What’s it like to be a Lib Dem member?

When our new members vote for either Jo Swinson or Ed Davey to lead our Party in the coming weeks they will inherit a larger Party than ever before with loads of new members bubbling with enthusiasm. And then the hard work starts for all of us!!

Tonight, we are having an event in the City Centre to welcome to the Party the new members and registered supporters who have joined our Party in Liverpool since Christmas. A very large number of people and marvellously diverse. All political Parties have more male than female members, but in the latest set of recruits to the Lib Dems both locally and nationally it is roughly a 50:50 split.

My talk about what to expect in the past has been somewhat Churchillian! “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears! We shall fight them in the streets, we will fight them int eh communities; we shall fight them in the wards…. We shall never surrender”. It was like that but I must say in the past few years it ahs got easier and easier to be an active Lib Dem.

However, I will tonight continue to point out that if you think joining us is the passport to fame fortune and a council or parliamentary seat you have joined the wrong Party especially in the North where we are still grimly fighting Labour. In the South whole swathes of territory and their councils have swapped from blue to yellow with huge Lib Dem gains at a council level. Its been a bit harder in the North where we fight Labour and until the European elections, as the main opposition party, they were harder to take on. Anywhere we fight we have to go the extra mile.

We don’t have a large number of self-identifying natural liberals. Our base is about 10-12% now we have shaken off the toxic effect of the coalition. Labour and Tory Parties have traditionally had a self-identifying vote of about 35-45% but that has been fractured in recent weeks., Many habitual Tory and Labour voters have now voted for another Party twice in a matter of three weeks. Some of those will return to their fold. Others will happily stay with their new Party.

For us in particular there have been a small number of people who have come from Tory to us but a much larger number who have come from Labour to us with many of those cutting up their Labour card in the morning and joining us in the afternoon. With us life is very different. I know this because in Liverpool we have already had a good number of people leaving the Party led, of course, by Cllr Kay Davies a sitting councillor in County Ward.

The first thing that they notice is that we are a friendly, happy bunch who by and large get on with each other. Of course, we have differences but these are minor compared to the factional and doctrinal disputes in the Labour Party. When we disagree on policy it is usually on minor points within a broad framework of agreement. Our discussions are calm and courteous and we listen to what people with other views have to say.

The second thing is that there are a lot less meetings. We have a simplified structure in Liverpool with a City Party; City Executive; City campaign team and City candidate’s selection. This minimises the amount of time spent in meetings but just as importantly:

Thirdly we spend more time out on the streets doing things than the other Parties. Our principles tell us that any power that we have belongs to the people who lend it to us if they elect us. That is why to us what we do in the Council Chamber is important but only if it corresponds with what we learn in the community and if it is reflective not just of hard political opinion but also of the views of none-politicians within our communities.

Policy is important to us but it is not a top down approach. Clearly those in leadership positions have a responsibility to guide and support members in policy making but the policies of the Party are then decided upon by all members in appropriate meetings.

Within those policies elected representatives are allowed to use their own conscience and vote on issues within their broad framework of the principles of the Party. We have someone called a whip in our group but their job is really to ‘administer’ the group and relationships rather than enforce a voting line. Having said that I cannot remember when we last had a split vote because we do discuss things, where possible, well in advance and have agreed a line.

Of course, we have to raise our own money to do our campaigning. We have no big backers to put money into our funds from either the Unions or big business. Unlike Labour in Liverpool who have accepted money from Redrow, Carillion and developers behind some of the failed apartment projects which litter our City Centre we accept no money from companies which trade with the Council. Any donation (and these are very rare) over £250 which is not from a member has to be approved by the Liverpool Executive so there is full transparency and the public knows that no-one buys our vote but that we are guided only by our principles and interest in our City when we cast votes in the Chamber or committees.

Lastly, we often meet for a drink, alcoholic or soft) because we do like each other’s company. Some people tell me that its almost as if they acquired another family rather than joining an organisation! It has certainly seemed that way to me over the more than 50 years in the Party. I go off to conferences and meet the people who I knew as Young Liberals when I joined in 1967.

They are not all present – some of them have fallen off the perch! That sense of family and loyalty served us well during the difficult years when we declined to membership of just over 30,000 (It is now approaching 110,000). It serves us equally well when we ask each other to go out in the cold and rain for ‘just one more leaflet drop’ or “let’s just stay out door knocking for another half hour”. At the end of the day you don’t let your mates down.

Behind all that I have said is a sense of purpose which you can almost breathe. When I talk to our new members, I just feel a sense of unity with them. And they say why they have joined us I can harm them saying the things that attracted me to our Party all those years ago and have inspired me ever since. A distrust of bureaucracy and central decision making; a belief in internationalism and environmental care; the desire to create and fairer society which provides opportunities for all; a desire to let people run their own lives assisted where necessary by the state. That’s liberalism.

No-one else believes all those things. No one else works the way we do both inside the Party and inside the community. I know where my political home is and as I said during the coalition years, “they will have to drag my Lib Dem membership card out of my cold, dead hand”. I hope that’s what our new members will also be saying well into the future!

I will be discussing these issues and more with Cllr John Potter the Leader of the Preston Lib Dems on a podcast which will be released over the weekend. You can catch up with our first two podcast and sign up to receive future ones here. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/lib-dem-podcast/id1467418192

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Action for Zero suicides

This picture from Grassroots Action for suicide shows us the most important way of preventing some or most of the 6,500+ deaths by suicide each year. Finding ways in which people can listen and talk to each other.

This year I have attended and spoken at or participated in a large number of events relating to the problems of suicide. This is a much larger problem than people might think although ‘only’ about 6,500 people die by suicide each death and attempted death leaves behind fractured families and friendships. I have sat and listened to parents who years after their children have died by suicide still ask themselves why it happened. What did they do wrong? How did they not see what was happening?

Others complain of a failure to join up services and information. Information does not pass its way round the system in the most logical way to maximise a full programme of activity when possibilities of suicide become clear.

This meeting was an opportunity for Sarah Wollaston to speak to the group about progress on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy and some of the issues raised during the Health and Social Care inquiry and follow-up session on suicide prevention conducted by the Health Select Committee in January which I addressed.  Both Sarah and the Minister responsible for suicide prevention have shown a real commitment to this work and have made it a high priority within the pressing needs of health and care services.

Every suicide is a tragedy. Although local councils and the NHS are making progress, too many people die by suicide. This has a devastating impact on the families, friends and the people they work and live with.

Suicide prevention is a public health priority for local government and our partners. Councils are leading many excellent initiatives to help drive down suicide rates. Every council has a multi-agency suicide prevention plan inplace, despite this not being a statutory responsibility. Many also have suicide prevention partnerships, which work with public health teams, CCGs, primary and secondary care, the voluntary sector and those affected by suicide.

Councils are working with the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) on a suicide prevention sector-led improvement offer for councils that will further help local areas. While councils are already learning from each other, we need funding to turbo charge this activity. Because of problems between the Department of Health and the Treasury finance agreed for a programme of training and support agreed in January has yet to be provided.

I welcome Ministers’ recognition that mandatory national monitoring of voluntary local suicide prevention plans will not improve the quality of services in itself. The challenge is not a lack of local or national oversight, but the need for a whole system focus on prevention and to stop the false economy of cutting public health budgets.  It is crucial that we have the necessary investment in mental health, social care and wider local services if we are to prevent people from experiencing suicide risk factors. Further cuts to local government budgets, especially public health, will make it ever harder to address suicide risk factors and the wider determinants of wellbeing.

It in important that there is in place since 2012, a cross-Government National Suicide Prevention Strategy which was updated in 2017 to expand the scope of the strategy to include addressing self-harm as an issue in its own right. The 2012 strategy placed responsibility on councils to draw up voluntary suicide prevention action plans in partnership with Health and Wellbeing Boards. Every council now voluntarily has a plan in place.

The work includes:

  • Quality assurance of local plans through local scrutiny – every council now has a local plan in place and the SLI offer will support further improvement in the delivery of those plans.
  • The LGA has worked with ADPH and the Centre for Public Scrutiny to publish a guide for councillors to assist with scrutinising local plans.
  • National oversight of implementation with a possible role of the National Suicide Prevention Advisory Group in quarterly monitoring of local plans – national oversight of voluntary local suicide prevention plans would not work, because councils and local partners, through Health and Wellbeing Boards, are accountable for the plans and have the local knowledge needed to oversee progress in a meaningful way.
  • Pressing for better funding. I welcome the NHS Long Term Plan’s focus on mental health, but funding for suicide prevention in community settings should be allocated to local government public health teams, because it is councils and their partners who are leading the majority of local suicide prevention activity. Funding should be spent in line with local suicide prevention plans or approaches, agreed through health and wellbeing boards.  The fact councils face an overall funding gap of £3.2 billion in 2019/20 threatens services such as housing, culture, growth and transport which have a wider impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It is vital that this year’s Spending Review delivers a truly sustainable funding settlement for local government and we would welcome the Committee’s support in arguing for this.
  • LGA / ADPH Sector Led Improvement. Understandably, the voluntary sector has pressed Ministers to ensure that local areas are doing as much as they can to prevent and reduce suicide. There have been numerous calls for national oversight of voluntary local plans. On behalf of the LGA I have been clear that introducing a new national performance regime for suicide prevention won’t in itself reduce suicide rates and is also contrary to the national Service Level agreement between councils and other partners and central government. The findings from our self-assessment show that councils want and need additional support to deal with challenges such as real time data collection and working with primary care, and to increase capacity to learn from each other on issues like bereavement support.

Regrettably, I doubt that we can ever achieve a zero-suicide rate. I do believe that we can achieve much reduced levels of death by suicide and much better for support of those who are left behind who seek answers and struggle to recover from cruel losses.

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Government urged to review running of Liverpool Council

The Council have blocked a full and democratic debate on the future of the position of elected mayor of the City by proposing that the Officers prepare a report on the options available to the Council. There are only 3. The report could be written in a few days, but it won’t be!

Yesterday I wrote to James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ask him to order a review of the governance of Liverpool City Council. In my request I cited three things as an example of what is going wrong in the city. 

Firstly, the large number of Labour Councillors who are in receipt of Special Responsibility Allowances which is far more than any other comparable city. 

Secondly, is the failure of the Council to respond to the recommendations of the Peer Review of the Council by the LGA to involve opposition Councillors more in the running of the scrutiny process by which the Elected Mayor and Cabinet are held to account.

But what has brought my anger to boiling point is the rejection of a valid request for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council to discuss whether or not to begin the process of removing the position of Elected Mayor. We all know that there is widespread disquiet in the City about the position of Elected Mayor. This unease has spread to the Labour Party with Constituency Labour Parties demanding an end to this wasteful undemocratic position. The Mayor’s response to this is to get the Labour Party to conduct an internal review of the position involving all parts of the Labour Party.

This is not, however, Labour’s City. It is a City and a Council which belongs to its people. The debate about the way the City is run should take place in public and not inside the fractured debates of the Labour Party where the issue will be used to settle scores rather than in consideration of the wishes of the people.

The Council have blocked a public debate on the procedural grounds that the Elected Mayor has now asked for a report on this issue. When I pressed for a timescale on the production and reporting of the report, I got no reply. This is not a complicated matter. There are only three options open to the Council and the Officers could report on these and the consultation process within a week on three or four sheets of paper.

What the Council has now done is to stop an open and honest democratic debate on the issue at an early moment in the Council’s year and sent the whole issue off into the long grass.

This is technically legal but morally indefensible. It makes it highly likely that we will now have an elected mayor until 2024 no matter what the people say as if a Mayor is elected in 2020 they will stay in place for the whole of the 4 year period.

Liberal Democrats will now launch our own consultation on the Elected Mayoralty within the next two weeks. We will give the people of Liverpool a voice even if the Labour controlled council will not.

I attach here the entire letter that I have written to the Secretary of State.

Dear Secretary of State,

Re:       Liverpool Council

I am writing to you to ask you to conduct and immediate and high-level enquiry into the governance of Liverpool City Council.

My immediate concern is the Council’s failure to senstively act within its own standing orders and in doing so preventing a full and proper discussion of the desire shared by many people in Liverpool to remove the position of Elected Mayor.

On 22nd May my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I gave to the Chief Officers of the Council a requisition for an Extraordinary Council Meeting to set in train the process of consultation required to abolish the elected mayoral position. I should explain that in Liverpool a referendum is not required because the council decided in a council meeting to establish the position.

The Council failed to respond to this in the requisite time so, but explained to me that they were seeking a meeting with the Lord Mayor to set the date. They then further explained to me that they had agreed that the Council’s Chief Executive would write a report to be presented, at some unspecified time to a special council meeting. Under our standing orders I had the right to summon a council meeting to consider our motion and exercised that right. The officers have now told me that because a report has been asked for they will not call the Council meeting.

I would explain that there is some disquiet within the controlling Labour group on the Council about the Elected Mayoralty and they have set up an internal consultation process to look at the issue. I have no doubt at all that my motion for a full public debate has been side-tracked to allow the Labour Party to spin out these discussions. I also have no doubt that this has been done at the behest of those who seek to keep the position in place.

The position of Elected Mayor is highly contentious in the City. Many residents object to the fact that they were denied a referendum on the issue in the first place and many want to see the position abolished. At the end of the day the City of Liverpool and its governance is not a matter for any one Party who control the city at any one time but a decision that should be made by the City’s owners, the people of Liverpool.

This is the most high profile and urgent issue but it is not the only one. We have concerns at the fact that all scrutiny is led by Labour councillors despite the fact that 20% of the Council are now opposition councillors. This being in contradiction of a recommendation from the LGA’s Peer Review Team last year. We are also deeply concerned at the number of Labour councillors who receive special responsibility allowances with no clear indication of the work that they do!

I would be pleased to discuss this regrettable state of affairs with your officials and look forward to doing so.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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The social care crisis is becoming a tsunami of problems

We’re living longer but not necessarily healthier. Our social care system is crumbling around us with the Adult Social Care Green Paper now 2 years overdue and with no sign of a publication date

I’ve been in the House of Commons today talking to a newly-established All-Party Group on Social Care. There can be no doubt that consistent under-funding of social care is leading us to a crisis where councils will have to turn people away that we know desperately need help. The Adult Social Care Green paper which was promised in July 2017 is, as yet, unwritten. Until it is councils the NHS, families, communities and individuals will be unable to plan for the future.

Here are some of the key facts that show just how desperate the situation is:

  • Councils have worked hard to protect adult social care spending. We estimate that between 2010 and 2020, English councils will have managed reductions to their core funding from national Government totalling £16 billion. By comparison, over the same period from 2010 to 2020 we estimate that NHS spending will have increased by just over £20 billion.
  • Councils spend over £15 billion on social care every year. ‘Core pressures’ of demography, inflation and National Living Wage means that the gap in adult social care funding will be £3.56 billion by 2025 just to continue provision at its current rate. This is more than five times the amount spent annually on councils’ park services and close to the cost of councils’ waste management spending for a year (£3.6 billion).
  • By 2019/20 councils could be spending as much as 38 pence out of every £1 of council tax on adult social care. This is up from just over 28 pence in 2010/11. As councils spend more on social care, less money is available to keep other valued local services running, such as libraries, community centres, parks and playgrounds. These are valued and vital in their own right, but they also play an important role in supporting the wider wellbeing agenda.
  • Adult social care providers are under impossible pressure. In more than 100 council areas, residential care home and home care providers have ceased trading, or handed back their contracts to councils, affecting more than 5,300 people in the last six months. This is a direct result of funding pressures.
  • Carers UK research shows that 72 per cent of carers in England have suffered mental ill-health as a result of caring and 61 per cent had suffered physical ill health. Our health and care system could not survive without the vital help from unpaid carers.
  • Age UK estimates that there are 1.4 million older people who do not receive the help they need. That includes 164,217 people who need help with three or more essential daily activities like washing, dressing and going to the toilet but receive no help at all from either paid services or family and friends.
  • Of those living in care homes, 45 per cent pay for their place themselves, with 11 per cent paying a top-up, and 35 per cent of places being state-funded. The remaining 9 per cent of places are funded by the NHS.
  • Between 2008 and 2039, 74 per cent of projected household growth will be made up of households with someone aged 65 or older.

Adult social care and support is a vital service in its own right. It helps people of all ages to live the life they want to lead. It binds our communities, helps sustain the NHS and provides essential economic value to our country.

After years of underfunding going back to the 70s the adult social care and support sector is at breaking point. First and foremost, it is impacting on the quality of life of people who have care and support needs. It is also creating a fragile provider market, putting workforce and unpaid family carers under further strain, and impacting on social care’s ability to help mitigate demand pressures on the NHS.

A sustainable NHS is not possible without a sustainable social care sector. If the NHS is going to thrive over the next 70 years, we need to make sure our social care services are properly funded and sustainable. To do this we need cross-party cooperation on the debate about the future of adult social care – in particular, how it is funded.

Councils have protected social care relative to other services. But the service still faces a shortfall of £3.6 billion by 2025. This is needed simply to keep on providing existing support at current levels and would not meet the cost of changing the current model of provision, or include the funding needed to tackle under met and unmet need.

Whilst I welcome recent cash injections for social care, to help tackle winter pressures amongst other things, we are clear that pressures are year-round and short-term bailouts are not the answer. The Government needs to find a long-term funding solution for adult social care and support. Short-term pressures cannot be managed through the social care precept and it is vital that the Government uses the Spending Review and its forthcoming green paper to deliver sustainable funding for social care for the long-term. 

In the absence of the Government’s green paper, the LGA produced its own. The lives we want to lead: the LGA green paper for adult social care and wellbeingwas published in July 2018 and posed a series of thirty questions covering social care, public health, health and wider wellbeing. The response to our consultation published in November 2018, set out key findings, implications and recommendations, including on how to fund social care.

Councils’ have seized new opportunities to make health everyone’s business since taking on responsibilities for public health. In the past six years, 80 per cent of the 112 indicators in the public health outcomes framework have been level or improving. This has been achieved despite cuts to public health budgets of £700 million by the end of 2020.

The publication of the NHS Long Term Plan is welcome and we are pleased it sets out an ambition to build a new service model for the 21st century with health bodies working in partnership with local government. However, the ambition can only be fully realised if adult social care and public health services in councils are also properly funded.

The problems of lack of availability of quality social care hits hard not only at the elderly but at all adults with acute physical and mental health problems. It hits hard at their families and friends and the communities in which they live. In short, they affect all of us and they don’t do so now they will do in the near future.

We need to discuss these issues; plan for them and deliver a strategy that deals with them. I bet you won’t hear a peep from Tory Leadership contenders about this vital and urgent issue.

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Could or should the Lib Dems work with the Green Party?

Climate change is not something that will affect people somewhere else. It is something that will affect all of us. Poor air quality is already leading to early deaths in Liverpool and that is just the beginning!

I’ve been thinking about this for some time but my thoughts have brought to a head whilst listening to the semi-coherent ramblings of Sian Berry this morning on the Today programme. Sian is, apparently, the co-leader of the Green Party which surprised me because like everyone else I meet I thought it was Caroline Lucas their one MP.

Ms Berry seemed totally incapable of answering the presenter’s questions. I don’t know whether she didn’t understand the questions, couldn’t answer them or just bludgeoned through the questions to get ‘her message’ over. One thing that she could not be swayed from was her belief that the Lib Dems are bad because of the things that we had to do in coalition. Repeatedly she failed to answer incisive questions about the cause and effects of ‘austerity’. As this was her one point you would think that she would at least have armed herself with some facts!

So, she made clear that she doesn’t think that the Green Party could form some sort of ‘progressive alliance’ for elections for Parliament when they come up. I think that she is quite right. At present I don’t think the Lib Dems should be in any sort of alliance with the Green Party. It is important that the Lib Dems lay out their lines on this because lots of people believe that because we are in agreement that we need to stay in the EU and we both place a huge importance to the issue of climate change then we are very similar to each other. But in fact, those might be the only two areas of agreement. It was fine within the context of Brexit and the EU election to suggest that there could be joint working. That is a very immediate and urgent issue.

However, as we look to the longer term, we can see that much of what they would like to do in Europe is not necessarily what we would like to do. When we look at how they would tackle climate change we see an incoherent approach which would not deliver the attitudinal change that is required to get the mass of people ecologically concerned. Instead, much like Labour’s magic Granddad their views are proscriptive and set within economic policies which would leave us looking like Venezuela.

The Green Party has some representation in Liverpool and they occasionally put forward motions to the Council which are always on environmental issues. Of course, the environmental issues are hugely important but they are not the only issues which a cash-strapped council is facing. I cannot recall motions about education or social care or many of the things that the council has to do on a daily basis.

Usually the Lib Dems vote against the Green motions or amendments and we do so for two reasons:

  1. We haven’t got a clue what they mean because they don’t seem to understand them either. If I want to vote for something, I want to know what can happen as a result of it; how we deliver it and have we got the money to do it: or
  2. They are mere flag-wavers. Motions put forward just to draw attention to an environmental issue.

The latter is not necessarily a bad thing. We will from time to time put forward motions to draw attention to issues which cannot be solved by the Council but which are of legitimate public concern to people within the City and on which we should lobby. Our rule as a Party in Liverpool though is do not ask other organisations to do something without saying what we as a Council are prepared to do.

This can best be seen in a motion that they have tried to introduce into the Council system calling for the Council to declare a ‘climate change emergency’. I have no problem with that and I hope that we will do it on July 17th. Their motion however committed the Council to nothing but talk and declarations. Liverpool still has a gross budget approaching £1 billion. We have staff; we run big services we have influence within the City Region and can influence on a wider stage through our membership of the Local Government Association.

So, we are not then, primarily a lobbying organisation. We can actually do things which can directly involve the 470,000+ people who live in the City; the people who visit it and the people from outside who work action. I believe that we should only declare a ‘climate change emergency’ when we can show what we are prepared to do about the serious problems that are being and will be caused to people in our City by the emergency.

So, could we or should we work with the Green Party? My answer is yes but only on the policies and strategies where there is agreement between our policies and principles are those of the Green Party. The Greens are not a centre Party. Their economic policies are on the extreme left and their methods of achieving change through protest and meetings are very similar to the those of the cult elements within the Labour Party.

Two years ago, my colleague Kris Brown and I met with two leading members of the Green Party and looked at where we could work together in an electoral context or within the Council. We put forward some suggestions and never heard from them again.

The problem of dealing with the Greens is that they have never really run anything. Their one Council control in Brighton and Hove was disastrous failing to meet few, if any, of its environmental or other targets. To put their ‘surge’ into context Lib Dems defended more council seats on May 2nd than the Green Party have in total in England collected through the four year political cycle. Most of their groups are small and one issue. They have to take no responsibility for anything so they can moan about everything!

Just as we should work with the Greens on some issues; we can and should work with some Labour members on some issues; we can and should work with some members of the Tory Party on some issues. At the end of the day we must be prepared to cross Party boundaries to ensure majorities within councils and within the Country for purposeful progressive policies. If we are to do that, however, we must be aware of the political differences between us every bit as must as the political agreements.

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Is what you eat killing you?

Ice Cream, greasy food, loads of salt, loads of chemicals may be shortening your life and the lives of your children.

Increasingly, the evidence is growing that the fizzy, salted, and carbonated food that the major food producers and supermarkets are pushing at us is leading to unhealthy lives and early deaths. This article below is reproduced from the BBC following two reports that show the dangers of eating processed foods a danger that other studies have shown are particular dangerous in the developing bodies of children.

Ultra-processed foods – such as chicken nuggets, ice cream and breakfast cereals – have been linked to early death and poor health, scientists say.

Researchers in France and Spain say the amount of such food being eaten has soared.

Their studies are not definite proof of harm but do come hot on the heels of trials suggesting ultra-processed foods lead to overeating. Experts expressed caution but called for further investigation.

What are ultra-processed foods?

The term comes from a way of classifying food by how much industrial processing it has been through.

The lowest category is “unprocessed or minimally processed foods”, which include: • fruit • vegetables • milk • meat • legumes such as lentils • seeds • grains such as rice • eggs

Processed foods” have been altered to make them last longer or taste better – generally using salt, oil, sugar or fermentation.

This category includes: • cheese • bacon • home-made bread • tinned fruit and vegetables • smoked fish • beer

Then come “ultra-processed foods“, which have been through more substantial industrial processing and often have long ingredient lists on the packet, including added preservatives, sweeteners or colour enhancers.

Prof Maira Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra, told BBC News: “It is said that if a product contains more than five ingredients, it is probably ultra-processed.”

Examples include: • processed meat such as sausages and hamburgers • breakfast cereals or cereal bars • instant soups • sugary fizzy drinks • chicken nuggets • cake • chocolate • ice cream • mass-produced bread • many “ready to heat” meals such as pies and pizza | meal-replacement shakes

How bad were the findings?

The first study, by the University of Navarra, in Spain, followed 19,899 people for a decade and assessed their diet every other year. There were 335 deaths during the study. But for every 10 deaths among those eating the least ultra-processed food, there were 16 deaths among those eating the most (more than four portions a day).

The second study, by the University of Paris, followed 105,159 people for five years and assessed their diet twice a year. It showed those eating more ultra-processed food had worse heart health. Rates of cardiovascular disease were 277 per 100,000 people per year among those eating the most ultra-processed food, compared with 242 per 100,000 among those eating the least.

Dr Mathilde Touvier, from the University of Paris, told BBC News: “The rapid and worldwide increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods, to the detriment of less processed foods, may drive a substantial burden of cardiovascular diseases in the next decades.”

So, do these foods damage health?

Dr Mathilde Touvier also told BBC News: “Evidence is accumulating. Increasing numbers of independent studies observe associations between ultra-processed foods and adverse health effects.”

Last year, a link was made with an increased risk of cancer. Prof Bes-Rastrollo, told BBC News she was “very certain” they were bad for health. The challenge is being 100% sure. The studies have spotted a pattern between highly processed food and poor health but they cannot prove that one causes the other.

Those who ate the most ultra-processed food were also more likely to have other unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, which the researchers tried to account for. But Kevin McConway, a professor of statistics at The Open University, said: “One can’t be sure that everything relevant was allowed for. “These studies do increase my confidence that there’s something real behind these associations – but I’m still far from sure.”

Why might ultra-processed foods be bad?

The first trial of ultra-processed foods showed they led people to eat more and put on weight. Researchers at the US National Institutes of Health monitored every morsel of food that volunteers ate for a month.

And when given ultra-processed food, they ate 500 calories a day more than when they were given unprocessed meals. Other suggestions include:

  • They are energy dense but lacking in nutrients and fibre
  • While the additives in food have been safety tested, it may be unhealthy to consume lots of additives from different foods
  • People eat more because they’re easy to eat
  • They push healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables out of diets – who wants a banana when you can have ice cream?

These ideas still need researching.

Is there any useful advice?

While the term ultra-processed food may be new, the health advice coming out of the study will be very familiar.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We already recommend people adopt a Mediterranean-style diet, which also happens to include plenty of minimally or unprocessed foods, such as fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, beans, lentils and wholegrains. This, along with exercising regularly and not smoking, has been shown to be beneficial for lowering risk of heart and circulatory disease.”

Prof Bes-Rastrollo thinks there is already enough evidence for governments to start acting too. She said: “Measures like taxation and marketing restrictions on ultra-processed foods to discourage consumption [should be considered]. At the same time, promotion of fresh and minimally processed food is a requirement.”

Is the ultra-processed label a load of nonsense?

Describing foods as ultra-processed has a lot of critics. Dr Gunter Kuhnle, an associate professor in nutrition and health at the University of Reading, said the studies were important and warranted further investigation. But the labelling of food as ultra-processed could be inconsistent. He said: “It is also not obvious why salami is considered to be ultra-processed, yet cheese, which often requires considerably more processing steps and additives, is not. The classification combines a wide range of foods with very different potential impacts on health, which limits its usefulness as a basis for recommendations.”

The studies were published in the British Medical Journal.

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Change UK – The big question is for the Lib Dems

I don’t think anyone was quite sure what this logo was supposed to mean which was perhaps not surprising in a Party where people joined from different traditions and therefore had no clear mutual identity.

Like many Lib Dems I have been more than a little disappointed with Change UK. Their launch was poorly executed; their decision to fight the EU elections ill thought out; their battle bus so badly designed that even I could have done better.

Indeed, I have just read, admittedly in Guido Fawkes, that there is a meting tomorrow to decide the future of this new-born Party with at least one Change UK MP likely to come straight over to us.

Perhaps most wounding of all was their leaked memo which showed that their number one priority was to get rid of us by pinching our members; PPCs; councillors; donors and votes. That was so naïve. It was never likely to happen and certainly will never happen now given our surge in members; MEPs and votes.

The response from most Lib Dems is twofold. Either “they are so small we can roll over them”, or “they are so deceitful we cannot trust them.”

I don’t think either of those is the right approach. I look back at the influx of people who became energised and went into politics as a result of the SDP creation. Within three years SDP members who the Liberals could not work with had largely left politics. It was not the route to easy political pickings that some of them thought it would be. It just wasn’t as exciting after the heady days of the big launch as after the first three leaflet drops! Those who were left were good people who largely shared our policies and largely shared our bottom up, community led approach to the business of politics.

Within a very short space of time those people had become indistinguishable from those of us who went on to become founder members of the Lib Dems from the Liberal Party side. These were people like Flo Clucas in Liverpool who became the leading Lib Dem within the Committee of the Regions and a chap called Vince Cable who went on to another job!  I didn’t think much of this at the time but since then I have often asked myself the question “Why didn’t they join the Liberal Party (as we were then) in the first place?”

That’s a question I have asked myself repeatedly since February. All the mistakes have been made around the Westminster Change UK team who have little experience of the grim reality (not so grim these days!) of being in a third party. When I look at their team who fought the elections in the North-West, I liked all those that I met. I want to work with them. I hope to serve alongside them in the Council and I hope that will go along to elected office and become Leaders of the future. I believe that we do share so many policies and principles that my differences with some of them might be smaller than my differences with some Lib Dems.

I look at two in particular. The lead Change UK candidate, Andrea Cooper. lives in my ward. I know her parents very well. I instinctively liked her on the three occasions we met during the election. She has an impressive CV in community led and social enterprise type activity which is very similar to the work that which I used to do. What did I do wrong that she didn’t immediately see that she could do things to bring about her political beliefs through a Party she knows well? Yes, I am arranging to go and see her as soon as I return from my holiday!

One of the other candidates was a bright young former Labour councillor in Warrington, Cllr Dan Price. As with Andrea I felt an immediate rapport when he came looking for votes, a little forlornly, in my ward. Within Warrington the Lib Dems have always been a reasonably strong Party and led the Council for a number of years. He would never have been a lone voice on the back benches if he had left Labour for us. So why didn’t he?

If we are really to first attract and then retain talent like these two in our Lib Dem Party, we must question ourselves; the way we behave and the way we present ourselves to other liberals. So, my first self-imposed task is to go and ask that question. My second is to work out how, in one way or another, we can work with the talented people that Change UK have brought in and strengthen the liberal positions in every elected chamber in the Country. My third task is to ensure that those who do want to join us, 75 since Christmas in Liverpool, are properly welcomed in and do not feel that they need to be initiated into a closed grouping.

Those are my tasks but I also really believe that those are the tasks we should all be undertaking locally and nationally. Do this right and continue to extend the hand of friendship to good people and together we will really be able to make a difference. Do this wrong and we will have shown ourselves to be as illiberal and clannish as those who we fight in the other Parties.

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