Tag Archives: featured

Brexit shambles descends into debate farce

You really couldn’t make up the state of British politics at the moment. The monstrous shambles that is Brexit is bad enough. A governing party riven by toxic split. An opposition that should be 20 points ahead in the polls but is excelling itself only in being more useless than the Government.

In recent days there has been talk of a tv debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn but even that can’t be sorted out. At the time of writing, Theresa May’s going to be on the BBC while Corbyn is cosying up to ITV, saying he wants it all over for the I’m a Celebrity final. I mean, really, the biggest substantive difference between the two is over which channel hosts the debate.

Certainly, if it ends up on the BBC, the trajectory of the evening will be markedly downward from Doctor Who to Strictly to the My Brexit’s bigger than Your Brexit despairathon.

It looks as though David Attenborough’s Dynasties will be booted to a later date. In a quiet but lovely corner of the internet, the wonderful Richard Flowers imagined the debate with an Attenborough voiceover:

Here… in the bleak midwinter… we see the skeletal remains of a Prime Minister being picked over by the vultures from her own Party, whilest a lst sheep in a loose collection of flappy organic rags bleats incoherant mantras about a Jobs First Bexit… And all about them, the country dies…

Vince, Nicola Sturgeon and the People’s Vote campaign are all rightly narked that they are being left out. I mean, after all, why wouldn’t they want to show an alternative opinion that might bring in more viewers?

This evening, Sal Brinton and Nick Harvey have written to BBC Chairman Lord Hall to suggest that the debate as currently planned might breach Ofcom rules. I’m not sure about that, because there’s no actual election, but the party is seeing legal advice. Here’s the text of their letter. 

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Christmas Competition

To celebrate and get in the mood for the festive season I thought that we could have a writing competition.  As many of you (on average at least 4,500 members visit the Lib Dem Voice site every day) write articles, read them or comment I propose a Christmas Article Competition.

The proposed Competition Rules are:

  • An Article should not be more than 550 words;
  • The article in each of the specified areas will be jointly judged by representatives identified as experts in that area by Lib Dem Voice and Lib Dem editors;
  • The starting date for the competition starts as of today to 17th December;
  • The title of your article for the competition should start with the words “Competition: … followed by the title of your article”

Basic criteria when assessing each article will be:

  • The originality of the article;
  • That the article is within the stipulated maximise length required (550 words);
  • Generally, how well has the article presented its argument on the subject matter;
  • We will only accept one submission for each subject area per person (as stated below);
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97000 people per year

Content warning: Sexual violence 

In England and Wales every year approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour of every day.  When you look at the number of adults sexually assaulted each year in England and Wales that number jumps to nearly half a million.  Economically the cost of sexual offences in a year is estimated to be £8.46bn.  

1 in 5 adult women will or has experienced some form of sexual violence.  The numbers of people affected by sexual violence are so large that it is doubtful that there is a single person in Britain unaffected in some way – whether they realise or not is a different matter.  

Along with societal taboos and much needed anonymity, issues surrounding sexual violence crimes remain very shrouded in mystery.  It is this that helped me decide to share some of what it feels like and how the tentacles of power keep inflicting pain long after the initial crime.

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Dear Theresa, If your deal is so great, why not let the people vote on it?

As I write, the European Union has just agreed the Brexit Deal. I’m a bit sad that it’s all happening on what would have been Charles Kennedy’s 59th birthday. He’d have had something to say about all of this.

Ahead of the meeting, Theresa May wrote to the nation telling us why we should all back her Brexit deal. Unfortunately, her letter is all spin and no substance. She paints a picture of a happy, reconciled nation moving forward after Brexit. She uses this phrase “works for everyone” a few times. She might as well have promised a unicorn on every street corner. Jeremy Corbyn’s Magic Money Tree was more real than the benefits open to us after Brexit. May’s own foreign secretary, on Andrew Marr this morning, couldn’t say that we’d be better off after Brexit. He only went as far as the deal “mitigates most of the negative impact.” If that is the best we can do, why bother. Why not just forget the whole thing?

The biggest problem with her deal is that we actually have no idea what we will end up with further down the road. Most of the big decisions – on future trade, on Northern Ireland, take place after we have left. Imagine getting married without having some common ground on whether you are going to have children, what sort of life you are going to live, where you are going to live?  That would be a recipe for disaster. So is this deal.

Anyone who remembers the last time that lot left office will remember that public services were on their knees and the gap between rich and poor was enormous. Their cuts to public services, particularly in the last three and a half years that they’ve been on their own, and their cruel slashing of social security give the lie to any desire to make a country that works for everyone. We really can’t trust them with our future. Most egregiously, she spins us a line on the NHS:

Instead, we will be able to spend British taxpayers’ money on our own priorities, like the extra £394 million per week that we are investing in our long-term plan for the NHS.

I’ll leave it to Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, a GP herself,  to debunk that one.

What annoys me most is the bit about how wonderful it is to end free movement. That will have a massive impact on areas like NHS and social care. We are going to end up having real staffing problems in the NHS. The  Royal College of GPs backed a People’s Vote the other day, citing concerns about patient safety:

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Siobhan Benita is the Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate

Siobhan Benita has been selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor. The election takes place in 2020 so she will be able to build on the high profile she built in 2012 when she ran as an Independent. Then, she ran a really impressive campaign and came within 8000 votes of our Brian Paddick.

Here’s her campaign video where she talks about what she wants to achieve in London:

Siobhan beat Lucy Salek, Dinesh Dhamija and Rob Blackie. It was really good to see on social media that they all had dinner together last night.

As a former senior civil servant, she has experience of making stuff work,in transport and the environment particularly so she has already proved her competence in two massive issues of concern to many Londoners.

She said:

I am delighted to have been selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London.

I will show the Lib Dems can offer a fresh alternative to London’s tired two party politics.

Sadiq Khan isn’t delivering the right solutions to violent crime and only the Liberal Democrats can provide a genuinely public health approach.

The Tories have shown how out of touch they are with London’s values by selecting an illiberal, pro-Brexit candidate.

Only the Lib Dems have truly stood up for Londoners against Brexit and we will continue to be a strong, liberal voice for our city.

Vince welcomed the news:

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WATCH: Vince Cable tell Europe’s Liberals that Brexit can be reversed

Here’s Vince Cable’s speech to the ALDE Congress in Madrid.

The text follows:

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WATCH: Christine Jardine rip into the Tory Budget

On Politics Scotland this week, Christine Jardine shredded the entire budget red book with a few carefully chosen words and some gestures which would make a very fine gif if any of you are so inclined.

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Nick Harvey writes…Reorganisation at Lib Dem HQ

Party members may have read on political websites that Lib Dem HQ is in the process of carrying out a reorganisation, which sadly will see a reduction in the number of staff at our headquarters. 

In common with both other parties we have seen a dip in our income in the year after an election, made all the more acute after two elections (and a referendum) in two years. Donation fatigue and lower revenues are understandable at this point.

This is a phenomenon we have seen many times before.  Politics is a cyclical business, with parties consolidating after elections and …

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Best wishes to Paddy

Paddy Ashdown revealed to Somerset Live today that he is being treated for bladder cancer:

Yes, I’m afraid I can confirm that. I have known for about three weeks that I am suffering from a cancer of the bladder.

I’m being effectively and wonderfully looked after by everyone at Yeovil Hospital, in whom I have complete confidence.

We must see about the outcome, which as always with things like this, is unpredictable.

I’ve fought a lot of battles in my life.

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Jane Dodds writes…Loneliness in Wales

The Welsh Government has just announced a consultation on a Strategy to address loneliness in Wales. We know that 17% of the population in Wales are lonely, with 54% saying they have experienced loneliness at some time in their life. Research shows that loneliness is harmful to our health, and increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. 

Loneliness affects many parts of the population; single parents, those suffering from depression and anxiety, the homeless, young people and the elderly. Studies have found that loneliness peaks in the experiences of young people and then again in older people. For young people, we have seen severe cuts to youth services in local authorities in Wales, and loss of grants to Young Farmers Clubs.  For older people, cuts to services such as day centres, and the Third Sector results in further isolation.  .

Loneliness should be treated as a health issue, and integrated with our approaches to healthy living. For the Strategy in Wales, I would like to see funding targeted to ensure public transport is subsidised, if not free, to target groups, and that rural transport, particularly bus services, are not cut.  This element should work in parallel with an integrated transport plan for Wales.  We need to embed long term funding of community services, particularly from the Third Sector, and ensure that there are befriending services to young people and the elderly.  Finally, Wales needs a new approach to staff and personnel working in this field. It is a  scandal that those who look after our young people, elderly and vulnerable are treated so appallingly. For too long, the care and social sector has been seen as a ”twilight” service with zero hours contracts, poor working conditions and the minimum wage being paid. We need to see this valued group of workers having a more significant profile in our communities. 

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The Budget – Lib Dems react

Senior Lib Dems have attacked the Budget as insufficient to end austerity. In a post on the party website, Vince set out what Lib Dems want to see in a “People’s Budget”:

We would:

  • Secure the future of our NHS, focusing on social care and mental health with an extra £6bn per year, funded through a penny in the pound on income tax.
  • Improve living standards for 9.6m parents and children, by reversing George Osborne’s cuts to the “work allowance” under Universal Credit, costing £3bn.
  • Invest an extra £2.8bn in to the schools budget, by reversing the Government’s proposed cuts to school funding.
  • Scrap business rates – replacing them with a tax on land values known as the Commercial Landowner Levy.  The reformed system would increase incentives to invest in new equipment and renovations, and cut taxes for businesses in nine out of ten English local authorities.
  • Reverse Conservative cuts to Corporations Tax – still leaving the UK with the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7.
  • Work with the EU to crack down on tax avoidance by the tech titans, and working to secure agreement on taxing multi-nationals’ profits.
  • Reform wealth taxation – bringing capital gains and dividend taxes into line with income taxes, removing the most generous pension tax reliefs from the highest earners, and replacing the inheritance tax system with a fairer lifetime transfer tax.

Vince has been doing the media round, telling LBC:

And here he is on the BBC:

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Sal Brinton writes…The next steps on the supporters’ scheme

Following the all member survey and consultation on setting up a registered supporter scheme the Federal Board met on 15 and 22 October. At the first meeting we saw the results of the survey, and at the second the rapporteur notes of the various consultation events around the country. We discussed these results and your comments and queries and considered the next steps.

The Board asked me to thank all those who responded to the online survey, and who came to ask questions and raise comments at the various events, including the two webinars. Many of the issues you have raised are similar to those that have been raised by members of the Board themselves. It’s never possible in the first consultation documents to cover all those issues, but the Board are clear as part of our next steps we will publish a document that responds to them – more details below.

Firstly, the overall headlines of the survey responses. Over 10,000 of you replied: this includes those who answered the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) survey that went out in mid-August, before Vince Cable’s speech and his subsequent survey. Over 75% of all those who responded said that you supported the creation of a registered supporter group. Within that, more than half said that you supported the proposals that a registered supporter should have a vote in the election of a Leader of the party, and also for the broadening of the pool of those who can stand for Leader beyond the MPs.

There was overwhelming support for registered supporters campaigning and being asked what their priorities are for the party in policy terms, and finally, there was substantial support for the removal of the current rule that you have to be a member for twelve months before you can be selected as a candidate for election to Parliament in Westminster. The concerns were mainly around ensuring that there are clear benefits for members that supporters would not have (ie members being able to nominate candidates for Leader, and voting for policy motions at Conference).

In Vince’s proposals he had urged us to move forward swiftly, now that we had some momentum amongst those who are already supporters or who vote for us, which would include taking the elements of the proposals to a Conference so that members can debate and vote on it. Your Board discussed and decided that we should:-

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How to join the Lib Dems at the People’s Vote march on Saturday

I will be up long before the crack of bloody dawn on Saturday to begin the long journey to London to take part in the People’s Vote march. Although make no mistake, our intention is not just to secure a vote but to stop this Brexit nonsense.

Lib Dems will be meeting at the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park at 12 noon.

This country’s membership of the European Union has brought this country so much social and economic benefit. Our sex discrimination laws, maternity leave, workers’ rights, environmental and health and safety protections started there. And we didn’t have them imposed on us – we were one of the most important voices at the table shaping them.

Being part of something larger than ourselves, something that has kept the peace on this continent for almost three quarters of a century, which has championed human rights and democracy, is such a good and healthy thing.

I don’t generally feel comfortable around national flags. I’d never wave a saltire or union jack. They symbolise selfishness and insularity and isolation to me. However, I feel completely comfortable wrapping myself from head to foot in the European Union flag because it is a symbol of togetherness and common purpose and co-operation. 

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Jane Dodds: Liberals fight for the forgotten and the vulnerable

A visit to a Cardiff food bank laid very heavily on Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds’ mind as she delivered her speech to Welsh Lib Dem Conference. Citing examples of someone sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions for not going to an interview on the day their father died, she called for an end to the rollout of Universal Credit.

Her speech in full follows:

On October 13th, 2008, exactly 10 years ago we saw the beginning of major distrust in mainstream politics. The Treasury spent £37 billion in bailing out the banks, to stop the economy collapsing. This Financial crisis exposed fault lines in society that were ignored or unnoticed when times were good. This lead many thousands of people in communities across Wales feeling that they had no place at the table and no hope or aspiration.

All it took was greed from bankers, arrogance from policymakers and complacency from regulators to set in motion a chain of events that would damage countless lives and change the world order.

The past ten years have seen insecure work and underemployment rise.

We have seen workers’ pay reduce in real terms and zero hours contracts become norm.

We have seen stagnant wages, and the UK is on track for the biggest squeeze on wages since the end of the Napoleonic wars.
Austerity and increasing poverty are simply being accepted as being inevitable.

Is it any wonder so many people have become angry at this injustice and feel the system doesn’t work for them?

I want to talk with you about just one of these issues… Poverty. I saw for myself last Friday, what the effect poverty really has when I visited the Cardiff Foodbank.

I saw how a heartless, cruel and bureaucratic welfare system has left far too many people reliant on of food banks and the generosity of their communities just to get by.

Why do we have a system which treats people which such suspicion, since when did mistrust of those in need of help most become acceptable.

And we must not tolerate this.

The figures on those using foodbanks are truly shocking. Last year almost 100,000 food parcels were distributed to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Wales. Yet it is the human stories that affect you the most deeply.

The personal stories I heard about the people using foodbanks moved me. I heard of one man who was not able to attend an appointment with the DWP as his father died on that day. Despite explaining this to the officers, he was sanctioned, and appeared for the first time in his life at a foodbank.

I heard of a single parent who had sold all of her furniture apart from the beds for her and her children to get by, and now was coming to a foodbank. I listened to volunteers talk about how sad and humbled they felt when people left a foodbank who were always grateful for their limited support, and wanting to do so much more to help people in their desperate circumstances.

I cannot believe that I am hearing these stories in 2018.

The most common reason for people coming to foodbanks in Wales is because there is a gap in their welfare payments. These gaps are often due to arbitrary sanctions, and when Universal Credit is rolled out in Wales there will be a 5 week gap between application and payment. This will leave thousands more people will be forced to rely on food banks.

It is because of these stories that I am today calling for the Welsh Government to launch a Cross-party Commission on food poverty and demanding a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit in Wales.

We want to rebuild and repair our safety net so it becomes fit for the future. We must recreate a welfare state that guarantees everyone a guaranteed standard of living and provides a helping hand for all those who need it. That is at the heart of a Liberal welfare state. A social welfare system that is there to support people when they need it most.

And conference, you know I would like this to go further.

I want us to really consider Universal Basic Income. An effective model could all but eradicate absolute poverty, ensuring that everyone receives the money they need to sustain a guaranteed standard of living.

I know there are concerns about UBI so that’s why I want us to push for a pilot to be in Wales to look at how it affects those in both rural and urban areas as well as identifying it’s weaknesses. This can be the future and we could fund it through new innovative taxes, like a tax on carbon usage.

And conference, in a week when we have heard from the United Nations that global warming is as big a threat as ever why are we not looking at radical solutions like this.

In Wales we continue to shout out “what about the Swansea Tidal Lagoon”? I will make no apologies for continuing to talk about the Lagoon and the transformational they can bring across Wales, and the UK. They will benefit our tourism industry, create more jobs and more importantly help protect our environment.

Listen, in Wales, we can lead the way in tackling climate change whilst creating high-skilled jobs and driving our economy forward. Our vision for a Welsh green economy extends beyond tidal energy. It includes solar power, wind power, Community Energy Projects and electric vehicles. Just look at the work of River Simple in Llandrindod Wells – aiming to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport through the production of the “Rasa” car, which runs on hydrogen. I met the designer, Hugo Spowers, some years back and we need to ensure we are promoting and financially supporting this industry in Wales.

Innovative solutions are not just limited to the economy though. We are also overhauling the education system here in Wales, to make sure it’s fit for the future. We introduced the Welsh Pupil Premium, because our commitment to education is something which runs to the core of our Liberal values.

Kirsty Williams has constantly increased and expanded the funding, giving schools the resources to reduce the attainment gap and give pupils the support they need to achieve their full potential.

And just yesterday Kirsty launched a new innovative programme of “E-sgol”s, which will utilise technology to revolutionise rural education. Diolch Kirsty!

Just earlier this month we helped Cymorth Cymru in their campaign to protect the Supporting People Fund… and we won.

Our victory was the result of effective collaboration with the housing sector and is a testament to the importance of having Kirsty round the Welsh Government Cabinet table influencing decisions and standing up for our causes.

Conference we believe in equality and tackling injustice, not expanding it. In 2018 we cannot allow families to be punished simply for not having inherited wealth, or an opportunity to advance themselves in life.

We cannot be timid, we cannot be middle of the road, we shouldn’t keep trying to play it safe and just wait for change. We must be bold.
I know the word “Moderate” has been portrayed quite negatively lately, but it is not a bad thing. To be moderate is to challenge indifference, pursue the path which isn’t always glorious, but is the right thing to do.

Our offer to Wales cannot be a halfway house. We need far more than half measures to tackle the crises of poverty, isolation, climate change and declining public services.

As Aneurin Bevan said said
“People who stand in the middle of the road get run over .”

Liberals have always gone against the grain, always fought for the forgotten and the vulnerable and always stood up for causes no-one else will.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes…Boris Johnson: Has the mask slipped?

Boris Johnson seems to be rarely out of the news.

Whether it is his comments about the burka or taking part in a photo opp mocking Theresa May’s running through fields of corn – there seems an insatiable media interest in him.

And if he puts forward a proposal, such as building a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland, his comments are extensively reported, irrespective of how feasible the policy is.

His treatment by the media is unlike almost any other politician, past or present.

His profile, combined with his immense ambition, has even fed speculation that he will one day be the Prime Minister.

However, could it be the case that his mask has now fallen off?   That perhaps some people are seeing him for what he really is?

That might seem a startling claim but there are some signs that this might be the case.  

Take for example all the media hype about his attendance at the Conservative party conference. 

The reality is that his base within the Conservative party, especially amongst those that know him best (Conservative MPs) is diminishing.

As the respected political commentator Paul Waugh said:

“He just can’t help himself, but can he help his party?

“Boris Johnson’s scripted spontaneity achieved his aim of dominating the headlines for much of the week.  Yet in the process he has alienated many of the key selectorate he needs to win round more than any other: Tory MPs.

“True, he has a small, loyal band that includes newer backbenchers like Ben Bradley and Andrea Jenkyns, plus slightly older hands like Conor Burns. That won’t be enough to get on the ballot paper in any future leadership contest.”

The views of his former boss at the Daily Telegraph are also worth noting:

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Celebrating yet another win in my campaign for greater transparency on parental leave and pay

I am absolutely delighted that earlier this week the Government announced it would be consulting on the Bill I introduced in Parliament back in June, which would require organisations with more than 250 staff to publish their parental leave and pay policies.

Campaigning does work! The numbers in Parliament and the Government’s inability to focus on anything but Brexit mean that more and more MPs want to work across party lines to make things happen. In fact, my Bill received support from Conservative, Labour, SNP and Green MPs, as well as of course from my Lib Dem colleagues. It’s great to …

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Tim Farron writes…Theresa, put your country first

The largely confected outrage at the EU rejecting the Chequers deal has made me reconsider my view of Theresa May. It seems she is more canny than I had thought, and not in a good way.

I often stick up for the PM, at least on a personal level. I go back a long way with her. In the 1992 general election, we toured the working men’s clubs of North West Durham together as we each cruised to a heavy defeat at the hands of Labour’s Hilary Armstrong. Theresa and I didn’t become best mates or anything but I learnt to admire her for her determination and unfussy straightforward approach. She was a Conservative, but she seemed to put duty before party politics.

Chequers has made me question my opinion of the PM’s approach and here is why:

The EU very clearly stated two years ago, and consistently restated, that they would not accept a proposal of the Chequers sort, so who seriously thought that the EU was ever going to accept Chequers? Was the PM hopelessly deluded? I don’t think so.

Chequers would have only given us a single-market type deal for goods, not services. Services make up 80% of our economy, so Chequers would only have been marginally better than no deal.

Nevertheless the proposal was presented as a kind of ‘soft Brexit’ and dressed up to be a reasonable compromise.

Isn’t it obvious now that the Prime Minister drew up Chequers fully expecting it to be rejected by the EU? In fact, they were more than just expecting to be rebuffed, Theresa May and her advisors were clearly banking on it. It was all part of the plan. Not part of the plan to secure any kind of deal with the EU you understand, but the plan to shift the blame and have a shallow political win.

Canny and disgraceful.

Chequers was a deliberately crafted Aunt Sally ready to be knocked down in order to give the Government the opportunity to make a disastrous no deal Brexit someone else’s fault. And the best kind of someone else: the nasty foreigners!

Which begs the question: Surely Boris Johnson, David Davis et al knew that Chequers was never actually going to happen? Surely they knew that it was only a ruse to make the UK government look reasonable and the EU look nasty? I assume that the thinking behind this strategy was discussed at Chequers? Isn’t that why Boris Johnson toasted the PM after the deal was agreed by ministers? So, why did they break ranks – why on earth did we get the flurry of resignations starting with David Davis and culminating in some little-known PPSs?

I can only assume that David Davis had an attack of vanity, and spied an opportunity for some welcome publicity. What fun to have the chance to be vaunted by the right wing press as some kind of Tory Robin Cook!

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Lib Dem fury at Windrush betrayal

So, under cover of an incendiary and irresponsible statement by the Prime Minister on Brexit, the Home Office slips out a statement announcing that it is betraying the Windrush Generation by denying some of them the citizenship that it rightfully theirs.

From the Independent:

In a statement issued late on Friday afternoon, the Home Secretary said a number of Caribbean nationals who came to Britain between 1948 and 1971 would not qualify for citizenship because they failed to meet the “necessary good character requirement” due to committing criminal offences.

Windrush citizens are supposed to be afforded the same rights as British citizens, so the announcement is likely to prompt renewed accusations that they are effectively awarded second-class status.

You have to bear in mind that the criminal justice system has at times been institutionally racist and a black person going through it would have got a much rougher deal than a white person.

And the “good character requirement” has come under fire this week as, separately, it was revealed that children as young as 10 had been failed on character grounds.

Liberal Democrats have reacted with anger to this news:

The Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality said:

Ed Davey said:

The Windrush scandal was caused by Home Office hostility and inflexibility.

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Tim Farron writes: Corbyn is handing the incompetent Tories the next election

The guilty pleasure of my political life is the years I spent involved in student politics. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I attended no fewer than 10 conferences of the National Union of Students – as a result I accidentally became a connoisseur of the various factions of theLabour party. Even as a Liberal, if one spends much time in student politics you are bound to make friends with folks in Labour. To me, Labour is like a fascinating enemy country. We are at conflict with them, but I am somehow fond of their natives and traditions.

Those who today are running Her Majesty’s Opposition, were – back then- selling newspapers outside the Student Union building. Who’d have thought it?

I don’t know Jeremy Corbyn very well but quite like him on a personal level having had the occasional chat over the years. WhenLabour were in power, he was always in the Lib Dem lobby…

Jeremy and his former newspaper selling mates have a problem. They don’t know how to talk to people who aren’t already converted. Jeremy Corbyn has a 40 year history of talking only to friendly audiences on left-leaning causes. He speaks in favour of Palestine to pro-Palestine meetings, speaking up for Irish Republicanism to pro-Republican audiences, promotes unilateral nuclear disarmament to crowds who already agree with him.

The Labour leader is a master of preaching to the converted. I’m not sure how principled this is, but it is neither brave nor wise. If all you do is to go with the grain of the earnest and like-minded people around you, you will ruffle no feathers, win no converts and never get to test the effectiveness of your arguments.

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Liberal Democrat Voice fringe meeting: Trans rights are human rights

The panel at our fringe: from left to right: Back row: Caron Lindsay, Liberal Democrat Voice editor (Chair), Sarah Brown, LGBT+ Lib Dems, James Morton, Scottish Transgender Alliance, Emma Ritch, Engender and, front row, Sal Brinton, Liberal Democrat President.

Most of you may notice the odd advert on Liberal Democrat Voice. These help LDV to contribute to the Conference Access Fund, making it easier for those of modest means to attend Lib Dem conferences. With the advert funds, we also sponsor or host fringe meetings at conference.

At Brighton on Saturday, we hosted a fringe meeting in the Hilton hotel entitled: “Transgender and intersex rights – spotlight on the media”. This fringe meeting reflected something we feel very strongly about at LDV Towers: that when people come to our fringe meetings they should be well fed and have good drinks! There were some very good nibbles and drinks at the back of the room.

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Conference motion: Reforming our party’s disciplinary processes

Embed from Getty Images

There is now a superb summary of all the conference motions on the Liberal Democrat website. This allows you to see, at a glance, the final passed motions, incorporating any passed amendments.

One really important motion was that on the party disciplinary process.

This process was initiated by a motion at 2016 conference to review the party’s disciplinary processes. There have been reviews conducted by Helena Morrissey, Ken MacDonald and Isabelle Parasram. The review was delayed by the 2017 general election. The process was debated at the 2018 Spring Conference, where it was referred back for further work.

The Federal Board has appointed a steering group on Sexual Impropriety Complaints, as recommended by Isabelle Parasram.

The motion at the Brighton conference seeks to set up an independent disciplinary mechanism with trained adjudicators and investigators. There will be a strict logging process for complaints, with time limits for resolution.

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Time for hard headed realism on immigration

Liberal Democrats members have attacked the proposed Migration paper A Fair Deal for Everyone for reasons ranging from fairness, to morality, to family, to economics. But for a political party, it has another fatal flaw. Its well-meaning, wishful-thinking naivety is just terrible politics. It’s time to get politically streetwise with a bit of hard-headed realism. Let’s ask the tough questions, get back to evidence-based policy and demand better.

Meaning Well and Wishing Are Not Enough

I’m sure the people who wrote the paper and its defenders mean well. And I can see how they got themselves into this mess. Two of the deepest Lib Dem instincts might be put simply as ‘Stand up to bullies’ and ‘Why can’t everyone get along?’ And most of the time those go hand in hand. But at times like these, when the country’s split, hate’s on the rise and things seem to be going horribly wrong, cracks can appear between the two. The proposed Migration paper feels upset at how nasty things have got – and I feel the hurt of that too – and wishes, really hard, that everyone would be nice to each other again. ‘Why can’t everyone get along?’ And so it compromises: a bit for immigrants; a bit for people who hate them and want them all gone. But in the real world, wishing doesn’t cut it, and there comes a time when you have to choose standing up to bullies instead of hoping they’ll turn nice if you only half-encourage them.
In thirty years of the Liberal Democrats, there can’t have been many more wince-inducing juxtapositions than one month ago. On August 14th, Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable said unequivocally that, hard as it might be, there was no room for racism in the Lib Dems. On August 15th, Lord William Wallace – a peer I have a lot of time for and usually agree with – gave an apologetic defence of the proposed Migration paper by saying that we have to pander a bit to racists otherwise they won’t vote for us (I paraphrase, but not unfairly).
The proposed Migration paper has the point of view that policy and the British polity should be kinder and gentler, wishing that people were nice, assuming everyone means well deep down and really agrees with us, and if they don’t yet then compromises in good faith will help them agree with us, and if nothing else maybe they’d vote for us after we tell them we agree with them, really, just a bit, and please, please, don’t hurt us. I can empathise. The problem is that the evidence supports none of it. I believe the Lib Dems backing these proposals mean well. But I’m realistic enough to know that not everyone else means well, and that wishing won’t make it so. The fight to make Britain better can be won. But it will take a fight, and if Liberals don’t put up a fight, who will? It won’t be won by acting as if we’re non-combatants who won’t take our own side in a quarrel, saying, ‘If you don’t want immigrants then you have a point’.
I don’t want to take this unduly personally, but when the proposed Migration paper puts forward a well-meaning compromise and I realise, ‘I’m the son of an immigrant and had this proposed Lib Dem policy been around when my parents met I’d never have been born’, it loses its appeal. That’s the trouble with compromising between haters and the people they hate; it always makes things worse for the ones who are already getting all the flak, but never goes far enough to satisfy those who want them gone. The proposed Migration paper proposes as a moderate compromise that I shouldn’t exist. What would I have left to give on the next compromise?

Stop wishing. Look at the evidence. Ask the difficult questions.

Look back ten, twenty, thirty years: the attitudes and policies and hostile environment against immigrants that are now ‘mainstream’ were confined to a few vicious hatemongers like the British National Party and then UKIP. How did we get here?
Has compromising bit by bit to defuse racists worked or encouraged them? Has mainstream politicians talking about ‘valid concerns’ increased harmony? Has fanning flames extinguished them? Has encouraging xenophobia quietened it?
Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 16 Comments

Will party reforms really lead to more democracy?

As anyone glancing down the Lib Dem Voice homepage will become rapidly aware, Vince has recently laid out his plans for the future of the Liberal Democrats, and party grandees and official social media accounts are pumping out a slickly coordinated and prepared promotional run of articles and ads. Whether this is remotely appropriate during a consultation on a draft paper, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader – but I wanted in any case to discuss the detail, so let’s cut the rhetoric and talk about the fine print that’s been conspicuously missing from recent articles. Do these proposals actually present a blueprint that will turn the Lib Dems into a much larger “movement for moderates”? And is that what we want to become?

It’s unclear either how the party will validate supporters effectively and efficiently, or how conflicts between member and supporter votes will be balanced if they arise in this two-speed system. The issue of tensions between Federal Policy Committee’s priorities motions and the proposed priority ballots for supporters has likewise been unaddressed, especially if HQ rather than FPC intend to write those ballot papers. A non-MP leader also raises the constitutional problem of how the parliamentary leader is then selected – if members are entirely cut out of selecting our parliamentary leader then we risk a worrying gulf opening between our policy-making members and our policy-delivering MPs. The right to choose our parliamentary leader is not one I think that Lib Dem members will be happy to give up lightly.

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WATCH: Jo Swinson on cheating pairs, adorable babies and the realities of working and breastfeeding

Here’s Jo Swinson’s speech in the debate on allowing proxy voting for MPs who have had babies.

It was one of the most real and honest speeches I’ve ever heard. Jo talked about her fury when Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis broke their pairing arrangement in July to vote in a key Brexit vote.

She also spoke about some of the appalling comments she got on Twitter after that, including the criticism that she had gone to the Trump demo for 45 minutes but couldn’t manage to vote in Parliament, something which would have meant hanging around for 5 hours.

Jo talked about the intricacies of establishing breastfeeding and how you need to concentrate on it during the early days. Her voice cracked with emotion as she talked about the difficulties she had establishing breastfeeding with her first son. I actually cried too as I remembered what it was like to be syringing expressed milk into my baby, 19 years on. She got there, though, with all the support that she needed.

She was also open about the realities of expressing milk several times a day. I think it’s fantastic that she posted a picture of her breast pump on Instagram the other day.

She talked about the need to have proper breastfeeding and expressing facilities for all nursing babies who work on the Parliamentary estate, recognising it was easier for her as she had her own office and control over her diary.

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Let’s have a proper debate about Vince’s party reforms

The last several days have seen these pages full of unalloyed cheerleading for Vince’s Moderate Movement scheme from the great and the good, and even people who have set up rival parties to our own. We have also been assured repeatedly that these changes will not be imposed on us, that we will have chance to debate them, that we are a democratic party, but here is what I, as a member of Federal Conference Committee, have seen:

– a total lack of communication with the federal committees about this
– all the MPs being brought out to bang the drum for how marvellous these ideas are
– an exponentially larger number of emails to members and supporters alike about this than there were about conference
– a survey which amounted to “do you agree with us that the leader’s ideas are marvellous, or do you want to doom the party forever?”
– insinuations that anyone who so much as raises a question about the proposed reforms is a saboteur, or not behind the leader

Here is what I have not seen:
– any meaningful attempt to engage with the existing party structures
– any meaningful attempt to consult with members
– any meaningful attempt to listen to anything existing members have to say.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 47 Comments

Tim Farron MP writes…Vision before vanity

Former leaders probably shouldn’t write articles in the run up to a party conference, but here goes…

Let’s start by turning the clock back eleven years.  In September 2007 we arrived at our conference in Brighton with Ming Campbell as leader, expecting an early election.

Gordon Brown had just succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister without a fight.

Actually, there had been quite a fight as the Blair / Brown psycho drama had played out over the course of a fractious decade in Downing Street.  But there had been no electoral contest as Gordon took the top job.  David Miliband had bottled it, and John McDonnell had tried and failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot paper.

Perhaps this one horse race struck many in Labour as not being terribly healthy and whilst they might not have sympathised with McDonnell’s hard-left views, they felt – on reflection – that it would have been better if he had got enough signatures to ensure that Brown had to experience some democracy before stepping into Tony’s shoes.

I suspect that McDonnell’s experience led to many Labour moderates choosing to sign the nomination forms of Diane Abbott in 2010, and of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015… A word to the wise: never back someone if you don’t want them to win.

Whatever we Liberal Democrats might have said at the time about his lack of democratic legitimacy, there really wasn’t an enormous clamour for Brown to seek his own mandate having taken on the role a few months earlier.  After all in 2005 Blair and Brown had very much been presented as a joint ticket.

Nevertheless, Labour looked good in the polls.  They were ten points ahead of a fairly wobbly looking Cameron and Osborne (who looked like a kind of very wealthy, poor-man’s Blair and Brown, if you see what I mean…).  Brown fancied his chances of crushing the Tories and so the weather was set fair for an October 2007 election.  Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrats had 40,000 flying start leaflets printed, 25,000 target letters stuffed and a thousand poster boards pasted up ready…

But – two weeks after our conference – on the same day that the England Rugby Union team surprisingly defeated Australia in the 2007 World Cup semi-final, Gordon Brown delivered his own surprise.  He backed down, there would be no early election.  A decision that trashed his reputation and ultimately led to his defeat in 2010… and to the formation of the coalition.

Gordon’s decision to march his troops back down the hill was to make a difference to the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but it also affected us there and then in 2007.

Ming Campbell had taken on the mantle of leading the party in the sad turmoil after Charles Kennedy’s resignation in early 2006. Ming chose to step down following Gordon Brown’s announcement that there was no longer the prospect of an early election. Ming gave immense service to the party by putting his own ambition to one side in the party’s interest.

In the Autumn of 2007, the party needed an Acting Leader to take the helm.  Up danced our Deputy Leader Vince Cable. Having been PPS to Ming, I became Acting PPS to the Acting Leader – I was the lowest of the low!  But I got to see first hand the cross-party respect that Vince built, not only for his deft handling of PMQs (who could forget his observation that Gordon Brown had transformed from Stalin to Mr Bean?) but also for his integrity.

Fast forward eleven years, and as we gather again in Brighton this September, Vince is back at the helm of the party, and has shown the same selfless strength that Ming showed in 2007.    

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the structures of all political parties are still locked into the Victorian model.  Reform is greatly needed. Not everyone will agree with the proposals that Vince has put forward for reform, but the fact that he has put the cat among the pigeons and opened up the debate should be seen as visionary and vital.

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Liberal Democrats need to reform

A central tenet of Liberalism is trust in the people. That’s why reforming our party must be built on greater trust in our members and supporters. And why for me this new reform process must itself be open and belong to the members.

The most exciting change to our party in the last 3 years has been the increase in members.

In Kingston, people who’ve joined us since the 2015 General Election have been key to our revival: from getting the fantastic Sarah Olney elected in North Kingston to our best ever Kingston Borough Council results this May – with a dozen “newbies” now councillors.

Posted in Op-eds | 25 Comments

WATCH: Jane Dodds speak to Welsh People’s Vote Rally

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds spoke to the Welsh People’s Vote rally yesterday.

A poll this week suggested that Wales, which had voted to leave in 2016 had now changed its mind and also backed a People’s Vote on the deal. This is pretty astonishing given that even 6 months ago, there was a substantial majority of people opposed to a vote.

Watch what Jane had to say here.

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My first 100 days as a Councillor

When I joined the Lib Dems in April 2017, little did I know that a year later I would be the first BAME Lib Dem councillor elected in Merton.

I have many people to thank for my journey, but essentially this happened because I was trusted by my new Lib Dem family to help lead our success in Merton and show our values by the way I serve – which is what I’ve tried to do.

The election campaign was intense and emotional. West Barnes was a top target ward and a lot rested on us winning. But it wasn’t easy. Early on the two sitting Conservatives were still confident, delighting in using social media to patronise and ridicule us. Labour brought out their big guns: the neighbouring MP, local parliamentary candidate, Momentum activists and the Leader of the Council who made our ward his second home. He claimed he would ensure there were no Lib Dems on Merton council. This was a battle!

At times it was nasty. I was shouted at by Labour activists when I talked to residents, and people who declared they would vote for us were heckled in the street.

But our campaigns were local, relevant and consistent. We listened and acted on what we were told, committed to real change, and a fresh start. As candidates we were on the streets nearly every day for nearly 2 years, building on years of work by our sitting and former councillors and others. We were not here just to win, we were here to serve.

By the count I was exhausted, and there were moments I felt we may have lost. By midnight as the votes piled up it was clear it was between us and the Tories. By 4am, a recount. The Tories just couldn’t believe we had beaten all their candidates for the first time in 18 years. But we did! We won all 3 seats in West Barnes and had a real breakthrough with our first wins in Dundonald and Trinity wards too. Our best results ever, with a group of 6 councillors.

My first week in I did as I promised and started to make a difference. I organised an inter-faith Iftar (the meal Muslims have to end the day’s fast) during Ramadan – the first ever organised by Merton Council – for local community and faith groups at our local library. At my first Council meeting I proposed a plan to keep local parks free for a football charity, following a big campaign we had run in the election. Residents came to the meeting and brought banners and posters in support. We lost the motion but the next day we were on the front page of the local paper, and more importantly we’re still fighting!

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Vince Cable MP writes…Changing the Liberal Democrats

Politics is changing in the UK and around the world. Conventional wisdom and assumptions are being blown away by people powered movements from Trump to Trudeau, from Macron to Brexit. Old style political parties face a simple choice – change or be swept away.

The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud history of approaching these transformational moments head on — by localising power, fostering diversity and nurturing creativity. We fight for our fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. In short, we live by the very principles that successful movements are built upon.

Earlier this year, we set a new direction for our party, by passing a motion at conference to “Create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities at every level of society.”

It is time to make good on this directive — to transform our party into a wider liberal movement that will bring positive change to Britain.

The proposals I am putting forward today for consultation with all our members involve building up our supporter base, opening it up – at no charge – to people who subscribe to our values. Some already help with leaflet delivery and in other ways.  I would like to see the party offer them the right to vote in future leadership elections, as a way of making them a part of our movement. Of course, we will need robust measures against entryism, and I am confident we can find the right mechanisms.

I am also suggesting that we make it easier for new members to stand for election on a Liberal Democrat ticket by removing the delay before they can be selected.

Another idea is to stop excluding good leadership candidates who share our values just because they have not yet pursued a career in Parliament. Of course they would need to meet appropriate standards, and command sufficient support in the party to be nominated.  This would widen the pool of leadership talent open to us, and signal our intention to be an open and inclusive force.

None of this detracts from the central importance of our issues-based campaigning against Brexit and for the People’s Vote.  It is about building up our strength to fight these battles, and those which lie beyond.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 38 Comments
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