Time to Stop Playing Games

No.10 has let it be known today that a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” after a call between Johnson and Merkel. We did know that Johnson’s strategy is to make a feeble attempt to look like he is trying to get a deal whilst sabotaging it at the same time. It looks like that game peaked a little early. Frankly, giving the DUP a veto over arrangements every 4 years was never going to fly. This disgrace of a Government and clown of a Prime Minister must stop pretending, stop lying to the electorate.

Merkel and the EU know very well by now that the one thing that will not pass the House of Commons is a Northern Ireland backstop. Tried and failed too many times. The EU and the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (who, incidentally, governs with about a third of the seats in the Dáil Éireann and has little in the way of a mandate himself) must finally accept that Deal or No Deal, Northern Ireland will not stay forever, on its own, in a Customs Union with the EU, and there will need to be Customs formalities, however light touch and away from the border. The EU must realise by now that the Tories have no electoral interest in Northern Ireland other than to keep the DUP on side. If the EU and Irish accept a deal without a backstop then we start talking about the future relationship, which can include a Customs Union. If there is a No Deal then that opportunity disappears. The EU, and especially the Irish, are themselves playing silly games.

It is absolute nonsense to suggest that terrorism will return to Northern Ireland because you set up a lorry park 5 miles from the border and require some trucks to lodge paperwork there whilst others continue to their destination and submit paperwork from their office online. Norway and Switzerland have land boundaries with the EU and are not in a Customs Union with the EU. It works. End of.

I have no real idea what Labour’s game actually is. I don’t think they know. The only thing I really know about Labour is that they need to replace Corbyn, and only a major electoral defeat is likely to shift him. Which is really bad news for those of us desperately keen to see the end of Johnson and his far right rump of a Tory party in power.

And finally, our own dear Leader, still insisting she can’t support a Unity Government led by Corbyn. What, even if she is in the Cabinet in a senior role, and he only has the confidence of the House to do two things: extend Article 50 and call an Election? She would sacrifice the future of the UK over a matter of personality? That too is a disgraceful petty game to play that could backfire very badly. The fact is, that tolerate him or loathe him, Corbyn is the Leader of the Opposition, has 245 seats (226 more than we do), and cannot do anything even vaguely leftish in the 3 to 4 weeks he would temporarily be PM for. So we need to stop with the silly games too.

I’m beginning to wish the SNP would put up candidates in every English and Welsh constituency. They appear to be the only realistic, practical and principled party and leadership at this moment in time. They may be playing games with Scottish Independence but not with Brexit issues.

Bottom line – with only a few weeks to go, Johnson should make his true position clear – he wants a No Deal to scupper the Brexit Party. The Opposition parties need to rally behind Corbyn, holding their noses if they have to, oust Johnson and authorise Corbyn to extend Article 50 and call an Election – no more. The Irish and EU need to understand that they can have a Deal with no Backstop or they can have No Deal with no Backstop. Either way, no Backstop. With a Deal they have another bite of the cherry with the future relationship and a transition period allows more time for practicalities to be ironed out.

There is a real danger for the EU, for Varadkar, for the anti-No Deal forces in the UK including our own Ms Swinson. That is that all the farting around and game playing does not stop Johnson and the No Dealers, we exit and. bar a short period of adaptation, nothing really bad actually happens. Like the Y2K Apocalypse that never was. Many careers will never recover though oddly Corbyn, a known true Eurosceptic, might just survive and prosper.

Pension Age

Today a group of women lost their case in the High Court over whether the rise in the pension age to 67 by 2018 is unfair because they were not given enough time to make adjustments to cope with years without a state pension. The court found that the change corrects historic discrimination against men and isn’t unfair.

I have no sympathy whatsoever with the case being made. As a man I have always been astonished that men were expected to work 5 years more than women for their state pension. This situation is even more unfair when you take into account that women live longer to men, and therefore, on average, draw their pension not just for 5 years more, but more than 8 years at an additional cost of over £53,000 compared to men. The change means they will only get a bit over 3 years extra pension compared to me. That’s fair.

I saw the claimants being interviewed on the news channels, saying they have been robbed. This is absolute nonsense. They claim they are being forced to work longer when they have paid in for 45 years. What, forced to work as long as men have had to work and pay in? What’s their point?

Pension ages were not always different. When introduced it was 70 for both men and women and only 25% lived long enough to collect. In 1925 the age reduced to 65. In 1940 the age for women to retire reduced to 60 so most couples could retire at the same time – presumably based on women being 5 years younger than their husbands. Society has changed so much in the last 80 years but the pension age gap lagged behind for far too long.

When I started work at 16, as a civil servant, retirement was mandatory at 60. I could expect to receive my pension for 10 years. My female colleagues would get 16 years. That was my expectation for most of my working life. Now I know I will have to work to 67. That’s life. We are all living much longer. Even retiring at 67 I will now get 12 years of pension, and my female counterparts will still get 16 years. What this group seems to want is 23 years of pension for women approaching 60. Who is going to pay for that? Largely younger people struggling to raise kids and pay mortgages. It’s not on.

Frankly the equalisation of the pension age was, in my opinion, staggered over far too long a period. It is a correction that should have been made decades ago. For all its faults we have a benefits system designed to be a safety net for those who have not yet reached retirement but who cannot work for health reasons. That is the right mechanism, not the prolonged continuation of a gross inequality. I’m happy to pay taxes to help out people genuinely in need who have fallen on hard times through not fault of their own, not so happy to subsidise people of my own generation who just want to put their feet up for 23 years.

I’m feeling a little less “liberal” today it seems. I’m not feeling tolerant of these frankly selfish children of the 50’s and 60’s. Sorry. As to our party’s commitment that these women are “properly compensated for the failure of government to properly notify them of changes to the state pension age”, I cannot support it under any circumstances. They were properly notified. Equalisation has been on the cards since 1995. This was correction of a long-standing inequality and we did the right thing in 2011 when speeding up the timetable.

Scam Calls – Call to Action

I’ve had two scam calls already today. One on the land line, one on my mobile. The first one said I had a problem with my Sky box and it was out of warranty. I haven’t had Sky for a number of years, at which point he very rudely hung up without saying thanks and goodbye. The second one told me I had been in a car accident. It must have given me, what’s it called, thingamy, ah yes I remember, amnesia, as I don’t remember that accident although I do have a bruise on my leg I can’t explain. I asked the woman if she was a robot and she immediately put me through to a foreign call centre agent (judging by the broken English) who hung up when I queried his authenticity. I might play the game a bit longer next time just to see what exactly they are trying to steal from me.

Make no mistake, attempting to defraud people is a serious criminal offence under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, which can carry up to an 8 year sentence under sentencing guidelines. It is a serious criminal offence I have been the victim of twice today. Scale that up and you get to over 5 billion offences in the UK per annum very quickly. Yet the official position is to look like they are taking it seriously but actually do virtually nothing to stop it. If you had 5 billion attempted burglaries or street robberies then heaven and earth would be moved to take out the offenders.

Both calls used normal UK geographical numbers. One in Bodmin, one a London number. At one time I would have been angry at BT for allowing use of UK phone numbers for this purpose. You should need to be a legitimate business or resident to get a phone number. But unfortunately most of the time these are foreign calls using technology to spoof non-existent UK numbers. I am guessing they can also spoof bank and official numbers too, so you think it is a legitimate caller when it certainly isn’t. I am not the scammers’ target – they won’t get me all the while I have all my marbles, though one day I might lose them. They are trying to find elderly and/or vulnerable people to persuade to hand over bank and card details for financial frauds, or personal information to enable identity theft. When it happens the victims are quite often labelled as stupid or ignorant, at best naive. There is no sympathy, and usually no redress. Local police forces certainly won’t be interested.

Ofcom say they are trying to find solutions. I would say they are not trying hard enough. Calls originating abroad are entering the UK telephone network bearing UK caller IDs. Use technology to stop the calls before they get onto our telephone infrastructure. If the mobile companies are clever enough to tell me what number is calling, they are clever enough to know whether that number is a real number or not in service and stop it. If anyone is using legitimate UK numbers for fraud, then we should be enforcing the law by fining and jailing the directors, managers and call agents, and also fining the supplier of the number a hefty amount for facilitating fraud by failing to carry out due diligence on who they are providing services to.

I’ve no doubt that countering scam calls isn’t as easy as flicking a switch and 10 minutes later there are no more scam calls. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy, but it must be dealt with. You can use carrots – Government funding for technical solutions, specialist national policing units, paying overseas Governments the money to track down and prosecute and then incarcerate the call centre owners and agents. According to today’s Chancellor we are awash with spare cash at the moment so money shouldn’t be a problem. And you can use sticks – make the telephone companies pay for fraud that occurs because their systems did not block the call before it reached their customer. Sticks might encourage the very rapid development and implementation of technical solutions to solve the problem. Or maybe both carrots and sticks. We should also start handing out the top end of the sentencing range more often. For offences of trying to defraud less than £12,500 you can get a Community Order. Hardly a deterrent but that’s a post for another day.

Alan Paton’s definition of “Liberalism” encompassed a commitment to the rule of law. As Liberal Democrats it doesn’t mean we should be soft on criminals to the detriment of victims. Justice should deter, by ensuring that the odds of being caught and punished are raised much higher, and punish, as well as rehabilitate, the offender so they do not re-offend. Currently we don’t even bother trying to catch the perpetrators of 5 billion serious crimes annually, and even if they do get caught they often do 80 hours of unpaid work and that’s it. So a suggestion for the Liberal Democrats is to begin to throw off the perception that we are soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime and start to show we are on the side of victims rather than poor lost sheep that make 100 phone calls a day trying to steal pensions and life savings.

Battered Democracy

I was intrigued by an article on Lib Dem Voice penned by William Wallace entitled “How do we renew our battered democracy“. Wallace is a member of the House of Lords and I have said previously that the House of Lords is an affront to democracy. Liberal Democrats should not be legitimising it by nominating or accepting peerages. It’s just wrong.

I am, therefore, always wary of articles by “Lords”, especially if the title of the article refers to democracy. I was pleased to see a brief endorsement for an elected Upper Chamber. I also noted a strong case for wider constitutional change. However, reference to Parliament taking back control when Parliament includes appointed legislators, many of them failed candidates and retired MPs in need of a pension top-up, and many others, all male, still there by virtue of nothing more than accident of birth, doesn’t convince me. I was also disappointed not to see advocacy for a proper written Constitution that would have negated the need to the Supreme Court to rule on Prime Ministerial abuse of prerogative.

Don’t get me wrong, there are have been some highly respected and politically successful peers that I would happily have voted for as Senators. Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown amongst them. I don’t think either needed to use their titles to signal their significance to British politics, but even so I don’t think they should have accepted the peerages. Notably, in this respect, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May have all got an entitlement to a peerage but to date remain commoners. The SNP doesn’t have any peers as they have a long-term opposition to the Lords – it is a principled position and I congratulate them.

If the Liberal Democrats want to make a meaningful statement in respect of constitutional change they can start by renouncing all peerages and refusing more. We can then challenge Labour to do likewise. Force the debate – the House of Lords could not survive if boycotted by all parties except the Tories. Until that happens, I will still find pronouncements on democracy by “Lords”, to have more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy and not in keeping with the Democrats element of our party name. You cannot effectively oppose gravy train politics when you are an active and willing passenger on that train.

In conclusion, to answer Mr Wallace’s question, we can start by occupying a moral high ground in relation to our claim to be defenders of Parliamentary democracy. Stop participating in activities that undermine democracy and hand in your coronet. I don’t think you can renew battered democracy when you are still holding part of the battering ram.

Fire the Attorney General

The behaviour today in Parliament of our Attorney General, Geoffrey “Comb Over” Cox, was nothing short of disgraceful and regardless of whether you can make mud stick to Johnson, he must go. The background, of course is the unlawful prorogation of Parliament, as determined by the 11 most distinguished judges and legal minds in the UK, not by a narrow majority, but by an 11-0 landslide. His record as an MP demonstrates he puts the nasty back into the Nasty Party.

When it comes to providing legal advice to the Prime Minister, one of three things must have happened. Firstly, Johnson may not have asked for legal advice on the lawfulness or otherwise of proroging Parliament. In which case Cox should do the honorable thing and resign. Secondly, Johnson may have asked for legal advice on the lawfulness or otherwise of proroging Parliament, was given the correct advice, and ignored it. In which case Cox should do the honorable thing and resign. Thirdly, Johnson may have asked for legal advice on the lawfulness or otherwise of proroging Parliament, was given incorrect advice, and followed it. In which case Cox should be sacked.

The judgment (no “e” after “g” in a legal judgment) of the Supreme Court found that a Prime Minister cannot prorogue Parliament. The first question was whether the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account. The Court found it did. The next question is whether there is a reasonable justification for taking action which had such an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy. The Court found there was no justification. The conclusion was

“It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks… We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.”

EU Exit is immaterial. The ruling applies to any PM attempting to prorogue Parliament for a lengthy period without reasonable justification and therefore denying Parliament the right to hold the Government to account. It protects our democracy from dictatorships, especially those with no Parliamentary or popular mandate.

The Attorney General’s position today was aggressive, reluctantly saying he respected the Court’s judgment whilst saying he disagreed with it and being highly disrespectful to fellow MPs on the Opposition benches. Johnson’s line was similar; disagreeing with the ruling but “respecting” it. This approach undermines the independent Judiciary, and is entirely inappropriate. It is also signalling support for a right of a Government to rule by decree without democratic Parliamentary oversight. That has to be wrong in anyone’s book and, therefore, not surprising that 11 out of 11 Judges found it unlawful.

The position of Attorney General provides the PM with a shield if he asks legal advice and follows it. He can claim good faith in the event it all goes wrong. But someone has to pay for what amounts to giving unlawful advice to the Queen, resulting in her Order in Council being declared null and void. If the PM has a shield, however flimsy, the Attorney General must go. If we assume the PM acted in good faith, no matter how great a leap of faith that is, then Cox has put him in an unforgivable position with his unlawful counsel. Maybe there are no other lawyers willing to take up the position, That might explain why he is still in post.

Private Schools

Press reports about Labour policy towards private education seem to be a bit confused.

According to the BBC, which I hope is being objective, there is a motion that calls for funds and properties held by private schools to be “redistributed democratically and fairly” to other schools. They go on to report “the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said “tax loopholes” that benefit private schools would be scrapped by a Labour government in its first budget.”

There is quite a big leap between the two. Closure and redistribution of assets is a bit like dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century. Undoubtedly in the 21st Century it would be illegal to appropriate privately owned property and redistribute it. It is a vote-losing nonsense that Labour opponents would have a field day with. What next? Private hospitals? It opens up nationalisation without compensation to every conceivable private activity. If people want to send their kids to private schools then so what? And frankly they still will, only those schools will be in Northern France, Belgium, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Ireland. It may well be the same schools, stripped of assets and moved offshore. It is a very silly motion almost impossible to implement, appealing to a very narrow extreme left-wing audience.

But what of the tax loopholes? Actually, we all know that public (private) schools are not really charities these days, regardless of their origins. They are fee-generating businesses catering mostly for the wealthy with the odd bone thrown towards their founding principles. They should no longer be afforded charitable status, their fees should be subject to VAT regardless of the views of Tory MPs, their income should be taxed as any business would be, and their premises should be subject to full business rates. I see no credible opposition to such measures other than the views of the wealthy vested interests. I suspect the move would be a popular one. Even Gove and Hammond have questioned the continued charitable treatment. The vast bulk of the population should not effectively be subsidising private education by affording it preferential tax treatment.

Genuine charitable schools should be given an option to convert to Free School status. You would also need to deal with the need for some boarding places to cater for children from remote island communities or where their parents are working overseas on official business. But these exceptions are minor compared to the main principle.

In my view the Lib Dems should be adopting the tax loophole closure proposals into official party policy whilst pointing out the futile and impractical, probably illegal, nature of the asset appropriation motion.

Free Trade Isn’t Fair Trade

One of the big benefits of Brexit, we are told, is that we will be able to do our own trade deals with countries around the world. Presumably tariff-free trade deals. The opposite of free trade being protectionism, for which Donald Trump is being widely denigrated.

But is life that simple? Free Trade Good, Protectionism Bad?

Obviously it isn’t. Tariffs exist to protect domestic markets against unfair competition resulting from lower material and labour costs in other countries. It also prevents “dumping” where a country will sell goods at lower than cost in order to destroy competitors and thereafter dominate that market. On the other hand the protectionism embodied by the Corn Laws in the 19th Century caused untold hardship, including death through starvation and undoubtedly worsened the impact of the potato famine in Ireland. So there has to be balance. Tariffs to protect against dumping and unfair competition but no tariffs where demand is higher than supply or the tariffs protect inefficiency or exist for the purposes of profiteering by vested interests.

Free trade amongst countries that are roughly in the same ballpark when it comes to economic and industrial development is usually a positive thing. We buy your Volkswagens, you buy our Minis. We buy your Mercs, you buy our Jags. So the free trade between the wealthier EU countries is generally beneficial for all. Rapid expansion of the EU into less affluent parts of Eastern Europe is not so good for either side of the equation. It was an opportunity to move manufacturing production to less expensive labour markets whilst also giving unfettered access to fragile and developing economies. Enabling exploitation.

Free trade in goods and materials between countries with a huge gulf in economic development can be a big mistake although can be mutually beneficial when targeted. Does the UK want a free trade deal with China that covers cars and steel? I’d say absolutely not as this would decimate what we have left of those industries. Indeed we should be levelling the playing field to rebuild those industries.

There is another use of trade tariffs that Trump has championed but which is actually a powerful tool for good in International Relations. That is the imposition of tariffs, or cessation of free trade for political rather than economic reasons. The use of trade to influence behaviour. The most obvious manifestation of this is where sanctions are involved, complete prohibition of trade. Undoubtedly this does damage the country being sanctioned but more often than not it is the ordinary citizens who suffer rather than the priviledged leaders. They may even use the sanctions to demonise the foreign powers imposing them. However, there is a more subtle application. As an example EU free trade with Mercosur countries is currently frozen pending Brazilian action to stop the destruction of the Amazon. Outside the EU we can do ethical trade deals such as free trade in bananas only where the producer respects all human rights. For example, Costa Rica generally scores highly on LGBT rights where most Commonwealth Caribbean countries do not. It also rates higher than Italy and Malta where corruption is concerned. Should we not reward good behaviours via favourable trading terms for tropical fruit? I think we should.

If you do not get the balance correct, then the forces of popularist right wing politics can exploit the outcome. Most people in the UK are genuinely puzzled at support for Trump policies in the USA. Or they interpret it as pure racism and all the other ‘isms. However, Trump latched onto the despair of many Americans living in towns once affluent, or at least surviving, based on local industries that have now closed down with production outsourced to China, Vietnam, Laos, India, Mexico, where labour costs are cheaper. Detroit in 1950 had a population of 1.8 million. In 1990 it was still over 1 million. Today it is estimated at 670,000 people. Trump promised to reverse industrial decline through renegotiating the trade deals that have led to cheap imports, and tens of millions voted for that. It’s an attractive message although near impossible to deliver on within a 4 year term. What is a little odd is that Trump is a global capitalist so his anti-free trade stance is at odds with his personal interests. In the UK our right wing politicians are under too much influence from their funding donors, and their friends in the financial centres, to promote that path, but it is perfectly possible that Corbyn and his Momentum acolytes would take up protectionist popularism, and find an underclass skimmed off from Brexit Party/UKIP supporters willing to vote for it, especially if our EU Exit goes badly wrong.

In conclusion, free trade in all circumstances is not a good thing. It is good when it fills gaps in domestic supply chains, good when it delivers materials and manufactured products we don’t ourselves produce, good to encourage positive behaviours, and good where it encourages higher quality and greater efficiency and productivity due to fair competition. It is bad when it destroys otherwise efficient and profitable domestic industries, bad where it removes domestic capability in critical areas of national security, bad where it encourages and rewards poor social and environmental behaviours, and bad when it leads to extremist protectionism when the balance is wrong.

Ban Palm Oil

Life isn’t just about EU Exit. As Lib Dems we must also develop sensible and practical green credentials. Some are very difficult and costly. Others are a lot easier and proven to be practical.

Palm oil, an industry that involves destruction of huge swathes of rainforest, falls into the easy category.

A while back Iceland (the supermarket) pledged to remove palm oil from own brand products. Putting aside some tricks to cover up a few failures, they largely succeeded. It can be done.

I would, therefore, propose a complete ban on products containing palm oil to take effect 12 months from passing the legislation. It is true that the measure will add to production costs but Iceland managed without raising prices noticeably so others can follow suit.

An alternative to a ban, which is quicker than legislation in the event we leave the EU Customs Union and can set our own tariffs, is to levy punitive Customs duties on palm oil and products containing it. In other words, price it out of use.

Lib Leavers

According to YouGov, about a third of Lib Dem supporters, those who normally vote Lib Dem, voted Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum. It’s a fair bet that most were thinking along the lines of Norway at the time. Odd that Ed Davey forgot that figure on Question Time this week. It’s in my head, it must be in his, inconvenient though it might be.

Once upon a time I was strongly pro-EU. I have a degree that includes EU Law, and European Political Cooperation. Right up to 2016, with reservations, I would still have been firmly in the Remain camp. My movement over to the softest of exits began when Cameron went to Brussels for some concessions and came back with zero. But really doubts had been developing for a while.

The UK’s approach to free movement of people is completely different to most other EU countries. If you want to move to Italy you need to support yourself and your dependents, including healthcare and housing. After 3 months you need to register and prove your means or off you go. Here we seem to be more generous if the EU migrant has worked here. It’s a myth they can get benefits if you’ve never worked here. Generosity and myths combined and made the UK a major destination for inbound migration from the rest of the EU. This level of net migration was unsustainable – inadequate infrastructure, insufficient housing, limited space to expand cities and towns. Not to mention downward pressure on wages as a result of an often highly educated but cheap labour influx. The causes were an unforeseen consequence of too rapid Eastward expansion coupled with over-generosity.

The CFP and CAP (Common Fisheries and Agriculture Policies) are also a major negative for the UK, although our Government have been noticeably silent about how they sold out British fishermen. Like Norway and Iceland we must have control over our resources.

Remain does not solve these fundamentals. So I was wavering. Then I saw Project Fear unfold in Lib Dem strategy discussions. Truth, the moral high ground, had little to do with that strategy. I recall reading a briefing for doorsteps where virtually every point could be refuted in seconds. No way could I lie through my teeth to family, friends, and neighbours as suggested. And if it needed lies to Remain, would Leave be that bad. Well No Deal Leave would be that bad, but the Norway / Iceland model coupled with adoption of stricter free movement rules and maybe an emergency brake to sort out infrastructure and housing issues, would be my strong preference.

So we are in 2019. Fellow Lib Dems (well the few that went to Conference) have decided to alienate the third of supporters who want a Leave deal. Tories and the current Farage Fellowship have forgotten Deal promises. Second referendum suggestions are all binary and are unlikely to arrive at the compromise we actually need. If I am given a choice of Norway/Iceland or Remain, my vote will not be Remain. No Deal or Remain would probably see me vote Remain with a heavy heart but we all know that won’t shut up Brexiteers for a nanosecond.

We’re Not Picky…

Am I the only one concerned about blindly accepting MPs into the Lib Dems whose voting records hardly mark them out as liberal.

Take Phillip Lee. His voting record shows he has generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights, has consistently voted against the UK remaining in the EU, has an appalling record on welfare and benefits, is in favour of increased university tuition fees, and doesn’t support proportional representation. On the other hand, on his opposition to No Deal he effectively lost his ability to fight the next General Election as the Tory he really is.

Take Sam Gyimah. His voting record is a no better than Mr Lee’s and shows he has generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights, has consistently voted against the UK remaining in the EU, has an appalling record on welfare and benefits, is in favour of increased university tuition fees, and doesn’t support proportional representation. On the other hand, on his opposition to No Deal he effectively lost his ability to fight the next General Election as the Tory he really is. Only 3 months ago he was attempting to become Conservative Party Leader, and today he is a loyal Lib Dem. Really?

Take Sarah Wollaston. Her voting record is pretty much mainstream Tory with the exception of her views on leaving the EU without a deal.

Conversely, Umunna, Berger, and Angela Smith, the Labour converts, all have pretty liberal voting records, to the left of centre and not inconsistent with current Lib Dem policies.

So what is the game when it comes to the three Tory “converts”. Did they have a Road to Damascus style conversion to all things liberal and Lib Dem, or maybe they have been living a lie for many many years and didn’t have the integrity to go with their true beliefs until the Tory rug was pulled from beneath them. Or maybe it is opportunism. They were all in trouble with not being able to stand under a blue banner come the next election and have effectively sought sanctuary in the Lib Dems. It is near impossible to get elected in the UK without either a party machine or a mass movement behind you. You need door knockers and leaflet distributors. If your current doorknockers are not available, find some elsewhere. I know, cynical, and not the generosity of spirit I aim for.

If re-elected on the back of the often brilliantly effective targeting of Lib Dem resources at winnable seats, and assuming at some point the Tories come to their senses and lurch towards the centre, as they have done a few time in the past, what are the odds that Lee, Gyimah, and Wollaston will happily cross the floor again. High I’d say.

We seem to be accepting these MPs into the party for their short term embarrassment potential rather than for their commitment to liberalism. We should have said no, but if you stand as an Independent Conservative on an anti-Johnson manifesto then we won’t campaign against you.

Lib Dem Brexit Blunder

Today a small non-representative and self-selecting section of the Liberal Democrat Party that have the time and resources to attend Conference made what I believe to be a big mistake.

This is the pledge to cancel Brexit rather than back a second referendum.

According to YouGov, back in 2016 32% of Lib Dem supporters voted for Leave. I found myself supporting Leave following decisions to pursue a Project Fear policy containing misleading statements (lies) on a par with the Leave campaign. Like many other centrist Leave supporters, my own preference would have been for a Norway-style future relationship, inside the Single Market, inside a Free Trade agreement on most commodities but outside the CFP and CAP, and free to pursue independent trade deals. I would also have liked us to implement free movement of people as other EU members do – self-supporting and time limited unless you are contributing. Essentially the have your cake and eat it solution I thought we had been promised.

I dare say that, along with many other centrist Leave supporters, this would still be my preference if I were to be given a vote in a second referendum that allowed my to rank preferences. I would not be voting, first preference, for Remain as we were. Thus it makes it impossible for me to vote Lib Dem at the next General Election. It will be Labour to get that second referendum. What about the third of supporters in the same boat? I guess they will have the same thoughts and the Lib Dems could be throwing millions of potential votes at Labour or even towards the full-blooded Leave parties.

This policy does not bring the country together.; It is highly divisive. If, by some miracle, the Lib Dems had a majority after the next Election, you would still have 45%+ Brexit supporters who will not be putting down their placards, but will be ramping up the heat.

As Patrick Maxwell points out in LD Voice voters who ardently want to revoke Article 50 are already going to vote Lib Dem. This new policy is not going to attract, and may put off, moderate Tories and Labour voters who might otherwise come over.

A General Election is not going to resolve Brexit. A second referendum that repeats the binary nature of the first is also doomed to result in Groundhog Day. What we need is a genuine compromise. A solution that recognises the circumstances that resulted in the first Leave vote and addresses them, and protects the jobs and investments of those reliant on the EU for their livelihoods. This is what the Lib Dems should be promoting, not a policy that would inevitably worsen current divides not heal them.

Liberal Undemocrats

It took a while for me to work it out but in discussion on LD Voice about the Autumn 2016 Lib Dem Conference some things began to twig.

Party policy is ultimately decided by Conference motions. Only about 3,000 out of 75,000 members, so less than 5%, attend conference to fall asleep during several days of debates and speeches. I say fall asleep but for many it seems from reports, it is more a case of hangover so eyes closed may simply be a reflection of a need for peace.

A conference pass costs hundreds plus inflated accommodation in local B&Bs. Day passes are available but without any voting rights. So to vote, to have a say in Lib Dem policy costs hundreds of pounds in fees payable to the party and 3 nights accommodation. If you misplace your pass and need it replaced it’ll cost you another £25 – Ryanair would be so proud.  There is a fund for poor people to attend if they apply and provide proof so that’s alright then.

Bottom line – when you hear about Liberal Democrat policy don’t get the idea that it is in any way the democratic view of the party membership. It is the policy of those activists who have the time and money and inclination to sit through 4 days of political discourse. If the vote was close then it might be the view of 2.5% of Lib Dem party members. Liberal Democrats believe in democracy for others but God forbid it might apply to internal party decisions – that would severely dent the party coffers, reliant as they are on Conference income, and probably offset those activists who can afford to attend (or have to attend as they are part of the elected caucus).

But really does this matter when the only policy that the public currently understand as Lib Dem is Brexit denial. On every other issue the party seems notably silent.


In trying to define my beliefs, there is a single quote that sums it up perfectly.    

By liberalism I don’t mean the creed of any party or any century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.

Alan Paton, South African author of Cry, the Beloved Country, 1953    

Whilst I try and apply these principles in daily life, I’m far from perfect and tolerance isn’t always easy and is certainly not universally deserving.