Tag Archives: social justice

Revoking Article 50 alone isn’t enough

With the prospect of a general election on the horizon, we have just finished another successful Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Bournemouth. Jo Swinson delivered a stirring first leader’s speech and Conference backed several new policy motions, most notably the party’s new policy on Brexit. A future Liberal Democrat Majority Government would revoke Article 50 and instantly stop Brexit.

British politics now has a party that is prepared to do its utmost to put an end to Brexit, either by getting a democratic mandate to revoke Article 50 or failing that, by securing a People’s Vote with the option to Remain in the EU. Brexit has developed into the biggest peacetime political and constitutional crisis arguably since the 17th century. It is shaking British politics to its very foundations with our constitutional settlement being tested like never before.

It is not just enough to stop Brexit by revoking Article 50, we also need to heal our broken democracy. At the time of writing this, the case against the prorogation of Parliament is playing out at the Supreme Court. The Executive branch has been made to answer a case presented to the Judiciary in regard to its actions towards the Legislature. There is conflict between the three branches of government.

Britain unlike many countries does not have a single written (or codified) constitution with clearly defined checks and balances. In the absence of this, Boris Johnson’s government is able to railroad Parliament by utilising the ancient powers of the royal prerogative to enact a five-week long prorogation. The potential for an extremely authoritarian government being able to take power is very real under the current British constitutional settlement; a fact which is underlined by the majoritarian nature of the first past the post voting system.

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What I’d change about the coalition

Since 2010, I’ve been very loyal to the Liberal Democrats.

There were many things I disliked during the Coalition, but I kept silent for fear of feeding the ridiculous exaggerated attacks on our party. Deficit reduction was hard, but in the lifetime of the Coalition, the amount cut was similar to Labour’s 2010 plans.

After the Coalition, my party was in a dire state, so for the same reason, I kept quiet about my concerns.

Only now the party is surging in the opinion polls do I feel free to say what I wish we’d done in Coalition. This article is to encourage those who are thinking about joining the party but are worried about what happened between 2010 and 2015, that they will have friends in the party. I also want to reassure new members that it’s okay to disagree with party policy, as long as you agree with the broad principles laid out in the preamble of the party’s constitution.

Below are three of my concerns about the Coalition.

(1) The decision to raise the income tax threshold. It was expensive; for the low paid, much of the benefit was clawed back with reduced benefits; and without it, we could have cut a little less severely. The suggestion of the IFS, to increase the amount the low paid could earn without losing their means-tested benefits, would have been far better targeted at helping low-income families.

(2) The bedroom tax. On paper, it sounded sensible. The idea of reallocating large family houses from those who didn’t need them to those who did wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. But local councils weren’t required to provide suitable alternative accommodation. I’m glad that, in 2014, we changed our position.

(3) Local government cuts. These were far too deep. It’s a natural instinct for a central government that wants to cut expenditure to foist a disproportionate burden onto local government. I wish we had vetoed this.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that I have any sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn when he rails against the Coalition. We held the Tories back on some truly savage cuts. Cuts which were quickly introduced when the Tories won a majority in 2015.

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Whatever happened to the ‘burning injustices?’

In her speech on the steps on Downing Street in July 2016, Theresa May said that her new administration would be committed to battling the ‘burning injustices’ that faced many in modern Britain. The promises to curb racial inequality among some of the most vital organs of law and state resonated well with the public and the new Prime Minister’s initial poll ratings were high. Over the course of her mainly disastrous premiership, May has decided to ignore most of her promises to the country in the face of the ongoing decline of any Tory Party unity, instructing

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Keep the faith: our party should not consider any merger

There is a lot of talk about a possible new centrist party forming, given the deep divisions in the two main parties and the lowly position of the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls.

People can’t seem to decide whether we are more pro-Tory, on the basis of our Coalition involvement, or more pro-Labour, on the basis of our commitment to social justice and community. We have some claim to be different from either of them.

But we lack a cutting edge to seize public imagination. Is that because we don’t have any passionate commitment to good causes? What do we care most about? What makes us tick?

In switching back from demanding action on poverty and inequality to a renewed focus on fighting Brexit, I wondered, why does that seem so natural to me? What links my fervour for Europe with my concern about the increasing hardships endured by fellow citizens today?

Perhaps strangely for a social liberal, I think it is pride in my country.

I am proud of Britain being still at the centre for world affairs: a member of the UN Security Council, able to intervene militarily in the Middle East struggles against evil movements, at the same time donating 0.7% of national income to UN development projects. I am also proud that we have had a place in European history that stretches from sharing Roman civilisation to running an Empire to taking a lead in defeating Nazism and Fascism, and that we are still one of the big players in Europe at a time when the Continent needs to stand up to the big powers of the USA, Russia and China.

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David Miliband backs referendum on the deal and argues for social and political benefits of EU – how we can build on the growing anti Brexit consensus

It’s one of the great what -ifs of our time. Would we still be in the same mess if David Miliband had won the Labour leadership in 2010? We’ll never know and there are arguments on both sides. His Blairist approach might have propelled a bigger drift of Labour supporters to populist UKIP but he might also have had a big enough impact on the arguments to shift us away from Brexit or even having a referendum on the EU in the first place. Of course, his leadership might well have stopped Cameron from getting a majority at all in 2015 and we would certainly not have been in this mess.

Today, Miliband makes a new intervention in the Brexit debate with an article in the Observer in which he becomes the latest big name to back calls for a referendum on the deal.

The case against the EU depends on avoiding a discussion of the alternative. It is the equivalent of voting to repeal Obamacare without knowing the replacement. It is a stitch-up. That is one reason it is essential that parliament or the public are given the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative. That is a democratic demand, not just a prudent one.

People say we must respect the referendum. We should. But democracy did not end on 23 June 2016. The referendum will be no excuse if the country is driven off a cliff. MPs are there to exercise judgment. Delegating to Theresa May and David Davis, never mind Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, the settlement of a workable alternative to EU membership is a delusion, not just an abdication.

Brexit is an unparalleled act of economic self-harm. But it was a big mistake to reduce the referendum to this question. The EU represents a vision of society and politics, not just economics. We need to fight on this ground too.

The Europe of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel stands for pluralism, minority rights, the rule of law, international co-operation – and not just a single market. In fact, the real truth about the single market has been lost in translation.

He goes on to make the very valid point that the EU’s institutions protect our rights as individuals and as workers against exploitation from large commercial organisations and governments. As he puts it, the EU has actually done more to shield us from the effects of globalisation than to harm us:

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Jim Wallace’s inaugural Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture: Charles’ legacy should be a call to refresh our radicalism

Five days before what would have been Charles Kennedy’s 56th birthday, Jim Wallace, who entered the Commons on the same day as Charles in 1983, delivered the inaugural Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture in Fort William. Seeing Charles Kennedy and Memorial in the same sentence still freaks me out slightly. It feels very wrong.

Jim has very kindly provided us with a copy of his lecture so that those of us who couldn’t make it up to Fort William can hear what he had to say. His subject was Charles, the legacy he left of internationalism and an example of always conducting his politics with respect and how his values were shaped by his highland background. He talks about the challenges we now face as a party and how we can learn from Charles as we deal with the challenges we face.

Here is the lecture in full. It’s long, over 5000 words, but, do you know what, every single one is worth reading. Go make yourself nice cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy.

In keeping with many public lectures in the Highlands, albeit of a somewhat different nature, I start with a text: from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 51, verse 1 –

Look unto the rock from which you are hewn.

It is an enormous privilege to have been asked this evening to deliver the inaugural Charles Kennedy memorial lecture; to speak about one of my closest friends in politics, Charles, and how his politics were shaped by his roots in this Highland community, and the Highland Liberal tradition.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPaul Barker 15th Oct - 8:14pm
    While I understand some of the concerns expressed in this thread I disagree about the threats facing us. Right now, it seems to be that...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 15th Oct - 7:36pm
    TonyH - It's not tribal to expect senior appointments to be long standing Lib Dems with real knowledge of how the UK political system grinds...
  • User Avatarfrankie 15th Oct - 6:57pm
    They may indeed hang tough for awhile, but as a country we are unused to pain, especially the boomer generation. When bad things happen expect...
  • User AvatarCllr Fran Oborski MB 15th Oct - 6:52pm
    He appears to be a LibDem Member but Id like to know for how long and in which Constituency as I would then like to...
  • User AvatarGuinevere Barnes 15th Oct - 6:00pm
    While much electricity is generated from renewables and nuclear, much is still generated from CC gas turbine plants with an efficiency of around 50% -...
  • User AvatarTonyH 15th Oct - 5:41pm
    His CV is impressive, But it is certainly a concern that he was a Labour SPAD from 2006-9. https://uk.linkedin.com/in/mike-dixon-6252b138 Has he perhaps joined the party...