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Radical, distinctive and quite possibly the start of something big

How do we get off 8%? We’ve been at or around that figure in the polls since well before the 2015 election, and despite our very clear and principled stance on Brexit, we’re still stuck.

Maybe we just need some ‘events, dear boy’. We’ve had precious few parliamentary by-elections, which were the lifeblood of the party’s momentum in the 1960s, 70s and 90s, and we haven’t had the kind of Iraq War issue that puts us on the right side of public opinion and leaves the Conservatives and Labour on the wrong side. But do we just wait for such an event to arise?

No, we have to grasp the nettle and do something, and if you’re going to be in Southport for the Lib Dem conference, please come to a fringe meeting that involves doing just that. It’s only for an hour, and at 6.15pm on the Saturday night before the alcohol starts flowing. But it’s aimed at starting the ball rolling towards the party finding a handful of policies that can define us as a caring, distinctive and radical social force in British politics.

Entitled ‘Radical Liberalism – defining what we stand for’, it builds on a paper Paul Pettinger and I wrote in the autumn, and which was the subject of a piece we jointly wrote on LDV on 27 October. Many of the responses from LDV readers were very helpful, and have helped shape the meeting we’re organising in Southport in association with Social Liberal Forum and Compass.

The two central thrusts of that paper – which are also the two thrusts of our meeting – are that we need to be defined in policy terms, not in relation to other parties, and we need to frame our policies so others who support what we stand for in elections where we can win (and their preferred party can’t) feel able to vote Lib Dem. There is also an implied willingness to work with people of other parties who have a similar mindset to ours, be it pre- or post-election, public or behind-the-scenes. As elections get closer, the media will try to present a Lib Dem vote as a closet vote for another party; we will find it easier to rebut such coverage if we can say ‘We’re clear what we stand for – if you agree with it, just vote for us!’

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Why you should think about submitting an amendment to a Conference motion

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference takes place in Southport in just two and a half weeks’ time. Party members will be discussing policy motions on the NHS at 70, party strategy, housing, Brexit, education and rural communities.

You might want to take note  that the deadline for submitting amendments is 1pm on Tuesday 6th March so you have a whole 13 days to put your amendment together, find 9 people to agree with you and submit it to the Federal Conference Committee.

I bet virtually everyone who has been to Conference has been in the hall and realised that the motion under debate would have been so much better if it had made an additional point or said something slightly differently.  Failure to read your conference papers ahead of time could have you kicking yourself that you didn’t take the opportunity to make a motion better or to spark a lively debate.

Amending a motion can make for a very interesting debate. If a motion submitted by members is deemed a bit too radical by the leadership, they’ll often submit an amendment to make it a bit more on message. They don’t always win the day in these debates either.

Sometimes members feel that a motion submitted by the party’s Powers that Be is not sufficiently radical for their liking so they will submit an amendment that beefs it up a bit.

We Liberal Democrats are pretty good at having high quality, passionate debates on controversial topics. Twice recently we’ve debated nuclear weapons and the tension in the hall has ensured some really high quality speeches. Similarly, one of the high points of the Bournemouth Conference last Autumn was the debate on Brexit strategy. There was all the high drama of suspending standing orders to change the agenda to have a proper debate rather than a consultative session and then a challenging and passionate debate on the substantive issue.

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ALDC’s Kickstart Weekend: my experience attending as a newbie

Adam Bambrough, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Clock House, Bromley Council in May’s local elections, has shared his experience of attending November 2017’s Kickstart Weekend.

I am fairly new to the party and I’ve been fast-tracked to be the candidate in May for the Bromley Council seat of Clock House in Beckenham. I have always been full of determination and drive, but before attending Kickstart, I was unsure whether my instincts in this new environment were correct. I also lacked the knowledge, strategy and technique to win my ward.

However, the training delivered everything I had hoped for and more. I left the weekend feeling more enthused than ever; knowing that my hard-work could now be channelled in the most effective ways.

I learnt to trust my instincts, which I have begun to do, and it helped me write my ward’s campaign plan and develop a coherent message to send to voters. The weekend also taught me to know my ward, which although seems obvious now, I had neglected a little at the time and have spent the months since getting to know every road!

My two mentors were so knowledgeable and went above and beyond the call of duty to help me and my team. I also met so many lovely fellow attendees over the course of the weekend. People I will be friends with and support for a long time.

I cannot speak more highly of my time on the course and I’ll certainly be recommending that other people from my local party go along this year. So don’t delay, if you have elections in 2019 and beyond, book on today to ensure your campaigns have the best chance of being successful.

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Jonathan Marks writes…muddled thinking over the EAW threatens our security

Yesterday in the House of Lords we discussed a report from the European Union Committee entitled ‘Brexit: Judicial Oversight of the European Arrest Warrant’. I regard this as a warm-up to the debates we will be having over the course of the Withdrawal Bill when we return from recess.

I rose to agree with the Prime Minister. Well, when she was Home Secretary in 2014 she recognised that losing the European arrest warrant would turn the UK into “a honeypot for all Europe’s criminals on the run from justice”. It seems that in the intervening period she has suffered some sort of memory loss and is now toying with the idea of pulling out of all of the most important crime-fighting tools we have with our European partners.

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Why it’s time to follow Jo’s lead in tackling sexist behaviour

When John Humphrys and Jon Sopel mocked the whole BBC gender pay gap controversy in the wake of Carrie Gracie’s resignation last month, they weren’t really held to account. There was no great show of remorse from them. The BBC could have taken them off air for a couple of days to underline that they were unimpressed with their behaviour. They and their sense of entitlement were pretty much left untouched.

Until today.

Jo Swinson was interviewed by John Humphrys about the new procedures to tackle sexual harassment and bullying in Parliament. At the end of the interview, this happened:

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Clever question from Vince shows Brexit threat to NHS

Theresa May’s non-answer to Vince Cable’s question at PMQs today about whether a future trade deal with the US will safeguard the NHS could end up as being one of the turning points of the Brexit debate.

One of the huge advantages of the EU is that you have a lot more clout if you approach a protectionist like Trump with 27 of your mates rather than if you show up on your own.

Watch the exchange here:

The text is below:

Sir Vince Cable

The Prime Minister knows that one of the key objectives of American trade negotiators in any future deal after Brexit is to secure access for American companies to do business in the NHS. Will she give an absolute guarantee that the NHS will be excluded from the scope of those negotiations? Will she also confirm that she has made it absolutely clear to President Trump in her conversations with him that the NHS is not for sale?

The Prime Minister

We are starting the discussions with the American Administration, first of all looking at what we can already do to increase trade between the US and the United Kingdom—even before the possibility of any free trade agreement. The right hon. Gentleman does not know what the American Administration are going to say about their requirements for that free trade agreement. We will go into those negotiations to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom.

The BBC’s Norman Smith felt that this would not be the end of the matter.

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Jo Swinson MP writes…Wringing our hands or shrugging our shoulders isn’t enough to fight discrimination

Editor’s Note: Out this month is Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson’s book Equal Power. Here she writes about the battle for equality and you can get her new book yourself from Amazon, Hive or The Guardian bookshop.

With rampant sexual harassment at a corporate charity dinner, the BBC accused of breaking equal pay law, and Easyjet’s new male CEO admitting he was offered £34,000 more to do the same job as his female predecessor, you don’t need to look far to find gender inequality in the news. And that’s just stories from one week.

When I was the Liberal Democrat Minister for Women, I learned that many seemingly different issues – the gender pay gap, violence against women, workplace discrimination, body image, division of caring responsibilities, gender stereotypes, women’s under-representation in politics – are all different parts of the same fiendishly difficult jigsaw. Tackling the problem of gender inequality means chipping away at all of these issues simultaneously because together they reinforce the entrenched power imbalance between men and women.

The backlash in the letters page of the Financial Times last week showed what we’re up against, as writers bemoaned the FT even covering the issue of sexual harassment, and referred to the women groped in their workplace as “silly young girls”. When I spoke out on television – albeit colourfully – against the everyday sexism and misogyny that sees schoolgirls sexually harassed, I was called a “little missy”.

It should be a core mission for us as liberals to challenge concentrations of power, including the power hoarded in the hands of rich, white men.

Gendered assumptions are everywhere. While women bear the brunt of these injustices, rigid cultural expectations about gender also harm men, not least in terms of their mental health. Men are also undervalued in their role as fathers, something I started trying to change with the introduction of shared parental leave.

Our party is not immune to the sexism that permeates through every part of society, but we can all act – individually and collectively – to be part of the solution. We need to recognise the nature of the problem: it is structural and ingrained in each and every one of us, absorbed from the surrounding culture. Changing it takes constant attention and proactive effort. Wringing our hands or shrugging our shoulders when few women ‘come forward’ won’t cut it for our party in 2018.

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The #Hungry4Democracy fast begins

As I wrote yesterday, I’m joining Sal Brinton, Stephen Kinnock, Natalie Bennett, Polly Toynbee and a few hundred others in fasting for 24 hours. It’s organised by the Make Votes Matter campaign and it’s to highlight that our democracy is broken and how badly we need Proportional Representation at Westminster.

Just before 8pm, I finished my meal of Macaroni Cheese and oven chips (going for the carb loading there) and that’s it until 8pm tomorrow. Unlike the brave women of the early 20th century  who went on hunger strike and endured unspeakably cruel force feeding, I doubt I’ll get to the end of the day without some significant whinging. It is very not like me to go without food for any reason. I expect I’ll whinge a lot less if some of you contribute to the fundraiser that’s going alongside it. The funds will be split between Make Votes Matter, the Fawcett Society and the food bank charity, The Trussell Trust.

So why am I doing it? Well, I’m lucky. My vote has elected someone to Westminster. Once. in 30 years and 8 elections. That’s just not good enough. In most of the country, the result of any election to the Westminster Parliament is a foregone conclusion. It first struck me as a teenager back in 1983 when there was less than 2.5% between Labour and the Liberal/SDP Alliance, yet Labour got 209 seats and we got 23.

We might all have a vote, but we really don’t get the Parliament we ask for. Channel 4 did an analysis after last year’s election of what the House of Commons might have looked under first past the post, the alternative vote and two PR systems. It’s a game changer. I don’t think it actually reflects how people would vote in those circumstances though, because there would be less need for polarisation. People would be able to freely vote for the party of their heart, or at least the one that comes closest.

Unlike a woman born 100 years before me, there was never any doubt that I would be able to vote. I’d like all my votes to count, though. As a Scot I am lucky enough to cast my local election vote by Single Transferable Vote and my Scottish Parliament vote has a top-up Additional Member System list.

Sadly, I’m being short-changed on my Westminster vote. It doesn’t work as well and it’s time for that to change. There haven’t been many governments that actually command the majority of the voters. In fact, Thatcher’s mammoth 1983 win gave her huge amounts of power that she didn’t deserve. She had a whacking great majority in parliament on less than half of the popular vote. 

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My first vote and why I’m still #hungry4democracy

I can’t remember if it was February or October 1974 but I do know that it was grey and cold. I was either  6 or 7 and I was walking up Tomatin Road in Inverness heading to Hilton Church Hall where my parents were going to cast their votes. That instilled in me that voting was something that was important to do. I didn’t really understand the issues, but I knew it was important that we were able to choose the Government.

Fast forward a few years to the weeks running up to the 1987 General Election. Although I was away at university at that time, I had decided to have a postal vote as I was keen to vote for Robert Maclennan, the SDP MP for Caithness and Sutherland for whom I had actively campaigned.

As I opened the envelope containing my ballot and, with due solemnity, cast my vote, I reflected that 70 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to do so. In fact, even 60 years earlier, I wouldn’t have had that chance. I would have been excluded from the electoral register purely because I was a woman (in 1917) or a young woman with no property (in 1927).  I thought about the women who had fought for my right to vote in different ways. Many had given their lives and liberty and were subjected to appalling treatment by the state as they fought for the right to vote. Their sacrifices made me determined to use my vote on every occasion. I only failed once, but I suspect that both Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst might have approved. I was working in the target seat of Chesterfield and had been there all week. I simply didn’t get a break from door-knocking to enable me to go home and vote. From that point, I have had a postal vote for every election.

On Tuesday, it will be the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Representation of the People Act which gave around 40% of the women in the country, as well as all men over 21, the vote for national elections. That and further extensions of the franchise don’t mean our democracy is in healthy state, though. Our antiquated First Past the Post system doesn’t give people the Parliament they ask for and it is the worst system for equality of  representation between men and women.

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Lord William Wallace writes…Britain’s deepening political confusion

Anyone who thinks that they know what British politics will look like in 3 months’ time is a fool.  The opinion polls, it is true, have hardly moved since last year’s general election; most voters, it seems, have been disengaged since then.  But among the parties, things are moving, in a very confused and uncertain fashion.

The Conservative Party is in the most extraordinary position.  Here is a party which had over a million members when I was a Young Liberal, which does not challenge the statement that its individual membership is now around 70,000.  It is sustained by large donors, mostly from the financial sector but with some prominent businessmen, which give the central party the funds to manage campaigns from the centre – as we learned, to our cost, in the last two elections, as centrally-funded mailings poured into LibDem target seats.  And it is politically supported – and pulled to the right – by a number of highly effective think tanks, many of them substantially funded by offshore donors and foreign sympathisers. (The advantage of contributing funds to think tanks which promote right-wing ideas, offshore donors are told, is that they remain anonymous and avoid the checks the Electoral Commission requires on party donations.)  The Legatum Institute is openly funded by a Dubai-based New Zealander; the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and most other Conservative-oriented think tanks do not declare their sources of income.  The right-wing media, above all the Telegraph and the Mail, provide a direct link to older voters, though they do not reach many of the younger generation who read news on line.  These papers combine with think tanks like Civitas to denigrate the BBC as ‘biased’, meaning that it puts out a range of opinions that are beyond Conservative control.  

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How to be liberal, Christian and gay

 

 

Recently, for better or for worse, Tim Farron has decided to make his theological opinions (not his faith) front and centre of his public persona as an MP. His decision recently to speak out on gay sex being a sin, yet again, this time to correct what he said on national television during the election campaign last year, has prompted me to want to tell the other side of the story.

I’m a Christian. I have been for over 13 years. It’s part of who I am and it’s what makes me a liberal. I read the bible and I read of a God who stands up for the oppressed; who loves all equally. He calls us to do the same – to love justice and hate inequality. As Christians it is our job on this earth to act out that love for all, to stand up for the oppressed and to do so justly, no matter who they are or where they are from. To treat others the way God treats us – in full acceptance. That’s why I’m a liberal: I believe in the value of each individual.

I am also gay. Which means I know that all too often, Christians don’t stand up for me or accept me as I am, in the way God does.

Let me be blunt: God is not two-faced. God does not judge me on the one hand and fight for me on the other. He doesn’t love me unconditionally, but tell me I’m not accepted as I am. That wouldn’t be the God defined by the perfect love described in 1 Corinthians 13. That’s not my God. Anyone who feels that they can truly stand up for my rights while believing that there is something fundamentally morally wrong with my being is kidding themselves if they believe they are acting coherently.

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Norman Lamb MP writes…On #timetotalk day tell Government to deliver on equal treatment for physical and mental health

Imagine you have the misfortune to be diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps you have already faced this devastating illness, experiencing first-hand the distress, fear and uncertainty that comes with it. A small comfort for many is that, under NHS waiting time standards, cancer patients have the right to fast access to the best possible evidence-based treatment – a right which is fiercely defended by politicians, the media and the public.

But now imagine you are told that you won’t be given the treatment you need. Services are under-funded and under-staffed to the point where the full package of care isn’t available. You are told that you will only receive a shortened chemotherapy cycle; that you can only have chemotherapy when what you need is a combined course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy; or even that you won’t receive the full package because you are over the age of 35.

In short, you won’t get the treatment that will dramatically improve your chances of recovery – the treatment that you should be guaranteed under standards of care enshrined in the NHS constitution.

This would never be tolerated in the NHS, and rightly so.  Yet this is the reality for thousands of people with severe mental health problems, who are experiencing their first episode of psychosis but are being denied the standards of care they have the right to expect.

When the Liberal Democrats were in government, one of the most important steps we took towards achieving ‘parity of esteem’ in the NHS was the introduction of the first ever access and waiting time standards in mental health care. This included a guarantee that from April 2016, at least 50% of people with psychosis would receive a high-quality, NICE-approved approved package of care within two weeks of referral.

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Sal Brinton writes…Transgender rights are core to Lib Dem values

Following some problems in the Labour Party over whether transgender members can be treated as women for the purposes of all women shortlists (AWS), a number of members of the Liberal Democrats have asked me where the Lib Dems stand on transgender rights, including on AWS.

As a party we voted at Federal Conference in March 2016 to use all the powers available to us under the guidance to political parties under the Equality Act 2010. Helpfully, this also links to our clear and long term view about the rights of an individual in our values, best summarised in our Preamble to the Constitution:

‘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 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.’

Under the Equality Act 2010 we are able to have all women ppc shortlists (AWS) & all disabled shortlists (ADS), as well as to reserve places on a ppc shortlist for LGBT+, BAME, women & disabled approved candidates. Our definition for those who are eligible for AWS is based on the self definition of candidates when they ask to go on to the approved candidates list (which can be updated if their circumstances change by sending a formal request to the candidates office to change their equality and diversity form).  We respect the view of the individual as to their gender – it is core to our values – and we’ll continue to do so. 

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Vince Cable’s message for Holocaust Memorial Day: Our words must build and encourage, not divide or destroy

Vince Cable has issued the following statement to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to honour the memories of the millions who lost their lives to Nazi persecution during one of the darkest and most horrific periods in human history. It was a time of unparalleled hate and inhumanity, the lessons from which we must never forget.

Sadly, the horrors of genocide did not end in 1945. Time after time since we have witnessed acts of shocking depravity and persecution across many parts of the world. We use today to remember the victims of these subsequent genocides too.

This

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William Wallace writes: Stopping Brexit isn’t enough – we have to help the left behind

Larry Elliott in the Guardian the other day declared that the Remainers don’t have any answers to the problems of the Left Behind in Britain.  He didn’t bother to claim that the Leavers had any answer either.  Their commitment to deregulation (with abolition of the Working Time Directive one of their first targets) will hit marginal workers in insecure jobs; their hopes of cutting public spending will increase the gap between rich and poor and starve education and health of resources.

But what do those of us who support Remain offer the Left Behind?  Remember that the highest votes for the Leave campaign came in England’s declining industrial towns, and in the county and seaside towns that have also lost out from economic and social transformation.  Middlesborough, Skegness, Canvey Island and Wisbech all returned over 80% of votes to leave.  It was easy for the Leave campaign to encourage them to blame the globalised ‘liberal elite’ for their woes; they have lost out from globalization, and feel patronised and neglected.  Some of their grievances are justified; others are not.  The selling off of social housing and the incursion of private landlords into what were once Council housing estates is not a consequence of European rules or of immigration.  But the loss of the stable employment that their parents and grandparents had IS a consequence of open frontiers and technological change, and successive governments of all parties have failed to invest enough – in education and training, in housing, in infrastructure, in supporting the growth of new local entrepreneurs – to spread the prosperity of the South-East and the metropolitan cities across the rest of the country.

Liberal Democrat peers tackled these issues in a working party over the past year, the report of which is attached here.  We have submitted a resolution for the Spring conference to take the debate within the party further.  Our analysis, and our proposals, cut across several policy areas.  Greater investment in education and training, from pre-school to further education, is central.  Long-term finance for local start-ups, of the sort that the British Business Bank was intended to provide but which also needs nurturing at regional and local level, is essential.  A revival of social housing is urgent.  Most difficult of all, we have to find a way of rebuilding political trust: a revival of local democracy within communities that feel abandoned by all parties and agencies of government, and that see politics as a game conducted by well-off and well-educated people in London.

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Prospects for the EU negotiations

This is the second part of a series Brexit is a luxury for the few. The EU is a necessity for the many. Part 1 can be found here.

The negotiations with EU27 are the point at which Brexit fantasies meet reality. Allegations that the EU needs us more than we need them have been exposed as false as the Government jettisons previously trumpeted ‘red lines’. The Phase 1 joint report of the UK and EU negotiators  shows the Government has given into virtually every EU demand.

This should be no surprise as the negotiations were never going to be one of equals. Instead of ‘winning’ 97% of votes in the EU Council, we now find ourselves alone pitted against a group 11 times our economic size. Past EU accession negotiations were similarly asymmetrical. Candidate countries wishing to join the EU had to accept some 80,000 pages of the aquis communautaire (the EU’s accumulated legislation and judicial rulings) virtually in toto. The best candidates might reasonably hope to secure were minor derogations and some longer transitional periods. Leaving the EU is the accession process in reverse.

Forecasting is a fool’s game but we can be fairly sure the UK will continue to be outgunned. There are any number of outcomes from the negotiations but arguably the leading current alternatives are extremes: Norway Plus or no deal. The EU has offered the UK either the Norwegian model (essentially Single Market including payments to the EU Budget and following EU rules but no participation in the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy) or the Canadian model (virtually no goods tariffs and limited services access but no payments to EU budget and no jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in areas of EU competence).

The May Government has ruled out remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union. Replicating the Canada-EU deal is problematic given services constitute 80% of our economy. So David Davis concocted a have your cake and eat it too Canada Plus Plus Plus option. For the EU, this is unacceptable as the free movement of services, capital, goods and workers are indivisible.

The Council guidelines provide the framework for the next phase of negotiations. By Easter, it is possible a transitional (or implementation) period will be agreed to the end of 2020 (when the EU’s current multiyear financial framework ends). This is slightly less than the two years the UK Government is requesting. Accepting all current EU rules and payments during the transitional period will, it is believed, be enough to prevent (at least temporarily) the exodus of more corporate operations from the UK. However, any agreed transitional period does not mean the end of the economic and regulatory cliff edge – it merely delays it if the UK opts for anything less integrative than the Norwegian model.  

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Brian Paddick writes…We need to reassure people that Liberal Democrats remain the most accepting of all the political parties, whoever you are and whatever you believe

I write as a gay Christian about the tightrope between freedom of speech and religion and prejudice and discrimination.

One of the fundamental principles of Liberalism is to allow people to do as they wish provided it does not harm other people.  When it comes to religion, what appears to be a simple enough principle becomes complicated.

Many religions, including Christianity, require its followers to proclaim “the good news” of their particular religion to non-believers.  There are interpretations of many religions that say intimacy between same sex couples is wrong, indeed that any sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is sinful.  The question then becomes, does proclaiming such ideas contravene the Liberal harm principle?

There are people who think religion is at least, mumbo jumbo, and at worst, damaging and divisive, and that whatever God, his Son or his prophets may or may not have said, it’s all nonsense, in which case, no harm done.

There are others who do have a faith, who are from sexually and gender diverse groups or who love those from such groups (family members, friends, allies), for whom it really matters what their religion says on these issues and who are seriously harmed by such declarations.

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Federal Policy Committee report – 10 January 2018

The Federal Policy Committee met on Wednesday night, with an agenda mostly of finalising items for debate at spring conference.

First up was reviewing the policy paper produced by the working group on education, and finalising it for proposal to spring conference. This is an impressive paper covering a wide range of aspects of education, especially funding, supporting and promoting teachers and good teaching, and inspection and improvement arrangements. It also covers the curriculum, schools structures, Further Education, Early Years, SEND and health (including mental health) in education. FPC has discussed this twice through the autumn and last night had a further good discussion on it, especially around arrangements for inspection, testing and league tables. The motion and paper will of course be published and launched publicly once the agenda for spring conference is decided and published.

The second policy paper item was on rural affairs. The discussion of this last night focussed in particular the section on agriculture following the important speech by the secretary of state last Friday on the planned post-EU future for agriculture and land. We have also discussed fully on previous occasions its sections on supporting local rural economies more broadly, tackling the housing problems, supporting greater communications, both physical and electronic, and flood protection. Other areas such as animal welfare were also discussed in some more detail. This will also be published in due course.

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The next time you think about saying “But what about the men?”, read this

Almost every time an article appears on the internet highlighting discrimination against women and girls, there is likely to be at least one man derailing the discussion by saying “but what about the men?”

Believe me, as a woman who dares to express her opinion on the internet, I come up against this sort of attitude a lot.

Does the same thing happen when someone highlights problems faced by men? I certainly haven’t been aware of it.

However, this week blogger Jessica Eaton wrote a thought-provoking piece about the different reactions she has had when running projects aimed at helping men and  women.

Five years ago, she and her family set up a charity aimed at supporting adult men with addiction and mental health problems. They have done some amazing work in that time. When she writes about it, does she get abuse for not doing work for women?

I can’t tell you about the hundreds of messages or tweets we get asking ‘what about women?’ – because it’s never happened.

I don’t have any stories about the times we got sent a tonne of abuse when we conducted research with general public in the community about male mental health stigma – because it’s never happened.

I can switch over to the TEF twitter account right now and write literally anything about men and nothing bad will ever happen. Our Facebook page has thousands of followers and we never get threats, abuse or whataboutery.

That’s great and as it should be.

But what about when she does stuff aimed at helping women, including the research for her PhD thesis which is about victim blaming of women and girls in the media and other studies aimed at supporting women who have been victims of violence? That’s a completely different story.

I did one study where there was a free text question at the end and a whopping 9% of respondents chose to use that box to criticise me for not researching men. I say whopping because the free text box didn’t even ask them a question about that and 63 people still managed to use the box to whack in some ‘whataboutery’.

Not only that but a further 14% (over 90 people) left comments that were just plain nasty or abusive. One guy told me that my work was shit and he hopes I fail my PhD. And then left his full name and job title. He was an academic at a university. In my field. He even put some kisses on.

Why does she think this is happening?

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Jane Dodds’ New Year Message: Welsh Liberal Democrats are fighting back

Dymuniadau Gorau i chi gyd dros y Blwyddyn Newydd/ Best Wishes to you all for the New Year.

2018 will be the year of the Welsh Liberal Democrat fight back, with renewed energy in our activists, key policies which will change the lives of Welsh people, and a focus on winning seats.

We want to see a Wales that has social justice as its backbone – rethinking a punitive benefits system which wages war on the poor.  We want to see a Wales that looks out to Europe – leaving the EU would be a disaster for Welsh farmers and businesses.  We want to see a Wales that  welcomes refugees – building on its proud history of internationalism.  We want to see a Wales that has a health system that is fair – English people have waiting times for planned operations that is half that of Welsh people.  We want to see an economic plan for Wales that will breathe new life into its urban and rural areas – promoting innovation in green industries.  

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WATCH: Vince Cable’s New Year message – Liberal Democrats are the party who stand up for the underdog

Vince’s New Year message is a little different. It’s another of these W1A style videos where he goes completely off piste from the remarks prepared for him by his team. Which would never, ever happen in real life, obviously.

He concentrates on the principles that drive the Liberal Democrats, challenging vested interests and standing up for the underdog.

He’ll be wanting to get over in the next year how the Liberal Democrats have so often been right and ahead of our time. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Liberal Democrats and in that time we’ve led on issues like LGBT rights, the Iraq war, environmental issues, standing up for the rights of Hong Kong citizens and calling for humanitarian intervention in Bosnia. We should also remember that Vince was the lone political voice warning about the dangers of the credit crunch.

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Why you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers about the Lib Dems

It’s the annual “Trash the Lib Dems” day in the national press with gloomy analyses in both the Times and the Guardian. When the papers do SWOT analyses of us, they do tend to omit the strengths and opportunities and focus on the weaknesses and threats.  We can quite often do that about ourselves, too, and talk ourselves down. There is no doubt that we face some pretty intense challenges in 2018, but there are signs of a plan coming together to meet them and also that the political environment is changing.

The Guardian tells us that we are facing a “fight for our political future”. People have been writing us off for pretty much the last century and we are still hanging in there. I’ve lost count of the times in my political lifetime that we have been told we are doomed right through from the disastrous election of 1979 to the present day.

Jessica Elgot talked to senior grassroots figures, academics and anonymous party sources about the party’s future. They cite our low poll rating, low staff morale, the departure of senior staff and the enormity of the political task ahead to regain seats as the main challenges facing us.  They didn’t mention some key positives such as Vince being absolutely everywhere. He is doing so many broadcast interviews, and going to places you wouldn’t expect, like Nigel Farage’s show where he did a good job. He is breaking out of the echo chamber and positioning himself where he needs to be when the Brexit thing falls apart.

The Times has an article with similar themes (£) suggesting that Vince has failed to spark the Lib Dems into life.

Sir Vince, 74, has struggled to turn his political experience into increased support for his party, which is polling at about 7 per cent, according to YouGov.

An attempt by Sir Vince to encourage the party’s 11 other MPs and 100 peers to engage with each other to devise fresh policy ideas has yielded lacklustre proposals so far.

The “clusters” initiative, which refers to grouped areas of policy, has been nicknamed the “clusterf***s”. One insider remarked: “Like most things Lib Dem, there’s a lot of talking, but nothing ever comes out of it.”

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Merry Christmas to you all

The LDV team wishes all of you the most peaceful, healthy, happy festive time.

We send our love and support to those of you who face Christmas for the first time without someone you love. A loss that is acute every day can feel especially intolerable amongst all the jollity.

We should also think of those whose lives are a constant struggle with poverty and those who put so much time and effort into helping them. I’m thinking of those at welfare rights organisations and charities who prepare and represent them at appeals, of the food bank volunteers who try to make …

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Willie Rennie’s Christmas Message: Scottish Lib Dems stand up for better mental health, education and police services

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Here is Willie Rennie’s Christmas Message:

May I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

2017 was the year the Liberal Democrats turned the corner. We started winning elections again with more MPs and in charge of more councils. I believe that winning is not just good for the Liberal Democrats but is also good for the country.

It means that we have moderate, outward looking, optimistic voices making the case for change and challenging authority and government.

It means that we can shout louder for people who need mental health services. The services are inadequate and must change.

It means we can challenge with greater impact the government and police chiefs on the running of Police Scotland. Without the Liberal Democrats many of the problems of Police Scotland would have gone untested and unchallenged.

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Poll gives Remain a 10 point lead over Leave – what does this mean?

A BMG poll for the Independent shows a majority of those asked are now in favour of remaining in the European Union. In fact, Remain has a 10 point lead over leave which widens to 11% when you exclude the don’t knows:

When a weighted sample of some 1,400 people were asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” – 51 per cent backed Remain, and 41 per cent backed Leave.

7 per cent said “don’t know” and 1 per cent refused to answer.

After “don’t knows” were either pushed for an answer or otherwise excluded, 55.5 per cent backed Remain and 44.5 backed Leave.

Polling since this time last year appears to demonstrate a clear trend; Leave enjoyed a lead last December which gradually shrank, before turning into a lead for Remain in the month of the general election, that has since grown.

So by the time the Government drags us out of the EU, it is likely that a majority of people will be in favour of staying. How can that possibly be legitimate?

This poll does come with a bit of a health warning. The fieldwork was carried out during that week where the deal over the Irish situation was unravelling in slow motion in front of our eyes. However, the deal that was reached on 8th December, the final day of the fieldwork, is simply a bit of fudge covered with sticking plaster resolving none of the key issues. Those problems will loom large in the early months of 2018.

What if the polls turned? Surely the Government would be compelled to test whether their deal has public sympathy.

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Wera Hobhouse argues for more social homes for rent

99 families stand to lose the chance of a socially rented home in Wera Hobhouse’s Bath constituency after the Planning Minister failed to call in a planning decision. In what Wera described as “social cleaning”, these families will be forced out of the city.

In an adjournment debate last night, Wera took her argument directly to the Housing and Planning Minister. She outlined the direct consequences of the lack of social housing provision:

What about the 99 most vulnerable families, who will now simply be moved out of their home city of Bath? They cannot stay because there will be 99 fewer social homes for rent under the current plans. This sort of social cleansing is unacceptable and it gives the Government the reputation of being uncaring. The Minister will know that I requested him to call in the planning decision that reduced the number of social homes for rent by 99, but he refused to do so. The implication is that this reduction in social homes for rent is in line with Government policy, but on Monday the Secretary of State, in a quick reply, said it was not Government policy to reduce the number of social homes to rent. It cannot be both things in this specific instance, so what is the answer?

Wera outlined the scale of the problem. The number of houses being built for social rent is plummeting:

Government statistics show that nearly 40,000 social homes for rent were built in 2010-11, and the figure for 2016-17 was just 5,380. In the 2016-17 financial year, 12,383 council homes were sold under the right-to-buy scheme. Year in, year out, the number of social homes for rent is being reduced.

The human consequences are horrific:

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In the Dorset town of Beaminster Cllr Gil Streets enacted Liberal Democracy: let us not forget that.

News reaches us that former Cllr Gil Streets of Dorset has passed away. Now let’s make myself clear – I wasn’t close to him, but we met several times, I heard his advice and I learnt from him. But thinking back I realised that Gil for me illustrated a political philosophy that was why I joined the Liberal Democrats and I felt that his death for me should not be allowed to slip past without comment.

Gil was not a household name for Liberal Democrats but he was significant – he was part of a generation of campaigners who emerged from the Grimond rebirth of liberalism in the 1960’s. Indeed Gil and his generation went further and he was one of the many who provided the base, the foundation and indeed I would suggest the heart that give the newly formed and merged Liberal Democrats life. Indeed if Gil knew I was writing this he would be at best amused and probably a bit embarrassed.

But he represented Beaminster for years on the Town Council, West Dorset District Council and Dorset County Council, was an active community politician and got things done. That was his objective – getting things done – and he was successful, so successful that he was honoured with becoming an Honorary Townsperson of Beaminster. He had previously been awarded an MBE for his work on Industrial Relations in Gibraltar. The list of Gil’s achievements for his community was long: newspaper reports cite his work securing Christmas Lights, local celebratory beacons for Royal commemorations, as a governor at the local school, activist within the local museum and of course the youth club  – all this as well as being a West Dorset District and Dorset County Councillor and this doesn’t even mentioned the potholes and street lights he got fixed.

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+++Nick Harvey appointed Lib Dem chief exec

The Liberal Democrats have appointed former defence minister Sir Nick Harvey as the party’s chief executive. Nick, who served as MP for North Devon for almost a quarter of a century, was appointed at the end of a competitive recruitment process having served as acting chief executive for three months. Party staff sat on the appointments panel.

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Lib Dems respond to the budget: We would kickstart the economy back to growth and exit from Brexit

So, we’ve seen the extent of Phil’s spreadsheet and it didn’t make pretty reading. An economy on the slide, a disastrous Brexit on the horizon, growth forecasts crumbling – and that’s before we even get to the awful bit. Hammond’s response to all of this seemed so, well, inadequate. It’s like your town is flooding before your eyes and someone goes to Boots and buys a bath sponge to mop up the damage.

If this country is going to survive the oncoming storm it needed massive investment – a social housebuilding programme to rival that in the post war years, investment in infrastructure, a boost to the NHS. What do we get instead? A bit of tinkering and a few little traps set for the SNP to try to bolster the Tories in Scotland.

Vince Cable told Adam Boulton that we’re in a mess, the slump in economic growth costs each of us £700 and that the Chancellor has put more money aside in the event of a horrendous brexit no deal crash than he has invested in the NHS. Watch him here.

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Wera Hobhouse MP writes…My housing priorities for the Budget

Tomorrow, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his Budget to the House of Commons. He promises that housing will be the “number one priority”, but will he put the money where his mouth is?

People’s lives can no longer be dictated by a lack of affordable housing; whether to take a job, whether to start a family – many of these life-changing decisions are now overshadowed by the housing crisis. Access to housing is not a luxury, it is a human right.

To address the housing crisis, Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to include five priorities in the Budget:

Additional borrowing of over £100 billion to finance house building

If the government is serious about achieving 300,000 new homes a year, they must prioritise direct investment in house building. For far too long Britain has failed to meet the demand for new housing. Government intervention is now needed to help shift the market dynamics and spur development.

Empower local authorities to build more social housing

Almost two thirds of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people. To help address shortages, the government must remove the cap on council borrowing for house building and allow for suspension of the Right to Buy. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has been quick to point the finger of blame at local planning authorities, but what steps will he take to put power back in their hands?

Help under-30s get a foot on the housing ladder

The younger generation are clearly bearing the brunt of the housing crisis. In my constituency, Bath, house prices are notoriously high and for most young people owning a house here is little more than a pipe dream. To give people the opportunity to move out of the private rented rector and put down roots, I would like to see new “Rent to Own” homes where every monthly rent payment goes towards owning a house outright.

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