Tag Archives: higher education

We must protect our universities’ freedom

Image result for universitiesIt is rare that governments get to do exactly what they want. Opposition parties, the judiciary and others have traditionally also wielded significant influence, tempering the more extreme ideas of those in power and highlighting the pitfalls of proposed policies.

This era of moderation is, however, coming to a close. Those who once held our governments to account are being systematically declawed.

Politicians who deviate from their party line are subjected to torrents of abuse and the threat of deselection. The House of Lords, with its essential powers of scrutiny, is ridiculed as stuffy and out of touch. And then there’s the Labour party, which is currently offering as much opposition to the Government as a hermit crab would to an Apache helicopter gunship.

The saving grace in all of this has been our universities and their academics, who have argued consistently on the side of reason and reasonableness.

But now our universities, too, are under threat.

It started with the gradual move – in which we were, sadly, complicit – from government funding to student tuition fees, turning higher education from a public into a private good and unleashing market forces into a domain in which they do not belong.

But it did not stop there. The new sector regulator, the Office for Students, has lost the policy-setting powers of its predecessor. The Prime Minister has launched a review of higher education funding that has more ‘red lines’ than a London bus map. And Vice Chancellors, who are forced to bear the brunt of this onslaught, have been demonised by MPs and the media for their salaries and expenses.

Whether or not this represents a concerted effort by the Government to emasculate our universities, the effect is the same. And we risk losing some of the last sane voices in the debate of our lives.

We have long been the party of thinking people, of academics and of students. We messed that up with our ill-advised coalition capitulation on raising tuition fees. But it is not too late to make amends.

So what should we do?

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Lib Dems highlight “Brexit Brain Drain”

The Liberal Democrats have discovered that more than than 1,300 academics from the European Union have left British universities in the past year, prompting concerns of a Brexit brain drain.

A recent analysis by the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s leading universities, found that there are 24,860 members of staff from other EU countries at UK universities, making up 23% of all academics.

Across the country there has been a 30% increase in the number of EU academics quitting over the past year compared to two years ago, according to figures released following Freedom of Information requests.

Edinburgh University suffered the third highest loss of staff of all those shown in the UK, with 96 EU academics leaving in 2016-2017, (up from 76 in 2015-2016 and 62 the previous year).

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LibLink: Sarah Olney: Brexit undermines universities at every turn

Sarah Olney has written an article for the Times Educational Supplement talking about the difficulties facing universities as a result of Theresa May’s push for a hard brexit.

Citing Cambridge University’s assertion that Brexit poses a significant risk to our Higher Eduction sector, Sarah outlines this in detail:

Unfortunately, the Conservative government doesn’t seem to be listening. Theresa May has chosen to pursue the hardest and most destructive version of Brexit possible: taking us out of the single market and the customs union, and even threatening to do so without a new trade agreement with the EU. The government is also refusing to guarantee the rights of EU nationals  living and working in the UK to remain after Brexit.

The government’s hard Brexit policies and rhetoric risk driving away international students and academics. The number of EU nationals applying to British universities has already fallen by 7 per cent compared with last year, despite the government’s assurance that those starting this year won’t face higher fees after Brexit. Some 53 per cent of foreign academics are now actively looking to leave the UK, and 88 per cent say that Brexit has made them more likely to do so in future.

And what about the EU’s Erasmus programme? It gives 16,000 British students the chance to study abroad every year but the government has made no commitment to maintaining or replacing it after Brexit. Last year, the Liberal Democrats delivered a petition to No 10 and the European Parliament, calling on them to save Erasmus. This petition was signed by more than 10,000 people.

And contrasts the Lib Dem view:

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If you thought our stance on tuition fees was controversial… – the case for Lifetime Education

 

Whether you are for or against our actions on tuition fees, we can’t pretend it’s not still an open wound for us. It’s an elephant in the room when talking to non-Lib Dems and when discussed between Lib Dems it leads to a row. The irony is that this all happened whilst higher and further education are in their death throes.

The current model of a child attending school, then choosing whether to enter the workforce until retirement at that point or to take a few years of higher education first, then never attending education for the rest of his/her life, will be archaic.

This week The Daily Mail took a break from bashing immigrants, judges or spinning the “What Can Give You Cancer” wheel and turned its attention on the threat posed by robots “ROBOTS TO STEAL 15M OF YOUR JOBS” their headline roared. Their headline isn’t wrong – whether it’s 15 million, 5 million or one in 11 jobs –many of the jobs humans do today will soon be automated by, for want of a less sci-fi description, “robots”. And, as the limitations of and the cost to produce these robots lowers, the more common they will become. We need to adapt to this.

Over the past 30-40 years the amount of careers available to people who enter the workforce without a higher education has reduced dramatically, with more people being accepted into universities and the ICT revolution of the 1990s seeing many low-skilled jobs move overseas – this, I would argue, has led to the rise of the anger against globalisation amongst the white working class. A generation ago you could leave school, find a decent career – working your way up the ladder until retirement.  This career narrative is now on the endangered list and robots will knock it into extinction.

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In Full: Kirsty Williams’ challenge to Welsh universities over Brexit

This week, Kirsty Williams, the Liberal Democrat Welsh Education Secretary, made a speech at Cardiff University about the challenges facing the sector caused by Brexit. She called on universities to strengthen their links to the community at this very difficult time. Here is her speech in full.

Prynhawn da pawb. Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you Colin, and many thanks to colleagues here at Cardiff University for hosting this event today.

It’s great to be here in the Postgraduate Teaching Centre, where professionals from industry and masters students mix and study in the same great location. It is a real state-of –the art facility, one which reflects ambitions to engage strongly with the local and global economy.

One of Cardiff University’s main purposes is to “contribute to the social, cultural and economic development of Wales”. It says so in the university charter (so it must be true…!)

Such civic ambition, in common with our other universities, was the product of a national, political and educational awakening.

As the Aberdare Committee of 1881 noted, there was a “widespread desire for a better education system in Wales” in the second half of the 19th century. The establishment of our own university colleges was central to the fulfilment of that desire.

I know that ambitions for an even better education system in Wales are shared, and demanded, across the country even now. Our national mission is to ensure that all citizens benefit from an equal opportunity to reach the highest standards. I am ambitious, and optimistic, about our collective ability to shape a system that is modern, excellent and innovative.

Universities are critical to that national mission. They should be open and outward-looking, connecting the civic, social and economic.

I want to take the opportunity today to share some thoughts on the role of universities as civic institutions.

  •   The challenge and necessity of civic engagement following the EU referendum;
  •   The role of universities as stewards of community, city and country;
  •   And the importance of innovation, a start-up culture and international links.

    Just before I move on, I’d like to congratulate the sector in Wales for achieving it’s highest-ever student satisfaction level in the National Student Survey last month – outperforming England in fact.

    Although we don’t take the narrow view of students as just a set of consumers, delivering the best possible student experience is a fundamental priority.

    BREXIT NEXT STEPS

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Why does the Tory Government want students to be even poorer?

If you’re a prospective undergraduate student, you’ll have been shocked to see a number of universities, including Durham and Royal Holloway, offering courses above the £9000 a year threshold, which has now been increased to £9250. If you’re a current student or have confirmed your place for September 2016, you’ll be even more shocked to find out that your tuition fees could potentially increase, after you agreed on a price.

When applying for university, both student finance and my school assured me not to worry about the student loans: I would only be paying it back if I earned £21,000 and until I was 50 years old, and I would be getting a lovely bursary to support me through too, due to coming from a low income family. Of course that’s all changed and I will now be in about £60,000 worth of debt due to doing a four year course and my reliance on the bursary from Student Finance England. With tuition fees rising, is there really any incentive for students to go to university in the UK?

Jo Johnson said that ‘higher fees lead to better teaching’, yet the QS top 100 universities is not entirely dominated by British universities, with only 15 English universities making the top 100 and three Scottish universities making their way to top 100 (all of which are free to Scots and EU Nationals). In comparison there are a number of EU universities making the top 100 which have no tuition fees to EU students, including Germany, Finland and Denmark, with others offering incredibly low fees such as the Netherlands and France and many of these cheap or free courses are offered in English. That’s a lot better value for money if it’s £9000 a year (potentially more) cheaper for the same quality of education and same standard of universities.

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LibLink: David Laws – The road to student retention

David Laws has been writing for Times Higher Education focussing on the worrying number of disadvantaged students dropping out of higher education:

The UK government’s target to double the number of disadvantaged young people going to university by 2020 is laudable. Access to higher education offers a platform for young people to succeed and is central to establishing a meritocratic society.

Nevertheless, while access provides the foundations, it doesn’t build the house. If we’re really serious about meritocracy, we have to be ever vigilant about what happens to young people once they are at university too.

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LibLink: Clare Tyler: Why the class gap is holding back state school students

Private schools educate 7% of pupils, but account for 42.5% of Oxford students. This statistic, according to Baroness Clare Tyler, puts the UK behind even Harvard, the most elite US university.

She wrote for the Huffington Post in the wake of a damning report on social mobility in the UK.

At Oxford, the percent of state school students hasn’t budged since 2002. And today, just 14.3% of Oxford’s students come from the bottom half of households by income. Whilst one in five children are on free school meals, this can be said of just one in a 100 Oxbridge graduates.

She argued that universities and government must do more to make sure that people’s circumstances of their birth don’t define their future.

Making our best universities more accessible is only one of the many steps we need to take to create a fairer and more socially mobile society. It’s not that our bright low-income students aren’t working hard–in fact, research shows that state school students in Russell Group universities with the same A level grades are 50% more likely to graduate with a first class degree compared to their independent school peers.

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Willie Rennie makes fair student finance a Scottish budget priority

There is no doubt that Willie Rennie is being brave in his choice of priorities for this year’s Scottish budget. In truth, the SNP have an overall majority at Holyrood so they don’t need to give any sort of ground.They have done the last few years, though. Last year, they gave extra money for childcare and free school meals in response to Willie Rennie’s persistent pestering. The year before it was college places.

This year, he’s taking a bigger risk. There’s an issue which in the context of the Holyrood parliament represents one of our finest hours and in the context of Westminster our worst. It’s tuition fees. Way back in 1999, Liberal Democrats fought an election saying tuition fees would be dead if they were in government and they kept that promise. We know what happened in 2010. We shouldn’t have done what we did, but, as I wrote at the time, Vince had actually managed to create a system that was fairer than the one it replaced:

However, if there were a way to get it wrong well, he’s probably done that.

Imagine for a moment if the Tories had been in power alone. I very much doubt that their Business Secretary would have tracked down Lord Browne and bent his ear about the importance of the recommendations being fair and progressive. And they are to a point. To play Devil’s Advocate a bit here, if we can’t have no tuition fees (and I’m not conceding that we can’t), then isn’t this a better option than anything else? Nobody has to pay out anything to actually go to university so access isn’t denied to those from less affluent backgrounds in the way it would be today.

And Labour? Would they, still in Government, be talking about a Graduate Tax? Of course they wouldn’t. They’d bung on the fees – although I’m not so convinced that they would have necessarily covered all the angles.  I mean, it’s coming to something when it takes a Tory to bring up the issue I blogged about earlier about interest accruing if someone takes time out to look after children. He confirmed in the House today that interest would not accrue under these circumstances.

Annoyed though I might be with him, I have to at least give some credit to Vince for taking an hour’s worth of utter tripe from the Labour benches with patience and humour. I’d rate him above just about any Labour minister you might care to mention and definitely any Tory. I loved his line about the road to Westminster having the skid marks of unenacted pledges all over it.

Y

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Why Lib Dems shouldn’t keep schtum about tuition fees

tuition fees vote“University tuition fee rise has not deterred poorer students from applying”. That was the headline in The Guardian this week reporting new analysis by the Independent Commission on Fees chaired by Will Hutton:

The raising of tuition fees to £9,000 has not put off students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university – although the gap in applications between those from wealthy and poor backgrounds remains wide, according to new analysis. …

The commission found that university application rates for 18-year-olds in England have continued to recover from their post-rise lows, with application rates for 2014 entry – including students who will receive their A-level results on Thursday – almost two percentage points higher than in 2010.

While students who are not eligible for free school meals – available for pupils from households earning less than £16,000 – remain more than twice as likely to go to university, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students has narrowed from 30.5% in 2010 to 29.8% in 2013.

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LibLink: Tim Farron – In 2010, we promised to deliver the Pupil Premium. In 2015, I want us to promise to deliver the Student Premium

Tim Farron speaking - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsLib Dem party president Tim Farron has given his personal backing to the Lib Dems promising a Student Premium – modelled on the well-received Pupil Premium – at the next election. First proposed by his colleague Stephen Williams, Tim writes the Student Premium “could potentially change the game in terms of student uptake, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds”. Here’s an excerpt of his article for the April issue of the magazine, Politics First:

The Pupil Premium is being delivered only because the Liberal

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Opinion: The new tuition fees argument – having your cake and eating it

tuition fees voteOn Friday, the Guardian published an article pointing out that a lot more public money than expected will have to be contributed to tuition fees loans.

This has been greeted with a certain amount of glee by the usual suspects. On some level, I can understand the excitement, but nevertheless, it looks like a case of trying hard to have this particular cake and keep eating it.

People who used to shout about fees are now upset that after all, the state is putting more money into the system than …

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Nick Clegg and Vince Cable highlight Liberal Democrat achievements in higher education

When I went to speak in the St Andrew’s University debate last week, I did a bit of what I described as getting the tin opener and the worm can perilously close to each other, but pointed out that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were twice as likely to go to university as they were 10 years ago. I also pointed out that those graduates on the lowest incomes would be paying much less than they were under Labour.

I was greatly assisted in preparing my remarks by Stephen Tall’s piece in January on the latest data in which …

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Opinion: A Liberal approach to Higher Education

University campusWhen people ask me why I’m a Liberal Democrat, I simplify it slightly. Yes, it’s because I have a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament and I think he’s pretty great, but it’s also because I quite like freedom, and I think it should be applied more liberally (see what I did there?).

I always describe Liberalism as being obsessed with freedom. It’s a very simple way of encompassing so many of the campaigns and issues we care so passionately about. We raised the tax threshold, because people on low incomes deserve freedom from a punitive tax burden. We legalised same-sex marriage because people deserve the freedom to marry whoever they see fit. The changes to benefits – controversial thought they are – are about ensuring that people aren’t beholden to the state without good reason.

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The Independent View: CentreForum’s three headliners for an alternative Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech today looks set to be a relatively sedate affair. As Stephen Tall observes, “the Coalition is now pretty much intellectually dead” when it comes to its legislative agenda. Enthusiasm for pushing new ideas has been replaced with a business like determination to deliver what is already underway.

The content of the Queen’s Speech is nonetheless important. It will shape what happens over the course of the next parliamentary session, and will therefore influence the outcome of the General Election. If CentreForum had the privilege of writing the Speech, we would focus on three headline issues in particular: …

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Pack & Tall Debate… Tuition fees: what should Lib Dem party policy now be?

In the week of the publication of university application figures, LibDemVoice co-editors Mark Pack and Stephen Tall debate what it means for the Lib Dems’ future policy…

Stephen Tall: The publication of the University application figures for 2012 — the first year of the new £9k maximum fees regime — has something for everyone. Those who have always claimed the prospect of huge debt would deter potential students can point to the headline 8.7% decline in applications. Those who say the new fees repayments system …

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Competition and Universities: building new Higher Education policy

We took a severe beating in late 2010, from which we’re still not entirely recovered. From here, we can go in two directions: we can build a Higher Education policy that we can be proud of, or we can leave our policy in the pieces it’s currently in, and prepare for 2015’s brutal assault.

It’s hard to see a treasured policy fall apart under the pressure of electoral and financial reality. We all know there are positive aspects of the increase in graduate contributions that we can claim as ours: a Labour or Tory government would not have faced the …

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Rennie challenges SNP to set fair access test for Scottish universities

The Press Association reports:

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called on the Scottish Government to put a fair access policy in place, or extend the remit of the the Office of Fair Access north of the border. He said this would not only address the fair access gap for poorer students from England and Wales, but also improve the chances of Scottish students deciding to go to university.

Mr Rennie said: “With Scottish universities now able to set fees of up to £9,000 a year, and Edinburgh and St Andrews universities now the most expensive place to study in the

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Opinion: Pity the Scottish school-leavers when English fees rise

I’m a candidate in a council by-election in the Hillhead ward in Glasgow. I’m a Liberal Democrat, and the ward has a big old university slap bang in the middle of it. You’d think I’d be bricking it, wouldn’t you? After the tuition fees betrayal, students hate the Liberal Democrats, don’t they? Well they might do, but I’d like to explain how the real villains in Scotland are the SNP.

The SNP are in fact imposing thousands of pounds of up-front fees on each and every Scottish student and their families. “But the SNP have preserved free tuition!” I hear …

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The Independent View: Coalition’s social mobility strategy failing

The government’s plan to improve social mobility has been dealt a series of blows over the past week. New education data show that trends towards a more ‘socially mobile’ Britain are pointing in the wrong direction.

Nick Clegg launched the government’s social mobility strategy last April, promising to ‘open the doors of opportunity’ to children from disadvantaged homes as they move into adulthood. Children from poor homes are half as likely to achieve five good GCSEs as their better off peers, and they account for less than one in a hundred Oxbridge students. Clegg rightly pointed out that …

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How do the university application figures match up against my five questions?

On Sunday, ahead of the publication of the first tranche of university application figures, I posed five questions for judging what they meant. Now the full figures are out, how to do they compare to those five tests?

Let’s see…

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Five questions you should ask to make sense of the university application figures

Tomorrow the first UCAS application figures for this year are officially published, with some leaked figures having appeared in the Sunday Times today. Superficially the headline figures are not great with an apparent 10% drop. But I’m holding off forming a view until I’ve seen the full figures, because there are five key questions to ask about the figures:

1. Some courses, such as medicine, tend to have much earlier application deadlines than those for other courses. Are applications for those early closing courses dropping (which would indicate a problem) or is it that early applications for courses with later deadlines …

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Opinion: Why free university tuition for all is deeply regressive in today’s Britain

Political speeches are usually replete with statistics, numbers culled without context and thrown in the path of critics like metaphorical stingers strewn across a motorway.

But one statistic from Nick Clegg’s conference speech which deserves to live and breathe in its own right is that in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (where I currently live) more than half of children progress from school to university. In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (where I lived before moving to Hammersmith) the figure is that just 4% of children go to University. These Boroughs are thirty minutes away from ach other …

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Opinion: What Nick should say about tuition fees at the 2015 general election

More than any other issue, tuition fees have damaged the view of our party in the country as a whole. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think our leader should say about fees when going into the next general election:

I would just like to say a few brief words about tuition fees.

As a party, we entered the last election with a promise to oppose any increase in tuition fees. As a party, we then broke that pledge. That was wrong.

Nothing can justify breaking a promise like that. Nothing. We made a mistake and we have been punished

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Labour’s odd messaging: how the party was for reversing Coalition cuts before it was against them

Mark Pack has already highlighted the pitfalls of political opponents commentating on other parties’ conferences. And he’s right of course. But it didn’t stop him, so I won’t let it stop me…

I am genuinely puzzled by Labour’s key messages based on the first two days of their conference. Day 1 kicked off with the Big Announcment by Ed Miliband that Labour is now committed to doubling tuition fees (dressed up as only The Observer could as Labour committing to ‘slashing’ fees).

Regardless of what you think about the policy, and I think I’ve made my views clear

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Tim Leunig writes: The problem with Labour’s proposed tuition fees cap

Ed Miliband has seized the initiative at the start of his conference, announcing that Labour would cap student fees at £6,000 per year. This policy is superficially attractive, and is clearly designed to win over LibDem supporters who remain angry at the rise in tuition fees.

Today I have published an analysis of Labour’s proposal. It uses the Business Innovation and Skills graduate income “ready reckoner”, which is based on data from the ONS Labour Force Survey. The underlying data are as good as they can be, although of course predicting graduate incomes in 30 years time is a dangerous …

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Ed Balls has a new take on having your cake and eating it

There are two problems with a Liberal Democrat like myself blogging about Labour Party conference. First, as I’ve so often seen from the other side of the fence, an outside blogging about another party’s conference frequently misreads what is really happening. And second, no blogger can compete with Hopi Sen and his cat.

So caveats deployed and on to the confusion that Ed Balls’s speech today left me in. For he had two messages: first, that Labour can’t promise to undo the government’s cuts and, second, that many of the cuts are wrong. Either on its own would be a …

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Opinion: Ed Miliband’s tuition fees announcement – more a headline than a policy

On the eve of the Labour Party conference, Ed Milliband announced in an interview with The Observer, that he plans ‘to slash university tuition fees by a third’, by reducing the cap on tuition fees to £6,000. It’s a headline that appears to have been mistaken for a policy.

These past 15 months Labour has being decidedly light on policy. This surprised no-one. It was said of the previous Brown Government that Labour had run out of ideas; no-one seriously expected the ‘backroom boys’ who picked up Gordon Brown’s mantel to come up with new thoughts any time soon.

However, what …

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Opinion: Ed Miliband starts off his conference week with a damp squib

Many years ago I knew Tom Baldwin when he was a cub reporter on my local newspaper. He is now Ed Miliband’s chief communications guru. He’s a smart cookie, so I am surprised that Baldwin and Ed Miliband have decided to use the traditional opportunity for a trumpet fanfare for their conference week (i.e the front page of The Observer) to announce a distinctly underwhelming policy.

“It’s the economy, stupid” – no more so than at a time like this. So why waste your golden chance for a big media blast by returning, dog-like, to the site of your own …

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£6k versus £9k tuition fees: the real impact in pictures

Today’s announcement by Ed Miliband that Labour would double, not treble, tuition fees from the current £3k pa has prompted much vigorous discussion already. But what would be the actual impact for different income groups of the change in policy?

To find out, I fed different figures into Martin Lewis’s Student Finance Calculator. I made one assumption: that all students would need to take out the maximum maintenance loan to live on while studying. Here’s what the figures show…

Who pays nothing?

With fees at £6k…

… anyone whose salary doesn’t exceed £15,600 in today’s money.

With fees at £9k…

… anyone whose salary doesn’t exceed £15,600 in today’s money.

What if you earn the national average wage?

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