Six to Fix for a Partnership Parliament

After the General Election we will not see a return to ‘business as usual’. So we need to plan now for the ‘partnership parliament’ that will be needed in a Chamber with no overall control.

A week or so ago I wrote about the needs for the Lib Dems to prepare for a partnership parliament. Since then we have won the Brecon by-election and a lot of the talk, quite rightly, has been about the ‘Remain Alliance’ which helped to deliver victory to the marvellous Jane Dodds. What the by-election has, in my opinion, absolutely demonstrated is that politics has become so factionalised that there will not be a Parliament in which one Party will have an absolute majority after the next General Election whenever it is held.

If we are to have a ‘Partnership Parliament’ then perhaps, we ought to consider a partnership approach to the elections which will precede that Parliament. In many ways the one is clearly the precursor to another. So, in response to the challenges that have been made to me I set out what I think are the key themes on which we should negotiate pre and post-election.

Note that I said themes here. People rarely vote for or against specific policies. They vote for or against beliefs and themes which express themselves by way of high-level principles which they can relate. They then conclude on those themes that such a Party or such a person is the one that most resembles ‘my’ beliefs.

There are two items which seem to be to be redlines which must be a pre-condition of the Lib Dems working with other Parties.

Firstly, we must revoke Article 50. This is a change from my previous position that we must aim for a referendum in which we would put the case for staying in the EU. Things have now dragged on for far too long. The public and private sectors are unable to make key investment or other decisions because there is no clarity about the way forward. The only way to resolve these concerns and protect jobs in places like Ellesmere Port for automotive workers or the hills of Brecon for upland sheep farmers is to have a quick decision.

Secondly, there must be an absolute commitment to electoral reform. The impasse in Parliament has largely happened because too many MPs are calculating their individual chances of survival in a haphazard ‘First Past the Post’ system which has failed to deliver a strong government. Not only does this apply at the election stage but also in the way people behave in Parliament with a narrow tribalism which limits real innovation. In practical terms we need a single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.

Both of these objectives can be delivered quickly in the kind of short-term Parliament which might exist after the next election. Then a General Election could be held in which the elections took place on the new STV system Let’s leave the House of Lords out of this quick fix agenda and return to it later. But there are four more areas where declarations of intent can be made now for wider, more rational strategic discussions but where some things can be done very quickly.

Principle One – Housing.  Housing is a basic human right and we should consider the place we live primarily as our home rather than as a financial investment. Our homes should be appropriate to our needs and should be placed in safe, green clean neighbourhoods. Quick wins would be taking the money away from the calamitously expensive programmes to assist home ownership and putting it into social housing; and removing incentives for buy to let or buy to provide holiday uses.

Principle 2 – Climate Change  – Put remedial and prevention measures into every strategy so that all departments and levels of government take this seriously and think about it in every step they take. Quick wins including reinstating grants at an appropriate level which would encourage investment in solar, wind and water power generation; and putting more investment into bus and rail delivery.

Principle 3 – Education – Make the centrepiece of our policies the belief that the best education systems are ones that ensure that people of all ages want to learn rather than being forced through a sausage machine of tests within narrow disciplines. Quick wins include abolishing regional commissioners and OFSTED and put the money into reduced class sizes and local support mechanisms for schools; and reducing the SATS regimes which cause so many problems to teachers, parents and students.

Principle 4 – Health and Social Care – Make the centrepiece of our policies the prevention of illness and disease rather than the curing of illness and disease. Quick wins include using the 1% on income tax already proposed to create prevention strategies and programmes to keep people fit and healthy; and stronger controls on the advertising of food and drink to limit unhealthy consumption.

Now you might argue that I have left out vast areas of policy from defence to transport to regionalism to employment etc. I’ve done that for two reasons:

  1. We need to get “Six to Fix”, in people’s minds and we do that best by giving a limited number of things for them to think about. We can get all six on a pledge card the size of a playing card that we could give to people as an aide memoire to liberalism
  2. These are the things that most people talk to us about on the door step.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t have a high-quality and precise manifesto which covers the whole gamut of policies. Of course, we should. If I was fighting Portsmouth, for example, I would want to be able to talk about defence. In Wales and Scotland, I would want to talk about devolution.

This approach has three main merits:

  1. We don’t need to establish large amounts of new policies. The ones I have mentioned above are ones where we already have established policy ready to go.
  2. Most people agree with the basic principles outlines above
  3. They act as a useful ‘litmus test’ for parties or individuals that might want to work with us pre-or post-election.

Whether you support the contentions in this article or not it is abundantly clear that all Parties must begin now to think through what will happen in the run up to and after a General Election. It must not be business as usual on the basis that one Party, ours or another, will form a single party majority Government after the election. If Parliament is to be effective it must be prepared for new ways of working and the best way to prepare for those new ways is to test them out by realism in the cauldron of British Politics – the General Election itself.

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Doing things differently to bring down the crime rate

Elected Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy is coming up with some impressive ideas about new approaches to preventing violent and knife crime

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have long advocated a public health approach to mental and physical health issues. Crudely put this means moving the work, wherever possible, from curing ill people to preventing illness. Doing this has huge health benefits and it also has huge financial benefits.

Health prevention saves, over a number of years, £15 for every £1 spent. This is almost as important as the improvement in people’s lives from living better and more fulfilling lives. Unless we do this our NHS will buckle under the strain as we will never be able to put in to the NHS budget the amounts of money that will be required.

This approach is not just for health but could apply to many other areas of life. This morning I have been discussing with our Elected Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and her adviser, Prof John Ashton, the work that needs to be done with public health in the field of crime and especially in the field of violent and knife wielding youth crime.

The simple approach is just to link serious crime with drugs and poverty. There are clear linkages here and these are undeniable. However, most people who live in poverty are not criminals at all and certainly are not serious criminals. The life that too many people in our communities’ face is a grim hand to mouth existence in which there is very little sunshine and very little opportunity.

Such conditions provide the breeding ground in which people can move from despair to crime and from minor crime to major crime. Youth violence breeds on this but there are many more factors in play than money. Chief of these appear to be a lack of self esteem linked with a lack of clear family identity. Young men and women from the age of 12 up move into families composed of gangs, they mark out territory like a pack of feral dogs and carry knives for a sense of swagger and the position that a blade can give them.

For many of these people there is now little hope. Most of them are too old to change and have been caught up in a spiral of violence which only be addressed by appropriate action by the Police and within the judicial system. One can only hope that we reform the prison system to ensure that prisons become places where through education and support people are weaned off crime and instead moved to become good citizens with a role and stake in society.

That leaves us needing practical solutions to stop the movement of young people through the system into a criminal lifestyle. This must be done by concentrating on all those who are disadvantaged but with a special emphasis on those who are most likely, because of their background, to move up the escalator into big crime.

We need to make sure that the homes and neighbourhoods they live in are clean, safe and well managed. We need to expand youth services to ensure that children and young adults are diverted away from bad things into good things. We need to be much more supportive of the work of teachers who struggle to bring both order and education into the lives of too many children. We need to invest in children’s mental health services so that problems can be identified and dealt with early in a child’s life before they become ingrained.

I am sure that there are people who will read this and who will say, “typical bloody liberal. Mollycoddling kids when what they need is a good hiding or a spell with hard discipline”. Guilty as charged! Those who take an evidence-based approach to policy making would not agree with them. The countries with the lowest crime rates are the ones like those in Scandinavia where the most is spent on good quality services and prevention. The Countries with the worst crime rates are the ones like the USA which spend the least on public services and rely on an expensive  justice system which delivers retribution not change.

I was impressed with the sorts of things that Jane Kennedy and John Ashton were telling me this morning. As I understand it there will be a big roll out of conferences and meetings in the autumn seeking to bring all the partners together behind this proactive approach. They deserve to succeed and we should all support their work because we cannot go on the way we are. Given our present national policies from successive governments the thin blue line will crack even if Johnson does give the system the money for 20,000 more police officers. That is an outcome that none of us can allow.

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Liverpool Labour Party needs to look at itself in a mirror

Its a very sad day for our City when our Lord Mayor, Cllr Peter Brennan, has to resign because he circulated racist material. Mayor Anderson was quite right to act swiftly and decisively.

At the Annual Meeting of the Council I seconded the nomination of Cllr Peter Brennan as Lord Mayor of Liverpool. I did so as Leader of the main opposition Party. It is a custom that the Leader of the controlling Party proposes the nomination and the Opposition Leader seconds it. It is absolutely right that this should be the way that it is done. The Lord Mayor stops being a politician for a year and becomes the Leading Citizen for all the people of Liverpool; its businesses and organisations.

The precedent is always that the Party with the opportunity to put forward the nomination (it is largely done on a proportional system) does so using its own systems and the nomination is never challenged. Labour do it on the nomination of the Elected Mayor; Lib Dems do it by selecting the longest serving councillor who wants to do it. I turned the job down several times!

On that basis the other Party, which at times might be the controlling Party, does not know as much about the individual as the Party whose turn it is. I know Cllr Brennan only from what I see and observe in the Council Chamber and Committees of the Council. He has always seemed to be an affable and reasonable person but his own Party should have known him better.

I find it hard to believe that an offensive video which he has circulated comparing people of colour with monkeys can be a one off. Was there really nothing he has said or done beforehand? Was there really no inkling of hidden beliefs below the surface in all his interactions with his Party colleagues.

Do we now need to have a situation where there is an informal discussion before nomination at which all the Group Leaders talk to the intended future Lord Mayor. Should there be a code of conduct for the position of Lord Mayor with support for the person to think about their behaviour and attitudes before the nomination goes public and it is too late?

The problem for the Liverpool Labour Party is that this is not an isolated incident. Racism, in the form of anti-Semitism, is rife within the Party. Their own Former MP, Luciana Berger and current Labour MP Louise Ellman spoke movingly of their problems within the Party just 2 weeks ago at a meeting hosted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In Wavertree Ward a councillor is currently suspended after using absolutely foul and sexist language about Theresa Griffin one of the Labour MPs for the North West and a former Labour Councillor who still lives in Liverpool. Cllr Cummings had already been suspended for a month but apparently hadn’t learned his lesson. People within the Labour say quite publicly there are 5 other allegations of bullying and sexism against him which the Party is refusing to take seriously. These involve both Party members (including his fellow councillor Clare McIntyre) and members of the Public in his Ward.

My own colleague, Cllr Kay Davies, quit Labour and joined us because of appalling bullying and profanity in County Ward from Labour members.

You might say that this is none of my business and that what happens in another Party is their concern. Certainly, we have also had problems with poor behaviour and have always been prepared to use a due process to resolve it. It becomes my business when the actions of a Party adversely affect Liverpool and its reputation. We spend a fortune in marketing to ensure that the City is well thought of by its own citizens; prospective businesses and tourists.

The resignation of the Lord Mayor for sending racist material will be in all the national media tomorrow and is already featuring heavily in local and regional media. This knocks back our work to portray ours as a modern, liberal and inclusive city. The anti-Semitic complaints about Labour members by Labour members have received massive coverage in the national media. This again reflects badly on our City.

Now is the time for the Labour Party in Liverpool to have a long hard look at itself. It clearly is not putting into practice within its own organisation what it claims to want to do if it becomes Government. This is not just a local issue. Anti-Semitism is a national issue for the Party. They have championed whistle-blowers who have broken None Disclosure Agreements in the public and private sectors. They have then threatened people who had left Labour Party employment with legal action for breach on None Disclosure Agreements issued by one of the most expensive firms of lawyers in the Country.

With politicians in all Parties grappling with extremist views we must ensure that all Parties vetting and disciplinary procedures are adequate to the size of our Parties and the unprecedented scrutiny to which we are all rightly subject.

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Some thoughts on the approach to an NOC Parliament

As we approach the almost certainty of a Parliament where no Party exercises overall control there is a lot that can be learnt from local government about taking things forward.

Dear Jo,

Ever since you were elected last Monday, I have been tempted to do a bit of mansplaining to assist you in your new role! However, you will be pleased to know that I have resisted the idea largely because I didn’t think I’d last 10 minutes if I tried!

However, I did think it might be a useful time to share with you, and indeed the Party as a whole, some thoughts about how we can prepare for what is almost certainly to be a Parliament with no one-Party majority. In local government we have a lot of experience in dealing with this sort of situation.

Currently in England alone we are involved in Government in more than 70 Councils. In some we have overall control and at the other extreme in others we have passively let another Party take minority control on the basis of some assurances. All the ‘deals’ that we have done have been tailor made to suit the circumstances both historical and current of that Council and that area. This is not just an English situation. In Scotland and Wales we have a number of different shared controls and our sister party in Northern Ireland, Alliance, has some element of power sharing in almost every Council that they are in.

There do seem, however, to be five things which make arrangements work:

  • A clear manifesto from the Lib Dems. As we found in 2010 having a strong, well thought out manifesto gives you a strong base for negotiation.
  • A negotiation with another Party (Parties) based on values and principles and not on who gets what. In this situation Lib Dem negotiators must have a clear view of Lib Dem red lines and a feeling for the red lines of another Party (ies).
  • Trust. If the people you are negotiating with are not people you can go for a pint (or cup of tea) with your Partnership will not work.
  • You need to set targets and timetables so that progress can be both kept to and checked upon.
  • Help with both development and maintenance of a partnership by people from outside Parliament who can be outside the swirl of passions about, ‘and what will my role be in all this’. In the case of Councils in England the Local Government Association puts in mentors to all Parties involved in partnerships for at least 4 months during the development and implementation of partnership agreements.

Usually, the agreements are between Parties. I suspect that would be very difficult in a new Parliament. As both you and Ed made clear during the Leadership election ‘deals’ with Johnson and Corbyn would be extremely difficult as they are both militant extremists in their own way. It may well be then that a partnership would be between some Parties and individuals in other Parties who could get together behind a limited number of short-term objectives, chief of which would be the revocation of Article 50. A General Election would then be called at which a return to business as normal Party politics would be made.

Clearly, we have no idea who will be in that Parliament as both Labour and Tory candidates are trying to continue their purges of the moderates and bind candidates to ludicrous pledges which would fetter their discretion in a way that should be absolutely unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy where our responsibility as elected members is to our constituents and not our Party.

So based on our considerable experience:

  1. Have your negotiating team ready
  2. Have your 5 or 6 key priorities in mind and make sure that they are the ones that will be the key planks of your next General Election campaign.
  3. Make a quick announcement of what you think is the way forward as to the outline of the next Parliament.
  4. Don’t do anything during the election which would prejudice the possibility of you doing some business with people in other Parties after it.

Just in case you think I have ended up mansplaining this is the same advice I would have offered Ed. It is also the same advice I offered Nick in 2010. If you recall the first joint meeting of the Parliamentary Parties of the Commons and Lords took place in Local Government House. I chaired it and we gave examples of good working practice only some of which were taken on Board!

I am sure that you will have much of this in your mind already. I believe that it is important that you put this in the minds of people more widely throughout the Party quickly. You may have to move decisively within hours of the results in the General Election coming through and the Party needs to give you room to get on with it. That is always easier when the general lines have been agreed throughout the Party.

You are my 10th Leader in the 52 years that I have been in the Party. You are the first woman and somehow I have a feeling that all the planetary and interplanetary forces are coming together to make you the most successful of them.

Best wishes and good luck (which always comes in handy(!)


Cllr Richard Kemp,

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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Council to decide on Elected Mayor position on 4th September

Decisions about Liverpool issues should be decided by a committee system in which councillors debate issues in a representative system and in such a way that residents can understand the issues

There will be an Extraordinary Meeting of Liverpool City Council on 4th September to consider a motion from the City’s Liberal Democrat Group to begin the consultation required to abolish the position of Elected Mayor for Liverpool.

We have waited long enough for the City’s Labour Party to make up its mind on whether to abolish the position or not. We believe that the people of Liverpool should now decide whether we continue with the wasteful and divisive system of the Elected Mayoralty. They were denied a referendum in the first place and were not consulted in any meaningful sense in 2012 when the Council dodged a referendum by just 3 days. Of the 11 councils which conducted a referendum only one, Bristol, voted for a Mayoral position and there they are looking at removing the position.

In 2012 the Council had only two options allowed by law, a Mayor and Cabinet system and a Leader and Cabinet system.  Since then a third option has been allowed which is the creation of a committee system in which the power of the centre is broken and decisions get taken by all councillors through specialist committees.

Our own preference is this third model because it allows all decisions to be debated properly within an all-Party system rather than being imposed in a way that cannot be contested by a one-Party Cabinet. This will mean proper scrutiny of all decisions in a place where Liverpool’s hard pressed taxpayers can really hear the arguments and make their own mind up about what is happening in their city.

But it is not primarily our decision. We hope that if we succeed at the Council meeting, we can then have a proper discussion with the people of Liverpool in time for us to stop an election for a City Mayor in 2020 which alone will save more than £250,000. It will also save approximately £500,000 in the annual running costs of the Mayor and his office.

Unless this step is taken Liverpool residents will turn up to vote in May next year and be given 4 ballot papers. One for the City Mayor; one for the City Region Mayor; one for the Elected Police Commissioner and one for their ward councillor.  We should be spending money on services and not politician’s salaries.

The full requisition motion is attached here:

To Cllr Peter Brennan, Lord Mayor of Liverpool

Consultation with the People of Liverpool over the future of the Elected Mayoralty

We, the undersigned members of Liverpool City Council requisition an Extraordinary Meeting of Liverpool City Council to consider the report which has been commissioned from the Chief Executive by the Elected Mayor of Liverpool following an earlier request for an Extraordinary Meeting from the Liberal Democrat Group to review the options available to the Council in the way it governs itself namely:

  • An Elected Mayor and Cabinet
  • A Council Leader and Cabinet
  • A committee system

And to call for a consultation process based on this report to discuss these options with a view to making decisions on future governance in such time as is necessary to preclude the election of an Elected Mayor next May should that be the desired outcome of the consultation.

Subject to the provisions of the Council’s standing orders the Extraordinary Meeting to be held between the 6th and 14th of September.

Signed by the 10 Lib Dem members of Liverpool City Council

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A tale of two Leaders

Jo Swinson will be a great Leader and will lead the Lib Dems to a huge increase in our MPs whenever the Tories call time and cut and run with a General Election

In the space of two days two of the Country’s three main Parties will have chosen a new Leader. Here’s my take on the new Lib Dem Leader and the likely new Leader of the Tory Party. Meanwhile Labour staggers on with the most unpopular Leader of the Opposition that this Country has seen since records began.

Jo Swinson as Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Like most Lib Dems I agonised about who to vote for as Leader. I voted for Ed Davey but have no hesitation in welcoming Jo Swinson as Leader. We had the luxury of two great candidates either of whom could have done the job well and both conducted a campaign with integrity in compassion.

In Jo Swinson we have a unique Leader who will stand apart from Corbyn and Johnson and force change on a House of Commons that still acts like a Gentleman’s Club. She will lead the fight against a reckless Brexit which will hugely harm our City and our Country.

My thanks also to Ed Davey who ran a great campaign and with Jo showed the Country what Lib Dems stand for; how to conduct a Leadership election and how to act with vision and integrity

Boris Johnson as Prime Minister

The idea that Johnson will be our next PM fills me with dread although it will be interesting to see if he can convince the Queen that he can command a confidence vote in the Commons with so many Tory MPs saying that they cannot support his keynote policy – leaving without a deal.

Johnson is a disgrace to politics and has a low opinion of Liverpool and of places which need to look after those in need generally. Even his friends say that he has a casual relationship with the truth. His reality is based on a privileged upbringing and inherited wealth.

His premiership will be mercifully brief as I am sure that there will be a General Election in months of not weeks. That will put us into a situation that the Lib Dems are likely to call the shots and will not cooperate with either Johnson or Corbyn.

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Labour Party falls apart every day

This demo to try and get Luciana Berger to resign as an MP was supposedly called by a Residents Association. In fact it is mostly ‘bus pass’ Momentum members. As you can see they are trying to talk to passers by on a roundabout in the middle of a busy road!

If ever there was a seminal week in the decline of the once great Labour Party, I suspect this last week will be regarded as the one.

Let’s just consider:

67 Labour Peers, all of whom have given many years’ service to the Labour Party in a variety of ways, handed over their money to pay for an advert denouncing Jeremy Corbyn and his entourage in the Guardian. This of course after the fact that 3 Labour Peers, one of whom had been General secretary of the Labour Party, had quit the week before.

The Labour Peers have announced a meeting this coming Tuesday to have a vote of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party

Long standing Peer and Chief Whip in the Commons, Hilary Armstrong is expelled from the Labour Party. This caused the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party to tweet:

Tom Watson ‏Verified account @tom_watson

Follow @tom_watson

This misdirected mob justice degrades our great party. These attempts to silence dissent will fail. This is not the party I know.

6:43 PM – 20 Jul 2019

The Labour Party who came second in Brecon & Radnorshire last time are polling at just 8% in the seat in the by-election called for 1st August according to respected pollsters YouGov.

Nor is the action confined to the National Party. In Liverpool we’ve had our share of Labour jokers as well.

In the Climate Change debate, we had one new Labour Member claiming that climate change was caused by neo-liberal forces and another saying that the global crisis was caused by the crisis in global capitalism. It was so funny to see the majority of heads in the Labour benches opposite me slump at these words and the pain and anguish in their eyes. God help our polar bears if this is the level of analysis which is becoming increasingly prevalent in Labour. This was low level student union politics at its worst.

On Saturday there was a protest in Liverpool Wavertree called by a so-called Residents Association (that no-one has ever heard of) to ask Luciana Berger to step down. In fact, there appeared to be no ordinary residents there with a handful of lefties coming in from across South Liverpool to protest. Why they thought it a good idea to stand on a roundabout in the middle of a busy road with a loudspeaker that no-one could hear is beyond me. “Bus pass” Momentum staggered across Liverpool to make an impact on no-one!

And of course, if there is a petition going the sad souls in the Labour Party will sign it. 9 Liverpool Councillor’s names are so far on a national petition declaring confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.  I don’t actually know who most of them are and I suspect that they won’t be around long when they realise how hard the life of a local councillor is. But you really know that a Party Leader is in trouble when the cult that surrounds them has to raise its spirits with this type of declaration of loyalty.

Why does this bother me? On a political level it doesn’t. As Jo Grimond said more than 50 years ago our task as a Party is to replace the Labour Party. The Labour Party’s lurch to the left leaves nowhere for social democratic members and voters to turn to but to us Lib Dems.

But on both a national and local level this matters to my City and my Country. I’ve have lived and served as a councillor before when the loony left has been in charge f the Council. It took more than 20 years to salvage the City’s finances and reputation from the havoc that they created.

Nationally, we need more than ever a sane rational opposition to the Tories. A partnership needs to be created in Parliament after a General Election or, even better, in a preceding electoral agreement, which will ensure a number of things chief of which are renouncing article 50 and staying in the EU; and a change to the electoral system which has allowed this chaos to happen.

This is unlikely given the behaviour and attitudes of Corbyn and his clique. The other two main Parties are led by people who are like Marmite but with a different level of support and opposition. Marmite is loved by 50% of people and loathed by the other 50%. Both Corbyn and Johnson are loathed by far more than like them. Corbyn is plumbing the depths and is the most unpopular opposition leader with the genal public since records began.

My message to social democratic members and voters of the Labour Party is come and join and vote for us. Tomorrow we will elect a fine new, young Leader whichever of the candidates wins. Together we can take on the establishment forces of the Left and Right and create the sort of society which most of want to live in. European; compassionate; environmentally concerned; listening; sharing; and caring. That’s the type of Party we are and it’s the type of Country we are.

You can join us at 25% of our members in Liverpool were Labour Members or voters up to 2015. We would be delighted to see that proportion rise!

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