The Brexit Delusion

Brexiteers say about the consequences of Brexit, “I don’t care, we voted for out and that’s what should happen”. I detect also that they know it’s the best way to annoy the establishment and all those politicians who have “messed up their lives”. It started with picking on foreigners for taking our jobs and destroying […]

Brexiteers say about the consequences of Brexit, “I don’t care, we voted for out and that’s what should happen”. I detect also that they know it’s the best way to annoy the establishment and all those politicians who have “messed up their lives”.

It started with picking on foreigners for taking our jobs and destroying our culture but morphed into finding a scapegoat for all our troubles. UKIP has piled up all their pet hates onto one handcart and labelled it Europe. The EU is not a perfect soul mate (it has its demons) but in the current world it’s far superior as a partner to all the rest. Our politicians should be telling us so.

Yet somehow, Vote Leave has succeeded in setting our people against each other in an unnecessary civil war. They have pulled off a mischievous stunt that has churned up anger and resentment against the EU. We are all victims now. Only our sense of good play will get us out of it.

The real culprit is a seismic shift in the world manufacturing power and our government’s inadequate solutions and poor decision making for dealing with it. Europe is in the same turmoil as the UK for the same reasons. It would be an intelligent move to work together and not fight each other. After Brexit many firms will shrink their business and return to Europe. Brexiteers will say “Good Riddance”. That is a mark of frustration, not logic. Vote Leave has exploited this frustration and pinned it on Europe.

So, my point is be careful what you wish for. The real battle is for fairness between the haves and have nots. Between London and the Regions. The real battle is with multinationals refusal to pay proportional taxes and the government’s feeble fight back. The failure to tackle housing, welfare, zero hour contracts, rogue entrepreneurs stealing company wealth and employees’ pension pots, then making them redundant. Add in the RBS banking scandal, the foolish decision on the bedroom tax, penny-pinching ruining the introduction of Universal Credit scheme, the irresponsible decision to pay rent directly to tenants rather than landlords and councils, and what you have is a rich seam of discontent ready for Vote Leave to exploit. Everyone is aware that the very rich are getting richer and everyone else poorer. So Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica team up under the anarchic vision of Dominique Cummings to hunt down all the victims of all this mis-management and alley their grievances to their cause.

Our politicians are fighting to ameliorate a bad situation in the face of public anger on all sides. In my opinion, they should be trying to secure a holding position for the nation to re-establish its sanity. A move to stay in the customs union, eradicate the pain of the backstop and re-establish our industrial stability is the first goal. The conservative government has to finally bite the bullet and test the resolve of the ERG extreme nationalists holding it to ransom. It’s the demise of the ERG, the government or the country. Which one is for the trash can? If all goes horribly wrong it will be The People’s Vote that will be the decider. It will be successful if the campaign has a Strategy. I ask the question: what is it?

* Ken Griffin is a retired school-teacher, lecturer and factory manager.

Christine Jardine: A tax on women just for being women is plain wrong

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine describes seeing an offer for deodorant for £1 in a pharmacy. Men could buy a full size can. Women got a travel size. That encapsulates the problem that she is trying to sort out in a Bill aimed at tackling the so-called “Pink Tax” she is introducing […]

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine describes seeing an offer for deodorant for £1 in a pharmacy. Men could buy a full size can. Women got a travel size.

That encapsulates the problem that she is trying to sort out in a Bill aimed at tackling the so-called “Pink Tax” she is introducing today.

The women’s movement has come a long way. Parliament itself is an example. We don’t have a perfect gender balance yet, but we do have the largest number of women ever elected, and the green benches are beginning to look vaguely like the country we are there to represent. But discrimination is still there in everyday life in so many ways that often we simply don’t notice.

Next time you are shopping take a careful note of some of the prices on the shelves. You may not notice it at first but over time you may begin to see a trend.

I hadn’t really noticed that the so-called ‘Pink Tax’ was an issue until it was pointed out to me by a colleague, so I went into a high-street pharmaceutical store to see for myself.

It seems that women get hit with a double whammy: they make less for doing the same work, and then they pay more for the same product or service just because it’s ‘for’ women. Discrimination on gender grounds is illegal, and whether women are paying more for a pink razor, deodorant from the same brand, or for an identical piece of clothing, it’s time to say enough is enough. There is absolutely no reason why men and women should pay different prices for exactly the same products or services.

In an article that starts with a reference to her hero, Billie Jean King, and is crammed full of tennis metaphors, she goes on to talk about Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women, which is being published this week. This describes the gender data gap:

Perez explains how everything from the size of phones to office temperatures is based on data gathered about men’s bodies. Yes. Only men’s bodies. And wait for this. Viagra, it turns out, could have been developed to provide relief to women who suffer every month from period cramps. But, the book claims, the all-male funding review panel opted not to invest in researching that use as it wasn’t “a public priority”. It makes you wonder how different the world would look if more women were influencing the shape of society, the products we buy and the decisions we make.

It’s an ace read.

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary published in print or online.

Fabio Conti: A plea for Conservative unity in these fractious times – and how we must plan for the challenges of the future

It is rarely Brexit that people raise on the doorstep. It is concerns about the NHS; their local school; the difficulties faced by social care, or the rise in violent crime.

Fabio Conti is a GP in West London and a former Ealing councillor.  He contested Ealing Southall in the 2017 general election.

We are at a moment in which the tone of our national discourse has become so corrosive that, at times, it appears to be wearing through the very fabric that holds our nation together. The febrile nature of political debate, especially on social media, hasn’t been helped by the choice of language by some of our MPs, who have at times appeared to use increasing hyperbole in order to further their own agenda. There is division at every level of society – from within political parties to within families. This raises the question of how our nation can be brought together once we move beyond this chapter in our collective history.

Looking at our own Party, we’ve seen MPs, members and supporters express everything, during recent months, from unhappiness to despair at what others in the Party are saying and doing. People from all parts of it are feeling frustrated – and, at times, intolerant about the actions of others. It seems that we are often forgetting the common thread of values that unite all of us: opportunity; believing that not just government but people should be given the power to make decisions about their own lives; free enterprise and sound money, and the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get on in life. As we encounter some of the most testing times in our Party’s history, we should remember the values we share, and realise there is often more that binds us together than draws us apart.

At this challenging time, it is vital that members who feel disillusioned with the Party do not turn their backs on it. We need to debate ideas, and work together to renew and define ourselves beyond Brexit with a positive vision for the future of our country, rooted in our uniting common values.

If we do not, the appealing proposition to a weary electorate of Jeremy Corbyn’s easy answers to complex challenges will hand him the keys to Number Ten whenever the next election comes. It is our duty to prevent what this would inflict on our country from happening.

When speaking to people on the doorstep, or talking to colleagues or friends, it is rarely Brexit that people raise. It is concerns about the NHS; their local school; the difficulties faced by social care, or the rise in violent crime. Additionally, there are too many people in our country who feel that they have been left behind. For some, this may have been a driving force to voting Leave in 2016. Looking beyond Brexit, we need to tackle the barriers of poor mental health, generational unemployment and inequality of opportunity. When in our country today just five elite schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than two-thirds of all state secondaries, and one in four prisoners and 70 per cent of sex workers grew up in care, it shows that we have a lot work to do to improve life chances and unlock opportunity for all.

Tacking these issues could be the uniting mission that can help bring our party and the country back together. We need to set our country on a new course, healing the divisions of the last few years – and move on to dealing with the big domestic issues of our day.

Being a PPC: what’s your motivation?

Caron asked me to write a series a little while ago about being a PPC – and my response at the time was that a day-in-the-life blog might put people off ever applying to be a PPC! Being a PPC is hard work – we are volunteers and unpaid, but expected to do a huge […]

Caron asked me to write a series a little while ago about being a PPC – and my response at the time was that a day-in-the-life blog might put people off ever applying to be a PPC!

Being a PPC is hard work – we are volunteers and unpaid, but expected to do a huge amount of work building our teams, supporting local elections, sending out press releases, attending local events, answering letters and emails, the list goes on.

However, I willingly signed up to the never-ending work. Why? In my case it was my anger at poor mental health provision coupled with my fury at the inequality in society. Those two issues pushed me over the edge from being an armchair activist to getting out and knocking on doors, trying to make a difference.

I didn’t like door-knocking the first time – I thought I was intruding on people’s privacy by interrupting whatever they happened to be doing. But I quickly found out that most people like being asked their opinion and listened to. What they don’t like about politics is the shouting of Westminster and the perceived lack of understanding about how the real world works. Someone knocking on their door, listening to stories about their world, the real world, means a huge amount to them.

As a PPC, we can raise awareness of issues. It is a position of influence, being a voice for the voiceless. We can speak up at public events and make a point, we can argue a different view at hustings, we can put out press releases showing Lib Dems would do things differently, and we can write articles in local newsletters and Focus leaflets. Putting our views and the party’s views out there makes a difference. It shifts the conversation and reframes issues.

Anyone considering being a PPC needs to understand what motivates them and what they want to accomplish in their area. Being grounded in what you are in it for helps when the workload seems overwhelming and people are pulling you in all sorts of directions.

From my view, we need PPCs from a range of backgrounds, truly representing the breadth of the population. It is not just getting gender balance right, it is making sure we have diverse voices from all walks of life in the Parliamentary party, representing a range of viewpoints and lived experience.

Hopefully, I’ll be one of the first (not sure) classical musicians elected.

* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.

Looking beyond Brexit

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce. In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future. Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order: Improve Benefits. Universal Credit […]

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce.

In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future.

Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order:

  • Improve Benefits. Universal Credit could have been a good idea, but under-funding has hit it hard and people are suffering. Improving the funding is a good place to start. We also need to go further. It is a scandal to have people needing to use food banks or losing the roof over their head because of the way the system works. I’ve spoken with people struggling to live on benefits, who voted Leave in the desperate hope that things would improve.
  • Wealth inequality. Back in the autumn, Vince Cable put forward a raft of tax reforms to make the system fairer, especially around inheritance and investment income and pensions. Univeral Basic Income has been on the edge of discussions for a long time. It is time to take it seriously — it can’t be done overnight, but it is time to start the conversation as a way to pick up where we are, and fears around the way in which technology is reshaping the world.
  • Brexit has pushed climate change from the top of the agenda. People have every reason to be worried. That means is that it is high time to turn that worry into action — around renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, zero carbon housing, improved public transport, and more.
  • The Blair government had some good ideas on devolution, with elected regional assemblies and pulling government offices and development to the same boundaries. The imbalances around devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different if there was meaningful devolution in England.
  • It’s time to talk openly about federalism. Too often it’s a dirty word in British (or at least, English) politics. It’s time to dispatch the myth that it is about centralising power and put the case for doing centrally only what needs to be done there and pushing decisions as close as possible to the people they affect. That applies as much to devolving power from Westminster as it does devolving it from Brussels.
  • It’s time to be celebrating diversity, the opportunities coming from free movement of people and the economic benefits of immigration, so we go from the fantasy of immigrants “taking our jobs” to the reality of what we gain from immigration — beginning with the reality that the Tories keep missing their immigration targets because you can’t cut immigration without hurting the economy.
  • Celebrate being being European, with our shared heritage, history and values. It also means celebrating the vision behind the EU. That’s both about drawing on the richness of our story and recognising, and holding in check, our capacity to harm each other.
  • Education and life-long learning are the real responses for people who experience globalisation as a threat to their livelihood.
  • Too many people live in places where their votes don’t count. Many felt that the 2016 referendum was a rare chance for their vote to make a difference. The message has to be that people, and their votes, count. This means voting reform. It is about enabling all voices to be heard.

There is a raft of Liberal Democrat policy that is relevant to healing the divisions behind and exposed by the 2016 result. Commitment to “the values of liberty, equality and community” is a brilliant starting point for the task of working together to build a bright, European future.

 

* Mark Argent was the candidate in Hertford and Stortford in the 2017 General Election

Challenges for liberalism 1: How should liberalism respond to inequality and inequity in the UK?

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by Leeds University Liberal Democrats. It seems to me that inequity is a huge problem right now. We have some of the richest and poorest parts of the EU within the country, and an increasingly polarised society. That polarisation […]

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by Leeds University Liberal Democrats.

It seems to me that inequity is a huge problem right now. We have some of the richest and poorest parts of the EU within the country, and an increasingly polarised society. That polarisation is not only writing off millions of people, but it’s also creating the conditions in which authoritarianism, intolerance and violence thrive. We need some big ideas because what is clear is that we cannot keep going on the way we have been doing. We sold the country’s family silver and lived on unsustainable debt in the 80s creating a boom that ultimately had nothing propping it up, but our addiction to economic quick fixes met the cold light of day in 2008.

Sadly it seems we as a society haven’t learned our lesson. We’re just trying to get back to what we had before, and in trying to do that we are using austerity, and that’s both promoting the spread of poverty and systematically dismantling the structures and institutions we as a society have built to mitigate poverty.

So we are in a mess.

As I said, we need big ideas. The last time we faced a crisis on this scale it was liberalism that did provide the big ideas. The NHS, workers’ rights, the trade union movement, the welfare state. Labour may try to claim ownership of these ideas but we were there at their inception.

Let’s be clear – despite our government’s committed attempt to impose economic sanctions on ourselves with Brexit we are still one of the richest countries in the world. People sleep rough on the street, or have to go hungry to feed their children because we have decided, as a country, that these are OK. Two whole generations will work their backsides off to enrich landlords their entire lives because we have decided, as a country, that that’s OK.

And quite apart from the social consequences of this, our pursuit of a model of capitalism that has clearly had its day, at all costs, is destroying the ecosystem. Not the planet, the planet will be fine. It’s just that we might not be around to enjoy it.

Now I don’t claim to have the answers. There’s a lot of talk about moving to a post scarcity economy, of universal basic income, and other ideas and maybe they will coalesce around a single ideological framework, and I hope they will. It seems to me though that we need to start valuing people, and valuing the idea that we need to structure our society so that everyone lives in safety, warmth and dignity.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution has this clear when it talks about how none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

That lofty goal is not going to be delivered by fiddling round the edges of what we have now. Instead of trying to frame our liberalism in reference to the economic system any hypothetical liberal government would inherit, we need to start thinking, and acting, like radicals. Start with a bold vision, and let’s work out how to get there. One thing that is clear to me is that we aren’t going to get there by being triangulating centrists.

* Sarah Brown is a Liberal Democrat activist from Cambridge, an Exec member of LGBT+ Lib Dems and a former Councillor in Cambridge