stellar form in the Commons this week. In her latest procrastination statement, the Prime Minister tried to claim credit for shared parental leave.

As we know, it was Jo who, as a Business Minister, delivered that against the wailing opposition of the Conservatives. So she naturally took exception to the PM’s claim.

And afterwards, with the help of some excellent gifs, she took to Twitter to rip the Tories to shreds on workers’ rights. She highlighted the times in the coalition when we fought against them. And there was a touch of humility as she said that we might not always have got it right, but we sure as hell battled every day. Here’s are the highlights:

This is my favourite:

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Tony Greaves writes…”There really is no Planet B” Scenes from the Schools 4 Climate action demo

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed.

There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No stewards and precious few police, who were clearly taken unawares by the scale of the protest and were standing around looking a rather lost at how to cope with quite a big disruption with no organisers to talk to! People just turned up, often in school groups, and did their own thing as they felt fit.

Some just stood about with their placards. Some sat in a circle, chanted or sang or made impromptu speeches – at first on the grass, later on in the road. Some stood in the streets or marched off down Whitehall or towards Westminster Bridge. Parliament Square was completely blocked, partly by the young demonstrators but also – by a curious bit of serendipity – by the black cabs whose drivers were staging another protest against being kicked out of London bus lanes.

For once, the young people were being allowed to stand on the plinths of statues and hang placards on Mr Churchill and his friends. One glorious incident happened when a big red open-top tourist sightseeing bus, blocked on the corner of Bridge Street and the Square, was commandeered by a group of young people waving their placards and leading the chants. What any tourists thought about it, I know not!

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For richer, for poorer

For Valentine’s day, Lib Dem Immigrants is showcasing some canine (and feline) couples, with a serious message. Many people who’ve not had cause to find out the hard way don’t realise that mixed-nationality couples can be forbidden from living together in the UK if they don’t earn enough. We want to raise awareness of this, and we’re proud that Lib Dem policy is to oppose it. If you’re married to a British person, you should be allowed to live with them. No means-testing. For richer, for poorer. 🐾

Lina is a Dachshund from Munich, Germany; Jamie is an English Bulldog from Croydon. Jamie worries about whether Brexit will mean Lina can’t come and live with him.

Kuniko is a Shiba Inu from Kyoto, Japan. Gary is a Jack Russell Terrier from Bolton. Gary’s income is just enough for Kuniko to be allowed here — but not enough for their puppies too. They don’t know what they should do.

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Claire Tyler writes: Children need better access to mental health care

Mental health care in this country needs radical transformation.  Both adult and children’s mental health services continue to be plagued by long waiting times, lack of access to treatment and chronic staff shortages. For children, the average wait between their first symptoms developing and being able to access treatment is estimated to be a horrifying 10 years. Once a referral has been made, The Children’s Society estimate that young people wait an average of 58 days until they are assessed and then a further 41 days until they begin treatment. 

In a recent survey, a thousand GPs across the country expressed their concerns about access to Children’s Mental Health Services. It found that 78% of GPs are worried that too few of their young patients can get treatment for mental ill-health and a staggering 99% of them feared that under 18 years old will come to harm as a direct result of these delays in care. 

For many of these children, the only way to access the care they need is for their mental health to deteriorate to crisis point or to turn to private care. In fact, almost two-fifths of GPs surveyed said they would recommend patients whose families can afford it to go private. It is completely unacceptable that we have such a growing divide between those who can pay for treatment and others who are left waiting.  Seventy years after the creation of the NHS, families should not be forced to pay for the mental healthcare their children so desperately need.  

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Norman Lamb’s message for Time to Talk Day

Today is Time to Talk Day.

Norman Lamb was probably the best Minister we had in the Coalition years. He did so much to try to change the culture of the NHS on mental health. And what I particularly liked was that there was no bullshit from him. If something wasn’t good enough, he owned it and tried to do something about it.

Today, for Time to Talk Day, he urged people to talk to each other about mental health.

I just wish that we had had a minister for mental health in Scotland who actually got it.

The reason Norman got it is because mental ill health has affected family members. His sister died by suicide in 2015 and his son Archie has OCD. 

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Vince reshuffles Lib Dem spokespeople

Vince  has announced several changes to his top team of spokespeople.

Tim Farron will be taking over the Communities and Local Government  brief, which really suits him with his longstanding interest in housing. Wera Hobhouse moves from there to cover Energy and Climate Change.

Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine will now cover issues relating to Work and Pensions, taking on the portfolio vacated by Stephen Lloyd when he resigned the Whip in December.  Jamie Stone becomes Scottish spokesperson. Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael will speak on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Vince said of his new team:

I am pleased to announce today our new spokespeople who will speak out on the most important issues we face in Britain today.

While Parliament is consumed by Brexit, we need to remember that people are also affected by a whole host of other challenges.

We will continue to speak up for them as we continue our fight for the public to have a say on the Brexit deal with a People’s Vote.

It’s disconcerting that Lynne Featherstone no longer seems to have a spokesperson role given that she is one of the party’s best performers. She used to do energy and climate change in the Lords but that role has now gone to Chris Fox.

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£8 billion funding black hole by 2025 will swallow up popular council services

Communities may suffer the loss of leisure and cultural facilities, fewer bus services, unkempt parks and green spaces and see fly-tippers go unpunished without government investment in under-pressure council services.

On Friday the cross-party Local Government Association launched its campaign to influence the forthcoming government Spending Review by warning about the growing risk to vital local services if the Government does not take action to secure the financial sustainability of councils.

However, the LGA said that, with the right funding and powers, councils can continue to lead their local areas, improve residents’ lives, reduce demand for public services and save money for the taxpayer.

Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. 

Some councils are being pushed to the brink by this unprecedented loss of funding and an ongoing surge in demand for children’s services, adult social care services and homelessness support. This is on top of having to absorb other cost pressures, such as higher national insurance contributions, the apprenticeship levy and the National Living Wage.

More and more councils are struggling to balance their books, facing overspends and having to make in-year budget cuts.

Councils provide more than 800 services to residents in their local area – some of these are legal duties they have to provide whilst others are optional powers they can use depending on local priorities.

Money is increasingly having to be diverted from these optional services, which help build communities people want to live in, to plug growing funding gaps, while some councils have already been forced to cut their services back to the legal minimum “core offer”. 

With councils in England facing an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025, local government leaders fear many more will have to take similar action.

That could mean many cherished local – but discretionary – services such as the maintenance of parks, improving food hygiene and safety, certain bus services, cultural activities and council tax support for those in financial difficulty – face being drastically cut back by councils across the country.

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Don’t let no deal talk distract from how bad the deal actually is

The next crucial vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal takes place on Tuesday. Much of the focus has been on taking no deal off the table. That’s important, because it would be a disaster.

However, we shouldn’t forget that the actual deal would damage us too, leaving us poorer and less safe.

Back in November, the Bank of England said that all forms of Brexit would leave us worse off than staying in the EU.

Vince said at the time:

The Bank of England has concluded that Brexit – with or without a deal – will leave the UK poorer, less productive and with an economy 4% smaller than if we had stayed in the EU.

Although the headlines are drawn to the dramatic economic collapse forecasted in the event of no deal, this report shows that the deal will cause harm to our economy and the living standards of people around the country.

The Conservative Government must stop using fears of no-deal to pretend that its deal will be good for the economy; today’s assessments put that myth to bed. It is time for a final say on the deal, with the option to remain.

This came around the same time as Philip Hammond admitted that there wasn’t an outcome of Brexit that would leave the country better off.

Tom Brake said:

It was shocking to hear the Chancellor candidly admit that Brexit will make the country poorer.

The Government’s own analysis shows real wages falling, every region in the UK worse off and no Brexit dividend.

The assessment of Theresa May’s deal assumes a rapid transition to a frictionless trade deal with the EU and other free trade arrangements with third-party countries, but the prospect of these negotiations happening quickly is wildly optimistic.

In reality the Conservatives’ deal could leave the UK much worse off than even these dour assessments forecast.

The case is stronger than ever for giving the public the final say on the Brexit deal, with the option to remain in the EU.

And Ed Davey found the Withdrawal Agreement withdrew the UK from useful information networks:

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Be prepared: We could well be heading for a General Election

I am starting to think that the likelihood of a General Election is rising.

Theresa May’s options are limited.

She could probably get a majority of MPs to back a Norway style Brexit if she put some effort into it. She could have done that two years ago. But that would split her party. So she won’t.

She could, as Vince suggested to her, put her own deal to the British people. But every poll that has been done on that possibility suggests that it would lose against a Remain option. However right that would be, it would split her party and leave her with a huge amount of egg on her face.

Or she could go for an election by the same mechanism she used in 2017 – a motion in the House of Commons backed by 2/3. Corbyn could hardly vote against it given that he has been calling for an election for months. We should vote against it, by the way, on the grounds that it won’t solve Brexit and we don’t trust the Government to behave itself with the powers that the EU Withdrawal Act gives it while Parliament is dissolved.

Now, I get that it is unlikely that she could find a manifesto promise on Brexit that her entire party would unite behind. She might consider that it doesn’t matter, though. Because she’ll make the election about going after Corbyn. We saw from Michael Gove’s closing speech in the No Confidence debate the other night a glimmer of what they would unleash in his direction. Every picture of him with dodgy people will be coming to a billboard near you – and he really hasn’t helped himself this week by refusing to talk to May when he’s talked to all sorts of nefarious characters with the stated intention of sorting out the Middle East or Northern Ireland.

I know that May has promised not to lead the Conservatives into another election but her argument would be that Parliament was frustrating the will of the people. This vote, though, would be a chance, however unlikely,  to get her the parliamentary majority which she came within a few thousand votes of getting in 2017. Then she could govern relatively untroubled until 2023. Although she shouldn’t take too much comfort from that prospect given how Major’s last five years as PM went.

And, with Parliament dissolved, heaven knows what the Government would do in terms of illiberal and unscrutinised instrument and order throughout the election campaign. The EU Withdrawal Act does give it a lot of untrammelled power, after all.

An election wouldn’t solve Brexit, of course. She couldn’t get a third of her own MPs to vote for her deal and that is unlikely to change. But that is not what it is about. 

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 34 Comments

“Those who seek to divide us will never win. We know Britain is better than this”

Clear, can-do, liberal.

You know how I’ve been banging on for ages that we need to tug on people’s heartstrings?

Well, finally, we produce a compelling video that tells people who we are and what we are for.

From the happy, optimistic days of 2012 to the xenophobic post Brexit hate, our decline is shown, complete with Farage, Rees-Mogg and Johnson.

Then there is a strong statement of solidarity with our EU national friends, family, work colleagues. 

Posted in News | 46 Comments

No, the Liberal Democrats aren’t going to be absorbed by anyone. We have a job to do

Rachel Sylvester writes in the Times today (£) about the need for a realignment in politics. Her piece is pretty much a puff piece for Lovefilm founder, Simon Franks’ new vehicle, United for Change, which will apparently launch in the Spring. she makes an astonishing statement:

It’s too soon to say whether this will become the vehicle for the much needed reconfiguration but there is clearly an appetite for something different. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former Downing Street chief of staff, is also co-ordinating discussions about a new political party. The Liberal Democrats have indicated that they would happily be absorbed into another party that shares their values.

Excuse me?

The Liberal Democrats have indicated that they would happily be absorbed into another party that shares their values.

Oh no, we bloody haven’t. Let’s be clear about that.

If any senior figure has said such a thing, then they have no right to do so. And they certainly can’t speak for our members who might have something to say about that.

The problem with these shiny new centre parties is obvious from a quick look at United for Change’s website:

Is there anything more vacuous than this:

BRITAIN IS GREAT, ITS POLITICS SHOULD BE TOO.

WE’RE BUILDING A PARTY PROUDLY BORN OUTSIDE OF WESTMINSTER.

Heavens. Donald Trump and Nigel Farage could sign up to something like that. What the hell do they stand for? The best thing I can say about it is that it didn’t put an apostrophe in the its.

The problem is that these sorts of centrist parties tend to be authoritarian in make-up and outlook. A member of such an organisation would have much less power than they would have as a member of the Liberal Democrats, where they could put forward ideas and vote on specific policy. Liberal Democrats are used to having much more say than I expect will be offered to supporters of United for Change.

Although note the similarities. Apparently UFC wants to sign up a whole load of supporters who will then get to vote for leader. Sound familiar?

My two biggest problems with our supporters’ scheme idea are that it’s a processy distraction from what we really need to be developing – our compelling and inspiring narrative of who we are and what we’re about and that it also distracts from the fact that we are a pretty open party that gives our members power.

UFC, from what I can see neither offers their members power nor has any compelling ideas. Two months before the SDP was formed, its four founders, Shirley Williams, David Owen, Roy Jenkins and Bill Rodgers, put out the Limehouse Declaration. It kicked some ass. 

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Paddy Ashdown has passed away

Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, passed away earlier this evening following a short illness.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

It is with great sadness that we announce that Paddy Ashdown passed away earlier this evening following a short illness. He will be desperately missed by everyone at the Liberal Democrats as a dear friend and colleague, and remembered as someone who made an immeasurable contribution to furthering the cause of liberalism.

Our thoughts are with his family and all of his friends at this difficult time, and we ask that their privacy is respected.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable said:

Our thoughts are with Jane and Paddy’s family this evening.

This is a hugely sad day for the Liberal Democrats and for the very many people across political and public life who had immense affection and respect for Paddy.

He was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena. He was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.

Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the marines and diplomatic service. He exercised every ounce of his considerable personal stamina to win the Yeovil seat. He was a personal example to me and to many other candidates.

Once in Parliament, he made a real mark. He was always listened to, in particular, on international issues and defence. He took up unpopular causes where he was respected for his convictions. He inspired the Liberal Democrats from a polling position he famously described as ‘represented by an asterisk’, to become a formidable campaigning force laying the ground for the strength which later took the party into government.

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Tom Brake MP writes: About that “split” with People’s Vote…

To keep up to date with Brexit developments these days it is best to have social media on a drip-feed. News of resignations, plots, and leadership bids leak out there first.

It was no surprise, then, that social media was the first to pick up last week on an apparent split between the Lib Dems and the People’s Vote campaign. The ‘split’ was a small disagreement over the best way to maximise the prospects of securing a Final Say on the Deal through a People’s Vote.

But social media’s unsurpassed ability to pick up stories as they break is matched by an uncanny capacity to blow them out of all proportions just as quickly. Rarely has a greater storm been whipped up in a tinier tea-cup.

What caused this restlessness? Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to the Prime Minister’s motion, in favour of a People’s Vote. Hardly a breach of the campaign objective!

There is total agreement between the Lib Dems and the People’s Vote on the need to maximise the chances of winning any vote on a People’s Vote amendment. But we can’t choose on Tuesday whether or not that is the moment to maximise support if the whole issue is left off the order paper. As things stand, we can choose whether to move it, based on changing circumstances.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes…What has gone wrong with Crossrail?

I don’t know what the Queen is doing today.

However, I know for certain what she is not doing.

Many months ago it was agreed that Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) would officially be opened by the Queen today.

The Elizabeth Line, will cover 100 km from Reading and Maidenhead to the west of the capital and Heathrow, through new tunnels under Central London to Woolwich and Abbey Wood in the south-east of the city and Shenfield in Essex.

It will transform rail transport in London and the surrounding region, increasing passenger capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the capital. It will, when finally open, deliver wonderful new trains, 200 metres long, the same length as two football pitches. It will also deliver 10 new stations and key improvements to many others, making all the stations on the route step-free and therefore accessible for everyone.

Yet, sadly all these benefits have been put on hold, while the cost of completing it (and lost passenger income for Transport for London) simply soars.

The costs of completing the project were already escalating earlier this year, but then on the 31 August, barely three months before the official opening of the line, it was suddenly announced that its actual opening date would be sometime in ‘Autumn’ 2019.   We still have no exact revised opening date.

For a project to be delayed, by such a magnitude and so close to its official opening, is quite incredible.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 10 Comments

Wera Hobhouse MP writes…A step forward in fighting “sex for rent”

When I first came across the practice of ‘sex for rent’, I was appalled. Why do people end up in a truly awful and exploitative situation with a landlord which clearly should be against the law?

We know that sex for rent is a widespread problem. A YouGov poll says that 250,000 women in the UK had been offered reduced or free rent in exchange for sexual favours in the past five years. Yet as a crime it is under-reported and there are next to no prosecutions. 

It is already against the law to advertise sex for rent on pillar boxes or in the print media. One of the main problems has been that there are no clear legal guidelines to stop this vile practice for online advertising platforms.

Yesterday I received some good news. After I spent some time working in Parliament behind the scenes, the Crown Prosecution Service informed me that they will issue new guidelines in the new year ‘on sex for rent arrangements and advertising. There will be no distinction between off-line and online advertising’. It should then make it easier for the police and the courts to prosecute those who advertise online which has so far been a loophole.

And once we have some successful prosecutions then hopefully this should act as a deterrent for those who try and advertise for an arrangement that is cruel abusive and exploitative.

Most people see the work of an MP through the lens of a press story, or perhaps in 240 words on Twitter. I thought I’d share with you the steps I went through to achieve this change.

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William Wallace writes…A way to bring our national community together

I am a man of the people. You are part of the metropolitan liberal elite. They are enemies of the people, citizens of nowhere.

That’s the populist self-characterization that more and more right-wing politicians are now making. It’s an easy appeal to the ‘ordinary’ person against the sophisticated, over-educated and privileged. It works very well even when wielded by old Etonian Oxbridge graduates like Boris Johnson, or former city traders like Nigel Farage. The terms ‘elite’ and ‘establishment’ are elided, and blended with ‘liberal’, into a hostile image of people who claim superiority because of their expertise and knowledge, against those who prefer instinct and ‘common sense’.

There was a wonderful example of the genre in the Daily Telegraph of November 23rd, a letter under the headline “This ‘No Brexit deal’ by the political elite treats the majority who voted Leave with disdain” – signed by 15 Conservative peers, eight of them hereditary, three of them with peerages dating from the 17th century or earlier. If these are men of the people, I’m the king of Scotland. There was another in the Sun on Sunday, on November 25th, from Lord Digby Jones, one of the most self-important members of the House of Lords: ‘the British people – as if they needed further confirmation after what has gone on over the past few months – have been let down by the political class and the establishment elite.’ We should ridicule such claims whenever we see them.

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