Tag Archives: featured

+++Vince to hand over to new Lib Dem Leader on July 23rd

So Theresa May isn’t the only leader to resign today.

Vince has just sent this message to party members announcing that he will be handing over to his successor on 23rd July.

The difference between the two departures is that Vince is going as part of a managed transition first announced nearly 9 months ago and is going out on a high. We’ll see just how high on Monday when we know all the results of the European elections.

Vince deserves our thanks for taking on the challenge of leadership and building on what Tim Farron had started. When we think of the bloody mess we were in after the last European elections, we can see how far both men took us.

Here is Vince’s email.

Dear Member,

Last night, the British people finished voting in the European elections. We have fought a very strong campaign and when the votes are counted on Sunday, I expect us to do well.

I want to thank the volunteers who have made that possible I was very touched while campaigning around the country by the enthusiasm and optimism of our members and supporters.

Many who kept going through difficult years for the party are now enjoying our resurgence as a major national force.

Our long and proud tradition of success in local government was revived this month by the best local election results in our party’s history. In the last two years, we have gained 780 more council seats and 15 new councils.

And membership is at record levels with a strengthening base of supporters amongst students and young people.

Together, we have rebuilt the Liberal Democrats – thank you.

I said earlier this year that the time would soon come to hand over the leadership of the party to a new generation. That process begins today: I will be proud to hand over a bigger, stronger party on July 23rd.

If you have friends who would want to vote in the election to choose my successor, urge them to join by Friday 7th June. Every new member can help shape our future.

There are major challenges ahead. One is to win, finally, the battle to stop Brexit. Our campaigning has given hope; now we need to secure a referendum in Parliament, and then win it.

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Bamber Gascoigne: This is the essential moment to support the Lib Dems

Last week, Katy Brand and Emma Kennedy backed the Lib Dems in the European elections. .

Last night, award winning star of stage and screen Simon Callow said he was backing us as the only party to have offered leadership and clarity on remaining in the EU.

And today, University Challenge legend Bamber Gascoigne adds his voice to the growing list of people saying that they are voting Lib Dem this time – a list that also includes former Tory Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine and Times columnist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris.

Bamber said:

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Simon Callow backs Lib Dems in European elections as “only party to have offered leadership and clarity on remaining in EU”

Simon Callow by Mark, Flick CCL

One of Britain’s finest actors has backed the Lib Dems in the European election.

Simon Callow, whose performances include Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA, Sir Edward Tilney in Shakespeare in Love and a role which will appeal to many Lib Dems – Charles Dickens in two episodes of Doctor Who – said:

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Lib Dems target Labour remainers

So we’re doing the sensible thing and going after the votes of Labour voting Remain supporters in the next few days.

We have the help of numerous actions and comments by senior Labour figures over the past three years, most especially Bailout Barry himself. You haven’t been allowed to forget that Labour Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner told Tory Minister James Cleverly that Labour were trying to bail the Tories out on Brexit.

Just in case it has slipped your mind for a nanosecond, here is the actual clip:

The Huffington Post reports that candidates and campaigners will be stepping up their efforts to persuade Labour supporters to back us in this election:

The eight-page document is being sent to candidates and grassroots activists as Vince Cable’s party aims to convince “increasingly soft” Labour votes.

The document, which is to be issued with Labour attack leaflets, collates pro-Brexit quotes from Labour’s frontbench MPs, including from supporters of a second referendum, such as Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.

It also outlines in detail the party’s voting record on a second referendum and soft Brexit options, underlining that Corbyn’s MPs were whipped either to abstain or to vote with the Tories on 29 key Brexit votes.

Pro-EU Labour activists reacted with dismay when Corbyn refused to back a remain stance in the party’s Euro elections manifesto, with the leader sticking to the line that a second referendum would be “an option” if cross-party Brexit talks fail.

The local elections, meanwhile, saw the Lib Dems win more than 700 seats, leaving Cable confident of gains in the May 23 EU-wide poll.

They have a quote from Ed Davey:

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Layla: I’m not standing for leader this time

A statement this morning from Layla Moran:

I am very grateful to the large number of constituents, supporters, party members and elected representatives who have encouraged me to throw my hat into the ring in the forthcoming Liberal Democrat Leadership contest.

As a relatively new MP, however, my first priority has to be to serve my constituents to the best of my ability.

I hope they consider that I am doing a good job so far, but I do not believe that I would be able to continue to do so to the standard they have the right to expect if I took on the busy role of Party Leader as well.

For this reason, I wrote to local party members last week to let them know that I would not be standing for the Leadership this time.

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WATCH: Unleashed – the Lib Dem campaign to stop Brexit

This morning, my family’s postal votes arrived. I’ve had a postal vote ever since I didn’t vote in the 1997 election because I was too busy helping in a target seat. I suspect Mrs Pankhurst would have approved, but I was determined that I would never again fail to have my say.

Never has that vote felt more precious. I want this country to say very clearly on 23 May that we want to stop Brexit, that we want to stay part of the remarkable institution which champions peace, human rights and democracy.

Many other postal votes will have landed on doormats today. So it’s pretty convenient that the Lib Dems kicked off their European campaign with a staggering display of both passion and competence.

People woke up this morning to a bloody good write up in the Guardian.

Buoyed by strong results in last week’s local council elections, and unencumbered by the nuance of Labour’s position, Cable insisted the Lib Dems were the best-equipped party to challenge the message of Nigel Farage at the poll later this month.

“We are clearly the best organised, we have been leading the People’s Vote argument for three years and we’ve been the pro-Europe party for 50 years. We are credible and people recognise our unwavering clarity and commitment.

“We are taking it very seriously, we have a high-pressure social media campaign where we are doing more than Farage’s people,” he said, adding, “we are out of the traps early, and expect to do well.

And he outlined why we are the best place to deliver the maximum remain vote.

He has faced criticism for failing to make the media impact of his predecessor, or improve the Lib Dems’ poll ratings. But he hailed last week’s strong local election results as evidence that a steady approach of rebuilding the party from the bottom up is finally paying dividends.

“Infrastructure and organisation really does matter,” he said. “The lesson for other parties is you can’t function without that. There is no future sitting in London sending out messages.”

The manifesto launch tonight was brilliant. Four speeches. All passionate and delivered with heart. Sal Brinton talking about how the Lib Dems had stopped the Tories using Brexit legislation to undermine the NHS.

Ed Davey talking about the importance of stopping Brexit so that Britain can be a powerful force in the EU in the fight against climate change. I actually got a bit sad when he was speaking because he did so much to combat climate change in government and then the Conservatives, left to themselves, have unravelled so much of it.

He also spoke about the importance of co-operation across the EU to tackle crime. Why, he said, do Brexiteers like criminals so much.

Jo Swinson gave a totally heartfelt speech about a visit to Bucharest. Her wonderful dad, Peter, was there to help the Romanians prepare for EU membership. She told how he had taken her to the People’s House, an outrageous structure built as a vanity project by Romania’s dictator while so many of his people lived in destitution and absolute poverty.  She talked about the role of the EU in bringing peace across Europe, in Northern Ireland, bringing former enemies together.

The EU has been at the forefront of promoting human rights, liberal values and democracy, she said. The EU is the hope that made once warring countries work together and which is the cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement. In a time of “strong men” leaders, now is not the time to be turning our back on European leaders who share our liberal values.

There are more relaxing ways to spend your 76th birthday. I thought Vince was actually going to cry when the audience sang Happy Birthday to him, but he went on to deliver a fantastic speech highlighting the clear Stop Brexit message that is driving the Lib Dem campaign. He said that nobody, not even the most ardent Brexiteers, were doubting that we would be worse off if we left the EU. The only thing is that these Brexiteers weren’t going to be the people who paid the price. It would be people much poorer and more vulnerable than they were.

The Lib Dems, he said, will be unapologetic about backing the four freedoms. The right we have to work and live across Europe was championed by Mrs Thatcher. The current Conservative Party has moved so far to the right that they are disowning the single market Thatcher created.

He said that while the Lib Dems will campaign to stop Brexit, this election is about returning a group of Liberal politicians from across Europe who will lead the fight against populism.

He highlighted the crucial EU role in making the likes of Google pay their taxes.

We won’t solve the Trump problem, he said, by grovelling to him and throwing him lavish state visits, but by standing up to him as part of the EU.

He set out our unique pitch – as the biggest and best organised of the Remain parties who has been fighting for for EU values for 50 years.

Watch the whole thing here

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Paul Holmes writes…Fighting Labour in Chesterfield

The new LD Council Group in Chesterfield minus Kelly Thornton who has gone on a well deserved holiday. Centre front are Cllr Paul Holmes former MPa nd Cllr Emily Coy Parliamentary Candidate.

In 2015 Chesterfield Lib Dems returned only 9 Cllrs, our lowest number since the 1980s. On Thursday we elected 17, missed one more by one vote (after 3 recounts) and another by 53 votes. 

The historian in me points at past precedent. In 1995 we elected 10 Cllrs, in 1999 it was 19 and in 2003 it was 37. There was also the minor side issue of electing the MP in 2001. So, we are now looking forward to the 2023 Council elections with considerable anticipation – and have already started the planning!

Our excellent gains of seats and Council control across England are a source of great joy. At a personal level I am particularly pleased at the Hinckley and Bosworth result where my old friends Stuart Bray and Michael Mullaney masterminded and drove another fantastic campaign as they always do. Then there is Southport where my friend and former Parliamentary colleague John Pugh and his colleagues did well.

However, my greatest delight is in those areas where we made progress against Labour. For half a century we have won most of our Councillors and MPs from the Conservatives in generally more affluent areas. Winning against Labour has always been much harder and less usual. When we won the Chesterfield Parliamentary seat in 2001 it was, I think, only the second time since WW2 that we had won a seat direct from Labour (without a prior by election success) in a General Election. 

So, the less glamorous progress against Labour on Thursday was what I especially noticed – in Liverpool, Sheffield, Derby, Barnsley, Sunderland and Bassetlaw for example. I have asked ALDC and as far as they could tell me Chesterfield, with 7 gains from Labour and 1 from UKIP, had the highest number of gains from Labour in England. This is a source of particular satisfaction to me.

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ICYMI: Labour’s Barry Gardiner telling Tories Labour were trying to bail them out on Brexit

Coming to  a Lib Dem risograph near you very soon, I would imagine.

Seriously, Labour’s shadow international trade minister told Tory James Cleverly ON LIVE TV that “We are in there trying to bail you guys out” on Brexit.

You could not make it up. No wonder reports from the talks earlier this week made them sound like a love in. And here is the moment where he actually says it:

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Isabelle Parasram writes…Shall we talk about race equality?

When is it a good time to talk about race equality? 

In political organisations, as with many others, that time can often be ‘tomorrow’

With the number of fires that any organisation has to fight every day – more so with political parties – diversity issues are often last on the agenda. 

But they can’t be the last on our agenda. 

As a barrister, I was recently asked, during an interview, to name the biggest legal issues likely to impact large organisations. 

My answer surprised the interviewer. 

It wasn’t breaches of data, financial misconduct or cyber crime. 

It was: ‘…diversity and sexual impropriety…’. 

The latter is, perhaps, down to my role as Special Investigation Counsel and similar work that I carry out elsewhere. 

The former is because I believe diversity to be one of the foundational markers of a successful organisation. 

But it seems that it will always be an issue that will remain on the back burner unless it becomes a fire to fight. 

Thankfully, that is already the case with many corporate institutions who have either embraced diversity because of the enormous benefits it brings or, disappointingly, have had to do so just to meet targets. 

Either way, it has made a difference.

The reality is this. 

Take a look at how we are perceived externally (quotes taken from The Operation Black Vote BaME Local Political Representation Audit, 2019):

‘Our findings raise some fundamental questions in general about belonging, having a voice, and how political parties are failing to understand their role to ensure inclusive representative democracy. Specifically both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are both in a really poor place when it comes to their BAME councillor representation. The percentage breakdown of BAME councillors presently is: Labour 84%, Conservatives 11%, Liberal Democrats 3% and 2% other affiliations.

BAME Councillors are disproportionately affiliated with the Labour Party at 84.2%, followed by the Conservative Party at 10.9%, the Liberal Democrats at 3.1%, and 1.8% are affiliated with other parties or independents.’

I have no doubt that almost everyone in the Lib Dems sees race equality as a key issue. Perhaps some even see it as a top priority. 

This is certainly the view of Lord Alderdice, who, in his 2018 Report entitled Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats stated: 

‘… if there is to be positive change, the approach to race and ethnic minorities has to become a top priority.’

What I doubt is that we know quite what to do about it. 

I’ve spoken to local Party Chairs who have said they don’t want to get it wrong, they don’t know where to start, they don’t want to appoint a Diversity Officer out of tokenism, they don’t have the resources…

All of these comments come from people who, at their core, want to do so good a job that they aren’t actually doing it. This isn’t because they don’t care or they don’t want to care. It’s because they are hesitant to make a start and then fail at something that – broadly speaking – they really want to do well.

I’ve been asked if it’s obligatory to appoint a Local Party Diversity Officer as per my recent email to Local Party Chairs. No, it isn’t. 

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The Lib Dem Lowdown: A guide for new members – Local elections 2019 special

Welcome to the 1300 people who have joined the Liberal Democrats in the last day or so since our local election gains surpassed all our expectations.

It’s actually been really heartwarming to wake up every morning for the last few weeks and see a whole rush of “I just joined the Lib Dems” posts on Twitter.

Every so often I roll out this post, which is basically a rehash of an article that I first wrote in May 2015 when many joined the party in the wake of the General Election result. I thought it might be useful to tell you a little bit about how our party works and give you a bit of an idea of the opportunities open to you. If you are not yet a member, if you like what you read, sign up here.

What do we believe?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of organisation, the best statement of who we are and what we’re about can be found in the Preamble to our Constitution which underlines how we believe in freedom, opportunity, diversity,  decentralisation and internationalism. Here’s a snippet:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject allprejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. We expect our views to be challenged and feel free to challenge others without rancour. We can have a robust debate and head to the pub afterwards, the very best of friends.

Obviously, our priority at the moment is to stop Brexit, but there is so much more to us than that. That bit about no-one being enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity shapes everything that we do.

Your rights as a member

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Jo: If you want a future in the EU, you need to vote Liberal Democrat

Jo Swinson went on The Andrew Marr Show today to give an unequivocal message that a vote for the Liberal Democrats was a vote to stop Brexit.

In contrast, she warned that a vote for Labour was a vote for Brexit.

She also said that it was a shame that pro Remain parties weren’t voting together in the European elections, but she emphasised that they would continue to work together in Parliament for a People’s Vote to ensure we could stay in the EU.

Jo faced some challenging questions from Mishal Hussein. The very first one was about austerity and its effect on local government and how that squared with our local elections campaign.

Jo answered that one as well as she could, pointing out the effectiveness of Liberal Democrat councils and councillors in delivering for their communities but acknowledging the cuts and the economic crisis at the time when the Coalition Government came to power and highlighting how much worse the Conservatives got when we left Government.

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Sheila Ritchie heads Scottish European list

As he launched the Scottish Liberal Democrats list of candidates or the European election, Willie Rennie stressed that every vote for a Lib Dem MEP will help stop the division and damage imposed by Brexit.

The list includes a partner in an Aberdeen law firm who has spent 20 years supporting start-up businesses and entrepreneurs in the North East, the former head of the European Parliament’s office in Scotland, and an EU citizen who represents the hundreds of thousands of people who have made their home in Scotland but whose futures are put at risk by Brexit.

The list is as follows:

  1. Sheila Ritchie
  2. Fred Mackintosh
  3. Catriona Bhatia
  4. Vita Zaporozcenko
  5. John Edward
  6. Clive Sneddon

Willie said:

I am delighted to announce our list of candidates for the European elections. We have a strong group of people who are committed to protecting our place in Europe.

This election gives voters an opportunity to demand an end to the constitutional chaos we’ve endured for years. People are fed up with Brexit and listening to all the arguments. It has divided our country and damaged our economy for long enough.

A vote for Scottish Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit and will send a message to the SNP on their unwanted independence plans. Every MEP we gain in Scotland will help make the division and damage stop.

Sheila Ritchie said:

I am thrilled to be leading the fight to secure Lib Dem seats in Brussels and a chance to stop the chaos of Brexit dead in its tracks. This election provides us with a tremendous opportunity.

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+++European Election candidate lists announced for England and Wales

Today the Liberal Democrats announce the list of MEP candidates in England and Wales for the EU elections on the 23rd May (Scotland should follow later today).

The diverse list of candidates includes former MEPs, current Councillors and other hard working community activists.

The Liberal Democrats will fight the elections as an unapologetically pro-European Party campaigning hard for People’s Vote with an option to remain in the the EU.

Vince Cable commented:

Today we’ve announced a strong, diverse mix of candidates, from those who’ve joined the Liberal Democrats recently to those with long experience of the European Parliament.

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Help ALDC win more council seats

With everything that’s happening nationally, one thing remains certain – it’s vital that our party achieves a good set of results on Thursday 2 May.

Word on the street is that support for the big two parties is soft and where local Liberal Democrat teams are working hard, we are in a strong position to make gains.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to donate to ALDC’s Local Election Appeal, time is running out to make a difference – in many councils, postal votes will start landing on doormats next week.

100 Lib Dem candidates in target wards from Kent to Cumbria have already received letters to 25,000 crucial postal voters, paid for by generous donations. We now want to do even more to make sure these wards are Lib Dem gains on the night.

We can only help our candidates get across the line in these target wards if we raise another £5,000 for the Local Election Appeal by the end of next week. 

Can you donate today to help Liberal Democrat candidates get across the line in 100 wards?

If you would like to send a cheque (made payable to ALDC), our address is: ALDC, 2.07 Boat Shed, 16 Exchange Quay, Salford M5 3EQ.

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From All Fools’ Day to All Ghouls’ Day – what next to stop Brexit?

The commentary on last night’s EU summit was presented as Theresa May going to beg for favours from foreigners. I saw it a bit differently. You see, I see the EU 27 as my leaders. I’m a European. I’m a citizen of the European Union. These people, down a long and convoluted democratic chain certainly, are accountable to me. They are my leaders in the same way as the UK Government  – although the latter infuriates me a lot more and pleases me a lot less – and the Scottish Government  and my Council are. And, frankly, out of that lot, the EU 27 are the pick of the bunch.

In the context of Brexit, the EU have, to be honest, been fair, firm, adult and where they have leaked stuff to the press, have been more authentic and less inflammatory than the Members of Parliament in her own party. I can’t believe that I actually live in a universe where Mark Francois isn’t a Harry Enfield character but actually has a vote in the mother of Parliaments. Perfidious Albion on speed? Really? He actually wants our international reputation to be mud?

I have a lot more confidence in the EU27 to acquit themselves with honour than the UK Government. And they were nothing but reasonable in their deliberations. They want a sensible solution to all of this. What they are getting in return is incoherence and the strategic ability of a two year old who wants that sweetie at the checkout and thinks that throwing a tantrum is going to get it for them.

You have to credit them with some sense of humour. The first Brexit cliff edge was chosen by us – near April Fool’s Day. This one has been chosen by the EU – Hallowe’en. The jokes will be writing themselves for the next six months.

It would be wrong to think that we have six months, though. May will have a go at persuading her recalcitrants to pass her terrible deal in the next few weeks and she might succeed. It might pass by a vote or two. And we’d be headed into a poorer, more isolated future on the basis of a handful of ERG types and Brexiteer Labour MPs. That is so not how it should be, but the danger has not passed.

The last thing the Tories want to do is fight the European elections. What on earth would be the point in voting for them? How do they write a manifesto that the Dominic Grieve and Mark Francois wings of the party can support? They will try not to have to and we have to make sure that they don’t succeed in their aim.

The Euros, if they happen, offer a huge opportunity for Liberal Democrats, especially as EU citizens have the chance to vote for the Party that’s been doggedly trying to stop Brexit from the start. We stand to gain several seats. Sure, Farage’s mob will win some, too, but the opportunities for the highly motivated Remain campaign to gather behind Remain candidates will make us win too. In Scotland not far off half a million people signed the Revoke petition. In 2009, 174000 people elected George Lyon as MEP. This is doable, people.

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WATCH: New Lib Dems Local Elections Broadcast – Those who seek to divide us will never win

The Party has launched it’s “new” local election broadcast. Well, actually, it’s the same one we’ve been using for a few months – which is fine, because it’s a cracker – with an extension highlighting the Council elections.

I personally love this one – it reminds us that only 7 years ago, we were all loving Danny Boyle’s diverse and wonderful opening of the Olympics.

And it’s a reminder that we can stop being collateral damage in the Conservative Party’s civil war and go back to being a country that works together to solve the problems of poverty and inequality.

Enjoy – and share as widely as you can. 

But those who seek to divide us will never win. We demand better than Brexit.

Labour and the Conservatives are fighting amongst themselves, and they have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to local services.

When it comes to local elections, you want someone who understands your community.

Someone who understands how important quality social care, strong local schools and well funded police and hospitals are to your local area.

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Jo Swinson MP writes….The next steps for shared parental leave

Today marks the 4th anniversary of shared parental leave – one of my proudest achievements as Employment Relations Minister. Shared Parental Leave is good for children, good for families and good for equality in the workplace.

I was so happy that last year when Gabriel was born, Duncan and I were able to share our parental leave and take it in turns to get to know our newest family member. I got to help Gabriel figure out how to roll over and sit up, and by the time Duncan took over he was busy weaning Gabriel onto solid food. It also meant I could come back to work for six weeks last summer to do my summer tour in East Dunbartonshire and to go to Lib Dem Conference in Brighton.

And I couldn’t think of a better way to mark the anniversary than to spend it with some wonderful dads!

We had eight fathers – and two little ones — join us yesterday morning to talk about shared parental leave and their experience of fatherhood. It was so great to hear about the joys and challenges they have faced.

One of the dads who had only gone back to work this week after six months of taking care of his little boy described it as the ‘best six months of his life’. He and his wife had four months off work together and that really helped them learn together about parenting and reduced the time where one parent is left home, trying to figure it all out and sort through the endless advice and information online.

Others agreed how important it was for them to experience bringing up a baby on their own, getting to know the various tricks to keep baby happy, understanding the mundanity of play, eat, sleep and repeat and just how little time that leaves you for yourself.

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Jo celebrates anniversary of shared parental leave with dads and babies

It’s 4 years today since one of the best achievements of the Lib Dems in Government started – the right of parents to decide between themselves who takes leave when they have a baby.

Jo Swinson was the minister who made it happen and in a cracking thread on Twitter with some fantastic GIFs, she celebrates the anniversary.

She recorded this video:

Yesterday, Jo was on Victoria Derbyshire.

Vanessa Pine was Jo’s special adviser at the time. She helped put the system together. She’s written about how important it is to change the culture to make sure that more dads can take up shared parental leave.

She introduced the concept of “mumsplaining” as an example of what needs to change:

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Judith Jolly writes: Lib Dem Brexit health win in the Lords

In the midst of all the Brexit chaos, I want to take a moment to reflect on a significant and unreported win for the Liberal Democrats against the Conservative Government. 

A few months ago, a Bill was introduced into Parliament which seemed fairly uncontroversial – it’s aim was to replicate our reciprocal healthcare arrangements with other countries in the event of Brexit (either in a deal or no deal scenario). However, the Conservative Bill went much further than replicating healthcare with EU countries and was is in fact much more threatening. It opened up health deals with the whole world, one of our fears being that that in Liam Fox’s frantic attempts to sign a trade deal, the Tories were planning to put the NHS on the table as well.  As a result, Sal Brinton, Jonathan Marks and I – along with members of the Labour Party and the crossbenches spent weeks challenging the Government to limit the application of the Bill – with great success! 

One of the privileges of being members of the European Union, is that no matter where we are in the EU, our health needs are safeguarded when we need medical attention. Under EU agreements, the UK has participated in a variety of reciprocal healthcare arrangements with other countries, with the result being that all citizens and visitors are protected. 

The Liberal Democrats with cross-party support worked to amend the Bill significantly. We were clear that this Bill must only allow ministers to replace the health deals we already have with the EU, the EEA and Switzerland. 

The Bill’s scope was extraordinarily wide, and the powers included were unjustifiable. In November, the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee described its scope as “breath-taking”. 

The Bill had a worldwide scope, it did not just apply to EEA countries and Switzerland – countries we will need to establish healthcare arrangements with in the event of Brexit. We made sure to limit this. 

Not only did Liberal Democrats feel that worldwide powers were being snuck through in the guise of Brexit legislation and were unnecessary, but there was a genuine fear that this was an attempt to allow the NHS to be used as part of trade arrangements when creating new trade deals with countries such as the USA or China. We were witnessing the Conservative Government attempting to steal powers for ministers in Whitehall which could see them selling our NHS down the river. 

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Ed Davey leads efforts to suspend loan charge enforcement

Today in the House of Commons, Ed Davey, as one of the proposers of a motion on backbench business day, will call on the Government to suspend enforcement of the 2019 Loan Charge.

HMRC is currently pursuing people who, as  contractors years ago, took part in perfectly legal schemes whereby they took their salary as loans from a company and therefore paid a lower rate of tax.  They now face bills for arrears of tax out of the blue. In some cases, it could be hundreds of thousands of pounds. These aren’t super rich people and what they were doing was absolutely transparent and above board at the time. They are now being pursued for tax in a way that they never expected.

Closing a loophole is one thing. Making it retrospective is another.

The motion for debate today says:

That this House expresses its serious concern at the 2019 Loan Charge which applies from 5 April 2019; expresses deep concern and regret about the effect of the mental and emotional impact on people facing the Loan Charge; is further concerned about suicides of people facing the Loan Charge and the identified suicide risk, which was reported to HMRC; believes that the Loan Charge is fundamentally unfair and undermines the principle of the rule of law by overriding statutory taxpayer protections; expresses disappointment at the lack of notice served by HMRC and the delays in communication with those now facing the Loan Charge, which has further increased anxiety of individuals and families; is concerned about the nature and accuracy of the information circulated by HMRC with regard to the Loan Charge; further regrets the inadequate impact assessment originally conducted; understands that many individuals have received miscalculated settlement information; calls for an immediate suspension of the Loan Charge for a period of six months and for all related settlements to be put on hold; and further calls for an independent inquiry into the Loan Charge to be conducted by a party that is not connected with either the Government or HMRC.

Ed has been at the forefront of trying to get the Government to think again and is chair of an All Party Parliamentary Group on the issue.

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Article 50: Into extra time

I suspect I was far from the only Liberal Democrat who had a stiff drink pre-arranged for 11pm last night , to drown my sorrows if the UK did crash out of the European Union. The notice of a reprieve was quite short, but for Remainers the threat still hangs over us, like the sword of Damocles. As Article 50 moves into extra time, the EU has made clear that it is serious that 12 April is the next deadline, just two weeks away, when a No Deal scenario will snap into effect as the default option unless the British government manages to produce a rabbit out of the hat.

Alas, our zombie Prime Minister, Theresa May, is incapable of such magic. Indeed, she has already paraded her dead parrot of a Withdrawal Agreement three times to no effect, yesterday  afternoon serving it up without the accompanying political declaration. It was still defeated by nearly 60 votes, Nigel Dodds of the DUP declaring that his party would rather stay in the EU than agree to it.

The House of Commons vote was live-streamed to a packed The UK in a Changing Europe conference on “Article50: Two Years On” at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre opposite Parliament, prompting a big cheer from most of those present. But have we in fact now been granted anything more than another fortnight to enjoy the EU sun? Or are we heading for a new referendum at some stage, when, as polling guru Sir John Curtice told the conference, voters have polarised to two extreme alternatives: No Deal or Remain?

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Revoking Article 50 would not break our democracy

So the Government was defeated twice last night, which paves the way for MPs to set the agenda on Wednesday.

However, it managed to see off a perfectly reasonable amendment from Margaret Beckett which would have made sure that the House would have had control of what would have happened if we got to 7 days from the deadline with no deal in place.

This amendment was defeated by 3 votes. 8 Labour MPs voted with the Government against it.

The fact that so many votes are so finely balanced is really worrying. Theresa May would see getting her Brexit deal through by one vote as a victory. That would mean probably a decade of uncertainty and a whole generation pretty much sold down the river.

If you are making a major life choice, for example getting married or, I guess, the more appropriate analogy is getting divorced, you have to be sure you are doing the right thing.

MPs are obviously conflicted so the obvious answer is to preserve the status quo before any further damage is done. We are at the point where revoking Article 50 is the only option we have.

That would have its problems, for sure. People do have some genuine concerns that such a move would be harmful for democracy.

I hope I can allay some of those fears.

Every credible large sample poll has put Remain in the lead in the last few months. Over 5.5 million people have felt moved to sign a petition which essentially calls for the government to just make Brexit stop. Twice in 5 months the streets of London have been filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters.

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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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