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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. 

Posted in Op-eds | 34 Comments

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.


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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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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 22nd Feb - 9:16pm
    How true, Jonathan and Judy. The words of the late Dean Acheson come to mind as well.
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 22nd Feb - 8:58pm
    David, thank you for that! Our economists have had a field day, or rather several days, of discussing economic policies over several different threads, and...
  • User AvatarJudy Abel 22nd Feb - 8:12pm
    I spoke to someone yesterday who commented, rather chillingly, that Brexit is 'good' for the UK as it is finally exposing us for who we...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 22nd Feb - 8:08pm
    I'm sure this is all very worthy and erudite, but, in the flight away from Layla's original comment about tuition fees, this thread has become...
  • User AvatarJonathan Reeve 22nd Feb - 7:17pm
    England has chosen an unwise Cold War with the EU when in a weak position, no longer financed by North Sea Oil: that is my...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 22nd Feb - 6:50pm
    According to the OBR £4 billion was cut from the 2010-11 deficit, so to discover what a Liberal Democrat government would have spent we can...