Opinion: Time for a real English party

It’s time for Liberal Democrats to get serious about England. Although we are, in theory, a federal party, we certainly don’t act like it in practice. In Scotland we stand as the Scottish Liberal Democrats. In Wales we stand as the Welsh Liberal Democrats/Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru. But in England we just stand as the Liberal Democrats.

We have Scottish and Welsh conferences to handle Scottish and Welsh policy but no English conference so our “federal” conference is dominated by policy on England only matters. We have federal committees in the party but they have Scottish and Welsh representatives added on separately. We have Welsh and Scottish Lib Dem HQs but the greatest concentration of our staff and resources is at party headquarters in London where there’s no distinction between staff focusing on federal matters and England matters.

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A 4th July Bonus

Best wishes to all our American friends as they celebrate their special day.

We were talking amongst ourselves on the LDV team, wondering what the best way to to mark the occasion would be. We decided that it just had to be with some clips of the best programmes ever made. And the first one, suggested by Nick Thornsby,  even has tennis. After the way Mr Murray has just dragged our emotions through a mangle, that’s only appropriate.

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SLF Conference – the tweets #3 Political pluralism

Here’s the third set of tweets from the SLF Conference. Gordon Lishman chaired a session on political pluralism. David Howarth, former MP for Cambridge, looked at election data, Sue Goss from Compass looked at how progressive parties might work together and Tom Spencer, former Tory MEP who argued that a liberal party should alternate between left and right.

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SLF Conference – The Tweets #2

Here’s our second look at tweets from SLF Conference covering late morning and early afternoon. It’s a great day. Remember you can watch live below:

First up a session on how the Lib Dems rebuild featuring Sal Brinton and Mark Pack:

But at the end…

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Opinion: In defence of the Scottish Government’s plan for named persons for every child

I am writing this article after becoming increasingly frustrated at the tone and level of debate with which many people in our party are subjecting the Scottish Children and Young People’s bill and in particular the provision for a “named person” for every child.

Many of you will be asking what a “named person” is. If you choose to listen to the Daily Mail, the Christian institute and an assortment of other hysterical social conservatives this represents the introduction of state sponsored guardians whose mission in life is to spy on families and enforce political correctness. However I choose not to listen to these groups. I choose to listen to the countless social workers, teachers, child protections professionals, youth workers and other professionals who are backing this legislation.

What this legislation actually does is provide for a single point of contact for every young person from the ages of zero to eighteen so if ever that young person requires support from services or a welfare issue is raised by professionals, these organisations are operating in tandem rather than working in isolation. This will operate in a similar manner as health visitors supporting mothers and infants. For the vast majority of young people the named person will be a midwife then a health visitor followed by their primary school headteacher and finally their secondary guidance teacher.

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SLF Conference – The Tweets #1

The Social Liberal Forum is having its annual conference today with the theme of Rebooting Liberalism. It’s being held at the Amnesty HQ in London, so at this point, after the awful news this week about surveillance, we should probably say that we hope our friends at GCHQ enjoy the proceedings. The event sold out some weeks ago. Our own Mary Reid has been very involved in the organisation. SLF Conference is always lively, interesting and really makes you think.

The agenda looks brilliant.

Claire Tyler will give the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture. Julian Huppert and Bridget Fox will revisit Liberty,  Prateek Buch and Naomi Smith will tackle Equality, and Cllr Liz Green will focus on Community with Michael Meadowcroft.  Chris Nicholson will be drawing on his experience as a SpAd in a session on Reforming Government with Daisy CooperMark Pack and Party President Sal Brinton will be asking ‘How do we rebuild the Liberal Democrats?’, while David Howarth will discuss political pluralism with Sue Gossfrom Compass and academic Tom Spencer. 

In addition, people attending the conference will be voting in advance on the topics for four round table discussions, there will be fringe meeting on Positive Money plus a Youth meet-up.

The day will conclude with a Leadership Hustings with Tim Farron and Norman Lamb.

I am very sad not to be there, but I have asked everyone to tweet loads so I can keep an eye on what’s going on, and I’ll put up a selection of the most interesting tweets throughout the day.

You can also watch the live stream which is a bit erratic, but great to have:

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Farron and Lamb respond to questions from Liberal Democrat Lawyers

The Lib Dem Lawyers’ Association asked our leadership candidates Tim Farron and Norman Lamb a number of questions to probe their positions on key legal issue debates. First off we asked about the rule of law as a liberal principle and as you might expect received positive responses. On all our questions both candidates gave good responses, though sometimes with a different emphasis – you can read the responses in full here. There were a number of themes:-

On Access to Justice both took anti-LASPO (the legislation which cut back the scope of civil legal aid) positions – although both at the time voted for the legislation, Norman said “We were wrong…. this was quite possibly our biggest mistake in the last government” whilst Tim said “I don’t think anyone could now defend the LASPO Act’s reforms and we need to think again.” As someone who lobbied all our MPs incessantly on this issue, I’m pleased to hear that, although much damage to free legal advice sector has already been done. On criminal legal aid, Norman also spoke about “modernising the criminal justice system” whist Tim spoke about “ending the deserts in provision.”

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Jim Wallace: The Human Rights Act gives us the ability to challenge the state on ordinary day to day issues

Yesterday was Lib Dem Opposition Day in the Lords and we chose two subjects very close to our heart. We’ve already covered the debate led by Paddy on foreign affairs.  Jim Wallace led one on human rights and civil liberties. He outlined how he frustrated he felt as a minister on the wrong side of a human rights judgement but that made him no less committed to the principles of the Act. Here’s his speech in full.

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Miriam Gonzalez Durantez argues for quotas on boards – but warns that inclusive culture is also necessary

Remarkably, we’ve seen a consensus between our two leadership candidates that some for of action such as all women shortlists or zipping in list contests, is necessary to do something about the party’s shockingly poor record on diversity.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, as reported in the International Business Times, has called for quotas on company boards:

I am a reluctant supporter of temporary quotas. Intervention, on a temporary basis, is probably the only solution to make a big change. It irritates my legal mind because obviously discrimination cannot be sorted with another discrimination, but I’ve come to the conclusion that unless you make an intervention, change will to be difficult.

She did go on to say, though, that where there must be no tokenism. Companies must allow women on their boards to play a full part:

Boards have a specific role: controlling what the situation is for shareholders and the community as a whole, that is why they were created. Too many boards are either not diverse or diverse nominally and not inclusive. They sit women around the table but they don’t participate in discussions, those boards are not fulfilling.

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Paddy Ashdown: It is no longer the case that the nation state, acting alone, can determine its future

In the comments to an earlier post, Bill Le Breton mentioned a speech by Paddy Ashdown in the Lords yesterday. We had a look and thought it deserved to be reproduced in full. In it, he outlines the threats we face, the changes to the balance of power across the world and how we need to change our attitudes and foreign policy to meet these new realities. Enjoy.

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Fourth emails from Leadership Candidates

The leadership candidates have sent their third official emails. You can read the first three here,  here and here.

First of all, the Returning Officer’s information including what to do if you haven’t received your ballot:

Below are the top lines and links in the fourth of four emails from the candidates that I am distributing on their behalf.  I do this in my role as the Acting Returning Officer for this election.

Also please find below contact details for how you can find out more about each of the candidates.

Ballot have already been dispatched so you should receive your ballot paper by post in the next day or so if you haven’t received it already.   If you have not received your ballot paper by Thursday 2nd July please go to  http://www.libdems.org.uk/replacement-ballot-paper to request a replacement.  With your ballot there will also be a copy of both candidates’ manifestos.

Our ballot counters must receive your complete ballot paper by 2pm on July 15th for it to count.

Many thanks for participating in this important election.

Regards,

TimGordon
Chief Executive & Acting Returning Officer
Liberal Democrats

PS Replacement ballot papers are issued on a case by case basis at the discretion of the Returning Officer.

Tim Farron’s Email

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Carmichael accuses the Tories of abuse of process over English Votes for English Laws

Alistair Carmichael had a right old go at Leader of the House Chris Grayling over English Votes for English Laws. The Conservatives have chosen to take the easy route and merely amend Commons Standing Orders rather than have the House of Lords, where they don’t have a majority,  scrutinise it.

Questioning Mr Grayling in the House of Commons, Mr Carmichael said:

If there are not to be two tiers of MPs in this House after these changes, what on earth does it mean to have a double majority at Report stage? I have to say I think it is an outrage that the Government are seeking to drive ahead with a fundamental challenge to the constitutional integrity of this House as the Parliament of the UK through Standing Orders. If the Leader of the House really thinks these proposals will bear scrutiny, he should bring forward primary legislation for proper scrutiny both on the Floor of this House and in the other place. If he thinks he can do that, let him come ahead and do it.

Grayling told him he was welcome to bring his proposals forward. After the exchange, Alistair said:

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Lib Dem Geraldine Locke takes safe Tory Council seat in Richmond

Just under two months ago,  Liberal Democrats in South West London suffered the shock loss of Vince Cable in Twickenham. It would be understandable if they had just curled up in a ball and sulked. They didn’t get the chance to do that. The new Tory MP, Tania Mathias, resigned her Council seat so they had to get back out on the streets campaigning. The Hampton Wick ward was a massively safe Tory seat. Last year, the Liberal Democrats polled about half as well as the Tory candidates.

Well, our fabulous team in Twickenham and Richmond managed to pull off a brilliant, confidence-boosting victory, with Geraldine Locke taking the seat by just over 100 votes. The excitement on Twitter was palpable!

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Opinion: Getting diverse in the arts

Last month, I was invited by my friend Danny Lee  Wynter to an event he had organised at the National Theatre called Act for Change. It’s a movement that was set up in response to a TV Advert in 2014 which trailed the upcoming season of TV but failed to feature a single BAME performer or disabled artist. AfC campaigns on a platform that the arts are for everyone, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age or disability, and they should reflect the societies we live in. Sound familiar to problems in any other places of work?

The event at the National was wonderful, eye opening and angry all in different measures. Chaired by Shami Chakrabati with a host of interesting voices on the panel including the actor Adrian Lester who told a wonderful story about his daughter commenting on the lack of diversity among Hobbits whilst they watched together the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He tried to reason with her until she pointed out an exact passage in Tolkein’s books in which the hobbits are described as being dark skinned which had just been ignored in the casting process.

I think Phyllida Lloyd summed the situation up best in the event when she answered a question by saying:

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Report shows how extensively this country fails vulnerable children

Yesterday the UK’s Children’s Commissioners published a joint report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. It makes very grim reading. If a child is poor, bullied, suffers mental ill health, gets involved with the criminal or immigration systems or suffers the effects of domestic violence, this country simply does not provide them with what they need. I seriously recommend that you read the whole thing because a few headlines from the press doesn’t quite give the flavour of the extent to which we should be ashamed of ourselves.

We can have all the arguments we like about austerity measures and to what extent they were necessary but this report provides an extensive list of the sorts of problems that we liberals should be putting all our energies into solving. Top of my list would be access to justice and reversing the cuts to legal aid that prevent children being properly represented in cases that affect them. Second would be mental health. The range of things that affect young people’s mental health is huge and we need to look at prevention as well as treatment when things do go wrong.

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LDVideo: Liberalism, free speech and extremism – Tim and Norman at the National Liberal Club

Watch on YouTube here, or below.

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Paul Tyler writes…Lessons for our new campaigner-in-chief?

I was lucky enough to be invited to a symposium of academics, pollsters and (a very few) politicians this week at Nuffield College on “Beyond General Election 2015”. It was sponsored by the British Election Study, which takes an in depth look at the voting behaviour and motivations of a 30,000 strong sample.

The discussion was held under the Chatham House rule, so I cannot disclose who said what, but here are some themes.

The incumbency factor for sitting Liberal Democrat MPs seems to have been worth some 11%+ on the national vote share. Our 334 lost deposits are very troubling but these figures do show that without fairly ruthless (some might say not ruthless enough) targeting, we could not have maximised what little advantage we had.

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Opinion: General election 2015 – The rise of UKIP and the Tory decapitation strategy

Looking across the change in vote share at the General Election (analysing data from here) reveals that the Liberal Democrat vote was down 15.3 percentage points (pps) on average, but down slightly more in constituencies where the Lib Dems won in 2010 (15.7 pps). Excluding Scotland from these latter figures shows the Libs Dems were down by 16.8 percentage points.

The biggest winner was UKIP, both in England and Wales (up 10.9 pps) and in former Lib Dem constituencies (up 7.6 pps). The Liberal Democrats need to understand why so many previous voters switched to UKIP.

The Conservatives were up 1.1 pps overall, but actually down 0.5 pps in Lib Dem seats. However, in England and Wales this turns into a gain, albeit just 0.7 pps and again lower than their overall improvement. The Conservatives gained most ground against the Lib Dems in the South West, up 3.8 pps overall, and up 4.3 pps in seats the Lib Dems had previously won.

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In full: Norman Lamb’s speech to the IPPR: Liberalism needs to be history’s chosen instrument to build the bridge to the future.

Both leadership candidates have given speeches to the Institute of Public Policy Research recently. We covered Tim Farron’s last week. Here is Norman Lamb’s.

I want to thank the IPPR for inviting me to speak here today.

The IPPR has been a leading progressive think-tank since I have been active in politics. Under the leadership of Nick Pearce it has consistently shown a thoughtful and challenging perspective on the issues of the day, not least in the field of health.

I have been particularly impressed with the emphasis on the quality of care and the commitment to making decisions locally. Was rather helpful to me as a Minister – thank you! We owe you a particular debt of gratitude for the fantastic Think Ahead programme, bringing the brightest young people into mental health social work just as Teach First brought a generation of new graduates into teaching.

I also welcome the fact that you – as a charity – work across the political spectrum.

And I congratulate you in that the Liberal Democrat trustees you have had in recent times – Shirley Williams, Kate Parminter and Alison Suttie. All brilliant liberals and I’m proud to report all supporters of my leadership campaign!

Well I hope after all those nice things that this speech goes better than the one that I heard about recently.

The speaker went on for rather too long, sat down to muted applause, very muted.

He turned to the person next to him and asked how they would have delivered the speech?

To which the reply came “Under an assumed name?”

But let me start by saying something about the election.

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Catherine Bearder MEP doesn’t need men telling her what’s important

I have to say that I am incandescent with rage at a profile of the only Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder which has appeared in the New Statesman. The implied conclusion of both the journalist and the several Liberal Democrat sources quoted seems to be that Catherine is a lightweight who needs the back-up of a group of men. She’s criticised for not pursuing their agendas and her own concerns, on massive issues like wildlife and human trafficking are dismissed by the journalist as pet projects.  Yes, that’s right, protecting vulnerable people from the brutal exploitation of modern slavery somehow is a niche issue? Not in my world.

The thing is, despite the drip-drip of patronising criticism that comes through the article Catherine comes out of it really well. What I get is an impression of a politician who, heaven forfend, is well-connected to her constituency and the people she represents. Heaven forfend! It’s hard to do that across a single UK Parliamentary seat. Across a region? That’s more challenging and Catherine does it well. That is just as important as legislative achievement.

Dave Keating, the journalist laments that the lack of political heavyweights:

The Liberal Democrats lost their Brussels heavyweights like Graham Watson, Andrew Duff and Ed McMillan-Scott.

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Lib Dem Leadership: Farron and Lamb in diversity hustings

Diversity Hustings GlasgowIn a normal election, hustings can be a great place to spot key differences between candidates and find where they stand on various areas of policy. Internally, however, there’s often a lot of overlap between the candidates’ values and hustings can become a little ‘same old, same old’. For this reason, Scottish Lib Dem Women teamed up with Ethnic Minorities Liberal Democrats, Liberal Youth Scotland, and LGBT+ to organise an event in Scotland that wasn’t about policy but was about one specific area instead: diversity, both within and outwith the party.

This is a topic seen far too often as a fringe issue or a minor problem, so it was great to have a full two-hour discussion that allowed us to touch on a great number of areas under the umbrella of diversity. There was a lot of interest in the event so we streamed it online and also took questions through Google Hangouts, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Opinion: The habit of liberalism

I read somewhere that it takes 30 days to make a new habit. By all accounts, predictable behaviour is what the old brain likes. When it sniffs out something new, something out of the everyday ordinary, it’ll fire up the fragile in us and persuade our will power into a quick surrender. Any attempts to break with our norm will be wrestled from us. Until 30 days. At 30 days, the brain tells itself…. hold on, I recognise this, this thing you’re doing – carry on, nothing to see here. 30 days for the reluctant plodder to transcend into the regular jogger; 30 days until the ciggie quitter becomes the “No thanks I don’t smoke”-er.

30 days ago I made a decision to make a new habit. I decided I was going to care more about what happens next in our country. I was a bit nervous; ‘caring’ isn’t really something that comes naturally to me. I am a prolific helper of old ladies with heavy suitcases, and I will confidently stand by my record for apprehending dog walkers with a laissez faire attitude to canine bowel movements; but give me bad things happening elsewhere, to other people, and my default is to lurch for my off switch. Out of sight, ‘n all that. The “And here’s where your money will go to” bits of Comic Relief, the “Scenes some viewers may find distressing…” – these are my tea brewing moments. It’s appalling. I know it’s appalling. But, you know… habits!

So that’s why I joined the Lib Dems, 30 days ago. I had voted for them in the General Election, and they had lost gigantically. I’m not suggesting the former led to the latter, but somehow I felt responsible that I hadn’t done enough. So what better place to kickstart a habit for wanting things to be better.

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LibLink: If I’m Lib Dem leader, we’ll oppose fracking

Tim Farron has been writing for Politics.co.uk about his desire to see the party change its policy on fracking. The headline is entirely misleading, because what he actually does is show respect to the party’s processes by saying he’ll ask the Federal Policy Committee and Conference to reconsider the issue. But why?

The UK should not be pursuing another fossil fuel source, when there is so much potential for renewable generation from tidal and hydro that is still untapped. I would like the party, through the federal policy committee and the conference, to think again about our existing policy on fracking.

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Willie Rennie wins in North East Fife

Many thanks to Robin Bennett from Ceres in North East Fife for sending us this from the Scottish Highland Games Association website:

Running from the scratch mark in the 1600 metres handicap Scott McDnald, Central AC thrilled the crowds as he worked his way through he field before going on to snap the worsted in 4:28.42., the previous weeks Newburgh winner Dean Whiteford took 2nd place with Jordan Taylor, Hawick in 3rd.

McDonald was thwarted in his bid to land a double when he had to settle for he runners up spot in the 3000 metres handicap behind none other than LIb Dem leader Willie Rennie, the latter, who was receiving a start of 600 metres from the backmarker battled on gamely to hold off all challengers, the rapidly closing McDonald finished 2nd with Amy Armstrong in 3rd. One local worthy added ”it’s a long time since there was a Lib Dem win in North-East Fife”!

There is a cracking photograph of a very happy looking Scottish Liberal Democrat leader.

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LibLink: Norman Lamb: It would be easy for our party to shelter in our comfort zone but it would be very, very wrong

Norman Lamb has been writing for the Huffington Post about his vision for the future of the Liberal Democrats.

The next few years can’t just be about making ourselves feel better; we must be far more ambitious than that.

That means broadening our policy and political thinking, daring – once again – to be radical and challenging. It is why I am proposing a renaissance in our approach to political action and debate, reaching out to include the many – particularly young people – who share our values and instincts but are put off by closed party structures and, even worse, by tribalistic political thinking.

Our task now is not just to devise short-term tactics or louder opposition. We will succeed when we have a long-term, coherent and persuasive set of strategic ideas for Britain.

The good news is that Liberalism fits our age. Britain has become less collective, citizens and consumers feel more empowered and many individual rights – through equal marriage for instance – are better recognised.

What are his key issues?

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It’s so easy, when you are live-tweeting an event, to give the wrong impression

Last night, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats held a hustings for the two leadership candidates, Tim Farron and Norman Lamb. They covered the event  brilliantly on Twitter.

Covering an event like that is really challenging – things move on so quickly and you can easily make a mistake. I know that. I once tweeted that Vince Cable was in favour of low pay when he had very clearly said the opposite.

So it was good to see that they corrected a very similar error that they had made last night. They had tweeted that Tim had said that equality was immoral and stupid. Well done to them for sorting it out quickly.

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By-election update: Near miss in Cambs, clean sweep in Abbots Langley

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Two principal council by-elections were held last Thursday. The Lib Dems in Cambridgeshire (CC) narrowly missed out on holding their seat in Romsey ward, falling 47 votes short of Labour. LD candidate Nichola Martin polled 35.2%, a decrease of 12.7% from the ward’s last election two years ago.

Posted in Council by-elections and News | Tagged and | 10 Comments

A small step for trust in the manifesto

It has been obvious since long before the election that we have a trust problem. We did the right thing on tuition fees, bringing more young people than ever from disadvantaged backgrounds to university, a contribution system that fairer in terms of graduate incomes than general taxation would be, and therefore more “left wing” in the distributional sense, if not in the clientilist sense. This, graduate tax in all but name, on a moderately generous interpretation (! yes I know) honoured the second half of the pledge “work towards a fairer system of student finance” in spades, and made the first half redundant.

But politics doesn’t work like that. Labour can repeatedly break their promises to students when they have a majority in parliament and money to spend and it does not define them. We can all but honour ours and face a massive trust issue.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | 126 Comments

Cities and Local Government Bill report back

The Government’s plan to impose Mayors where they were previously rejected is progressing apace in Parliament. Fairly unusually for a controversial Bill, it has started out in the Lords.

Our Lib Dem team, led by John Shipley, is seeking to make three campaigning points about the Bill. First, that if areas are to have powerful Mayors imposed upon them, these should be scrutinised by directly elected assemblies, as in London. Secondly, that all of local government should be elected by STV, ending modern rotten Boroughs. Thirdly, that the franchise for these (and all other) elections should be expanded to include 16 and 17 year olds.

Posted in News and Parliament | 6 Comments

Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens #2

I sent a postcard from Athens to LDV six months or so ago as we waited for the Greek people to elect a new government – bringing to power the curious mix of Syriza (a collection of hard left factions that would make the People’s Front of Judea blush) and the Independent Greeks (representing the Greek chauvinistic right). This odd mix of nationalism and hard –left rhetoric has been colourfully described by one academic as “ethno-bolshevism”. Since then, it has certainly been eventful and I have been very much aware that political choices have consequences.

In the Greek election campaign, Syriza promised to free Greece to make its own financial decisions without interference form the much hated “Troika” (the IMF, the Eurozone and the European Union) while, at the same time, ensuring Greece could stay within the security of the European monetary union – even receiving debt relief from its other members. Greece duly voted to have its cake and to eat it.

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  • User AvatarMichele 5th Jul - 10:07am
    Speaking as a woman from a disadvantaged background who works in a male dominated field I can't think of anything that I am opposed to...
  • User AvatarSimon Banks 5th Jul - 10:06am
    Some important stuff here and we may have to face up to the possibility that the reduction in the local effect, the incumbency boost and...
  • User Avatardavid walker 5th Jul - 9:57am
    Well said. We should be bold in being patriotic at all levels of the UK, be it nationally, internationally or indeed England, the regions and...
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    There is a natural level of organisation which is the distance you can travel for an all-day meeting. Our regions generally fit that requirement and...
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    This should be opposed. Firstly because it is state intrusion into the lives of children and their parents, totally illiberal. Secondly and worse still it...
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    PR by STV should have been a LibDem 'red line' in 2010. Thanks to LibDem weak leadership, PR is off the table for another 50...
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