Opinion: TTIP: What could possibly go wrong?

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA to allow for freer trade between the two. We received an upbeat assessment of its progress and potential from Nick Thornsby a couple of weeks ago. It is currently Liberal Democrat policy to support it, but I have serious reservations about whether we are doing either liberalism or democracy any favours in this instance.

A trade agreement that reduced barriers and increased access to markets, thus lowering prices for customers, and increasing quality would be a great thing. However, this is not …

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LibLink: Tim Farron: Ending the silence

Tim Farron has written an article for the Huffington Post about his new report on youth mental health services.

He describes why and how his volunteer team produced the 127 page documents, motivated by the young people who came to his surgeries in desperate need of help:

There are then events that have a particularly profound and lasting effect on me – the deaths of young people who have struggled with mental health conditions. These tragic events and the circumstances surrounding them have brought to light serious flaws in the way in which we support our young people and the need for

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Cleaning up politics is about more than money

When we talk about cleaning up politics, we generally mean party funding and lobbying. There is so much more that needs to be done, though with regards to the environment in which politics is conducted.

Every week when Parliament is sitting we see the childish scenes at PMQs. We’ve had our own Julian Huppert talk about how it feels to be on the receiving end of bullying and intimidating behaviour.

The tone of debate on social media often leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you happen to be a woman in possession of an opinion. The cumulative effect of constantly being told you are evil/stupid/treacherous or being threatened  is not insignificant. I recently had a bit of a wobble after months of bombardment from cybernats, UKIP types and, even more distressingly, a small number of fellow Liberal Democrats. However much you try to ignore it, it can get overwhelming at times. I don’t have a problem with actual calm and rational debate but every single day, people cross the line into abuse and that’s just not on. I was livid with myself for getting so upset. After all, in large parts of the world, simply finding somewhere private to go to the toilet entails taking your life in your hands if you happen to be female, so it felt very trivial to almost reduced to tears by a jibe from some stranger whose good opinion mattered to me not one jot. It was utterly ridiculous, but it happened nonetheless. Of course, this is the sort of reaction these bullies want and, given that I intend to continue inflicting my views on the world, I just needed to find a way of dealing with it which mostly involved the support of good people who know who they are.  It shouldn’t be like that, though.

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Clegg on schools, post-Gove: “We need to reset the relationship”

clegg - tardisNick Clegg has used a major interview in the TES magazine to signal a turning of the page in the Coalition Government’s relationship with teachers following the removal of Michael Gove from the Department for Education.

Clegg on Gove’s departure:

“It’s an open secret that Michael Gove and I did not agree on a number of important substantive issues … It’s an opportunity to turn a page on the somewhat acrimonious relationship that existed between the government – and the Department for Education in particular – and a number of teachers,” he said. “We need to reset the relationship. Not, I should stress, by summarily abandoning all government policy or reforms, but first and foremost by ensuring that, where there is debate and discussion between the teaching profession and government, it is conducted in a spirit and tone of mutual respect. And that we seek out every opportunity to celebrate, and not always seek to denigrate, the fantastic work that teachers do.”

Clegg on the teachers’ strikes:

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Charles Kennedy: Independence would “inflict huge damage” on rural Scotland

Charles Kennedy is not one for the sort of sloppy, casual scaremongering we’ve seen from both sides in the Scottish independence debate. Danny Alexander has form for it, saying, unhelpfully,  the other day that independence would be worse for Scotland than the 2008 economic crash. So when he expresses concerns about stuff, we should probably take notice.

He will be talking today about the effects of independence on rural Scotland, like the massive area he represents. He’s particularly concerned with the costs of providing the postal service.

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Labour kicked out in Calderdale: The inside story

Calderdale CouncilThis week the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council came to the decision to vote out the minority Labour administration, and vote in a minority coalition of the Conservatives and Independent Councillor. Allow me to explain why.

From 2010 we had worked in a fairly successful Coalition with the Labour party. We didn’t shut a single sure start centre or library, we opened up cabinet meetings with a public question time, and we had the highest recycling rate in West Yorkshire.

As that coalition went on it became increasingly apparent Labour wanted to control the Council alone, and to ignore the wishes of the other parties. It was harder and harder to work with them as continued to propose political motions that did little for local people, but did a lot of party point scoring. Finally last year they managed to secure the support of the Conservatives who abstained at the right votes in return for some scrutiny chairs, and Labour got their wish of a minority administration.

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What a waste of an interview with Jo Swinson!

Jo Swinson Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer AffairsThere is so much to annoy in today’s Daily Record interview with Jo Swinson. First of all there’s the headline: Women’s Minister tries to explain why none of Nick Clegg’s Girls made it to the Cabinet.’  Hang on a minute. Nick Clegg’s girls?  What sort of way is that to refer to Members of Parliament? You wouldn’t see the men referred to as “boys.”

That, though, was the sub-editor’s fault. The first five paragraphs comprise a moan by journalist Annie Brown about the format of the interview. which seems unjustified to say the least. She was offered a call with Jo, she wanted and got a face to face meeting. It actually sounds like Jo’s press people bent over backwards to give her what she asked for.

I don’t expect the Daily Record to give any Liberal Democrat an easy time but I felt that Brown could have got a lot more out of the interview by making it more wide-ranging. For a start, she’s interested in a lot of the same things Jo has been campaigning on for years on body image and how women are portrayed in the media and expected to behave. There was precious little in the interview about Jo’s actual ministerial work on things like shared parental leave and extending the right to request flexible working to everyone.

Instead, Brown goes on at great length about the recent Cabinet reshuffle, complaining that no Liberal Democrat women had been promoted to the Cabinet. Had she not noticed that this was an exclusively Conservative reshuffle? There are plenty Liberal Democrats who want to see a woman in the Cabinet and who are also aware that much work has been done, a great deal of it by Jo, to support female candidates with both selection and election. It might not be enough yet, but there’s stuff happening. Of the eight retiring MPs’ seats, five have selected women and so have a good number of our targets.

photo by:
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Stephen Lloyd on the Eastbourne pier fire: “I am as shocked and heartbroken as everyone”

Eastbourne pier on fireStephen Lloyd, Lib Dem MP for Eastbourne, has posted the following message on his Facebook page to update people on what action is being after the fire which ravaged the town’s pier:

Dear all,

Thanks for the support posted here after the tragic fire at the pier yesterday. I am as shocked and heartbroken as everyone. The important thing now is to get this fixed; keep pushing out that Eastbourne is well and truly open for business and to do what we can to help the Pier owners and the folk who had concessions on the Pier. Some of the kiosk owners have lost their livelihood and it’s important we rally around.

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It’s all kicking off in Calderdale as Liberal Democrats help oust Labour administration and win concessions from Conservatives

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if you were in a situation where you were running a minority administration that was dependent on the casting vote of the Mayor, you might be a bit more consensual in your approach to local government.

Not so the Labour party in Calderdale who, from this Storify compiled by Jennie Rigg, seem to feel some sort of entitlement to power. I cut my political teeth campaigning against Labour in the East Midlands so it’s no surprise that they think like that but it’s depressing that nothing has changed in 25 years.

In Calderdale, they projected some sort of humility in May, saying that they would work in a consensual manner and then proceeded with a controversial crossroads against the wishes of the local community.

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The Lib Dem retreat to seat-by-seat campaigns. The right tactic, but not a long-term strategy

Stephen LloydThe Guardian’s Rafael Behr has written of his experiences in Eastbourne, a seat won from the Tories by the Lib Dems’ Stephen Lloyd in 2010. His majority, 3,435, would need a swing of just 3.9% to be wiped out. The recent Lord Ashcroft poll of Tory / Lib Dem marginals indicated an average swing away from the Lib Dems to the Tories of 3.5%. This, then, is the kind of seat within the Tories’ reach and which they need to win if they are to gain an overall majority. …

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Greg Mulholland MP writes…Celebrating our county’s riches on Yorkshire Day

Yorkshire The spotlight of the world recently shone on Yorkshire for the Tour de France and Grand Départ. Chosen ahead of Barcelona, Florence, Berlin, Venice and Edinburgh, would the county deliver?

I think we can now answer the question with a proud and resounding “yes”. This was just another chapter in the incredible history of success that this county has enjoyed.

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Michael Moore MP to trek Tweed to raise funds for children and rescue charities

At the Voice, we are always keen to support our parliamentarians in their fund raising activities, whether it’s giving up booze for a month like Alistair Carmichael did last year or scale an Ecuadorian volcano like Greg Mulholland did in May.

Michael Moore has announced that he and Borders Council Leader David Parker will be undertaking a 97 mile fundraising walk along the River Tweed at the end of August. From the Borders Telegraph:

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Actually, this having the World Cup in England might be a good idea

I am not a huge football fan. Unless it involves Inverness Caledonian Thistle, I really don’t care and even then it’s more of a spiritual thing. I don’t actually need to watch 22 men kick the bag of wind around the field. But my antipathy to the game wasn’t the only reason my heart sank when I saw the new Liberal Democrat campaign, “Bring the 2018 World Cup to England” this morning.

Certainly, having just had a month of nothing but football anywhere, I was screaming for respite. It’s bad enough on the other side of the world but if …

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Liberal Democrat scientists tell Juncker to keep Scientific Adviser amid pressure from environmental groups to drop the post

New EI Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has had lots of conflicting advice about what to do about the post of the Commission’s Chief Scientific Officer. Environmental NGO’s seem to want to get rid of the post while research organisations want to keep it. The Guardian reports:

The NGOs called the role, which was introduced in 2012 by current EC president José Manuel Barroso and has been occupied since then by a biologist at the University of Aberdeen, Prof Anne Glover, “fundamentally problematic”. Their letter argued that the non-elected role concentrated too much influence in one person, undermining research by the

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Opinion: Intergenerational Fairness: Are we really building a fair future for our young people?

The challenges that young people face today are considerably different to what the previous generations faced. The baby boomers spent much of their lives enjoying a resilient and rewarding economy, with prospects of owning a house regarded as being the norm.

These days, as a young person, it’s not even a realistic goal, let alone normal. Between 2001 and 2011, house prices rose three times faster than wages. As a double whammy, we saw the recession hit wages and young people’s employment prospects particularly hard. Whilst unemployment is dropping, too many of us know young people settling for part-time work, …

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Don Foster MP writes… Justifiable NIMBYism?

I  suspect I’m not the only one to be delighted and relieved about the announcement this week about new protections to be put in place that will restrict “Fracking” in sensitive areas.

Geological evidence shows that fracking could lead to a significant disruption to the hot water spring waters on which the tourism of the World Heritage City of Bath depends and could damage the water pressure without which we could see buildings in the city collapse.

Even though the latest British Geological Survey Maps show that the three main areas where large amounts of shale oil and gas exists lie nowhere …

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Opinion: What is HAMAS’s game plan?

On the face of it, for HAMAS to simply fire its unguided rockets into Israel, in the hope some may hit something important, or kill someone, is stupid. Nothing HAMAS can do will inflict any serious damage on the state of Israel, they are just annoying Israel (a lot). So why are they doing it, assuming their actions are rational? Their actions may not be rational of course, they may be so consumed by hatred of Israel that they are striking out any way they can. But assuming they are acting in a rational manner, what can they hope to …

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Opinion: The ECHR is a “British Bill of Rights”

Following the cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, the push from within the Conservatives to repeal the Human Rights Act and remove the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights in its place now seems firmly in the forefront of our political debate.

The most notable change was clearly William Hague’s surprise departure from Foreign Secretary and announcement that he would stand down as an MP next year but the most significant change was the sacking of Dominic Grieve from Attorney General. Serving as the Chief Legal advisor in the government, he had provided sound …

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Monroe Palmer writes: Reform of the complaints system for the Armed Forces

British soldiers on a training mission in Afghanistan -  Some rights reserved by AN HONORABLE GERMANThe Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill, currently going through report stage in the Lords, has a non-snappy title clearly not dreamt up with Public Relations in mind. It is however important as it includes creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman and reform of Service complaints system.

As we move into Report stage the Liberal Democrat team, including the valuable contributions of my Lib Dem colleague Martin Thomas (Lord Thomas of Gresford), concentrated on two amendments. One to ensure that a complaint does not disappear if the complainant dies. The second is to carry out an investigation of any allegations of systemic abuse or injustice if it appears to her/him to be in the public interest and that there should be compelling circumstances.

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Lib Dems publish latest accounts: £439k surplus and membership up to 43,451

Libby - Some rights reserved by David SpenderThe latest set of accounts for the Lib Dems have been published – I’ve uploaded it at the foot of this post. (You can compare it with last year’s here.) Here are 5 points that struck me I read through the document.

1) Party bounces back from deficit to surplus

Last year, the Lib Dems recorded a deficit of £410k (described then as a “disappointing result”). This year (ie, the year ending 31 Dec 2013), the party has recorded a healthy overall surplus of £439k, with £7.3m of income and £6.9m of expenditure.

photo by: NCVO
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Stephen Williams writes … Energy efficient homes, house building and minority rights for Cornwall

Terraced housingAs we have now begun the summer recess, I wanted to write an update on the progress that has been made at the Department for Communities and Local Government in recent months. Despite differences in priority between our Conservative coalition partners we have made huge strides in key policy areas and I believe that we should be proud and confident highlighting these achievements on the door step.

One of the most crucial recent breakthroughs has been in regards to zero carbon homes. As I am sure you are aware, if we are to meet our carbon emissions targets then we have to make our housing stock more energy efficient by introducing strict new regulations. This, of course, is easier said than done and we have had to work extensively with developers, industry representatives and environmental groups in order to agree ambitious yet practical energy efficiency targets.  As a result of drawn out negotiations with the Conservatives, the government is now legislating, through the Infrastructure Bill, to introduce a list of ‘allowable solutions’. This is the final measure needed to enable house builders to construct all new homes to a zero-carbon standard from 2016. Zero carbon homes has been a key priority for me since becoming a minister and I am delighted that this incredibly important green policy is now being delivered.

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Food for Thought: Scottish independence?

An educational charity called WORLDwrite contacted Lib Dem Voice recently with a link to their programme below.

This was made by WORLDbytes, which is a “unique online Citizen TV channel set up and run by the education charity WORLDwrite. Dedicated to advancing new knowledge, skills and ideas, the charity promotes excellence in citizen reporting and provides free training to volunteer-learners which combines practical film making with tackling challenging issues.” It offers a 6 week training programme for 16 – 25 year olds, so may well be of interest to any Liberal Youth readers.

This is a video their volunteers made about the Scottish referendum.

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LibLink: Alistair Carmichael – Independence vote is far too important to shun

AlistairCarmichaelWriting in the Scottish Daily Record, Alistair Carmichael praises that paper’s “Missing Million” campaign.

It seems 300,000 people have not registered to vote, and many others will probably not turn out on referendum day.  The paper had already been urging readers to exercise their vote, with a 16 page pullout yesterday, and they are now actively tracking people who are not on the roll.

Alistair writes:

The Daily Record. There’s a reason it’s called Scotland’s Champion and the “missing million” campaign shows why.

On September 18, you, I and every other eligible voter will have

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Opinion: Who are the terrorists?

palestine

This sign held by a Palestinian child at a demonstration sums up the context and background of the present conflict in Gaza that has also led to violence and loss of life in the West Bank.

This simple summary of the oppressive behaviour of the Israeli government shows how it amounts to State Terrorism.  Western governments are reluctant to recognise this for what it is and our own political leaders (Cameron, Hammond, Miliband – and even our own Nick Clegg who has been much quieter than he was during the Cast Lead invasion of 2008) usually qualify any criticism of Israel with a statement that Israel has the right to defend itself, i.e. they accept at best the “justified but disproportionate” paradigm which is frankly indefensible.

Our governments have allowed Israel the means to maintain an illegal and oppressive control over Palestine.  They have refused to put economic and other pressures on Israel to change its behaviour.  They ignore the words of leaders of liberal organisations (Yachad, Jewish Voice for Peace, New Israel Fund etc.) or of liberally minded journalists in Israel (Haaretz) and other Jewish commentators like Professor Avi Shlaim and Henry Siegman, and accept the propaganda coming from Israel’s far right politicians, who they wouldn’t even talk to if they were active in the UK.

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A bit of our party’s history remembered

1988On 29th July, exactly 26 years ago, Paddy Ashdown was elected as the first leader of the newly merged Social and Liberal Democrats (which quickly settled down to being known as the Liberal Democrats).  The leadership contest was between Paddy Ashdown and Alan Beith, who had my vote. But what a leader Paddy turned out to be!

The Guardian marks the anniversary by airing an editorial of the day, part of which was a tribute to David Steel who had decided not to enter the leadership contest. David Steel had led the Liberal Party into the Alliance with the Social Democrats and acted as one of the two interim leaders of the Social and Liberal Democrats after the merger.  He had been the baby of the House when elected at the age of 26, and was one of the youngest party leaders ever when he took up that role 11 years later.

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LibLink: Alex Proud – “If you believe politicians are useless, you’ll end up with useless politicians”

In the Telegraph today, Alex Proud — who self-describes as “A lapsed Liberal and a rugged, Gladstonian Liberal who likes free markets and the odd gunboat, but a Liberal nonetheless” — reflects on his recent meeting with Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes:

… sitting between Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg I was reminded for the first time in ages just how inspiring good politicians can be. They force us to think outside the box of our own petty concerns and project ourselves onto a national and even global stage. They remind us that we can change the world for the better. They actually made me feel like a teenager again – raging against Thatcher while still admiring her steeliness and her ability to bend the country to her will. Dare I say it, they even ignited a spark of nostalgia for a time before my birth, when we felt we could stand up to dictators, end war and make the next generation fairer and healthier.

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Nick Clegg “surprisingly good at Twitter”

Whether it’s posting a selfie from a football match, posing with a Princess mug, mocking the Daily Mail or looking like the perfect domestic goddess before admitting that it was Miriam who had made the very nice looking pie (for which we still need the recipe), Nick Clegg certainly has a quirky way with Twitter that. Over at the i, they’ve recognised that today by posting these highlights, commenting that:

 He seamlessly blends being part of the liberal establishment and looks genuinely happy to be at a football match.

They added that a scene with children could look very awkward if …

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Nick Clegg’s Message for Eid-al-Fitr

We join Nick Clegg in wishing those of you who are celebrating today a very happy Eid-al-Fitr.

Here is his video message, with transcript underneath:

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Opinion: New law needed to tackle millions wasted on public sector redundancy and rehiring

Those of us who exited the NHS as whistleblowers, given the bum’s rush and no cash, would not be expected to have much sympathy for the small army of re-tread NHS managers who have been ‘made redundant’ and then re-hired, sometimes doing essentially the same job in essentially the same area, having recently received a small fortune for notional ‘redundancy’.

3,950 NHS staff were made redundant between May 2010 and November 2013 and later re-hired, 2,570 of them on a permanent basis and 1,380 on fixed contracts. Last week’s published Department of Health accounts show that the average cost of redundancy …

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Opinion: UKIP are a blessing in disguise for pro-Europeans

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder works harder than nine UKIP MEPs put together. She speaks more sense than their entire delegation, of course, but in terms of turning up to vote, it’s official: the number of European Parliament divisions she’s taken part in since the election is more than the combined total of nine of their lot.

Since the new Parliament started at the beginning of July, MEPs have faced 39 roll-call votes in the plenary. This is where all MEPs come together to speak and vote, usually in Strasbourg. Catherine, our sole representative in the European Parliament, has voted on …

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