A message from Vince

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

I’m on the train returning home from Brussels after a day speaking to European liberal leaders, ahead of the European Council, and then briefing the gathered media on the Liberal Democrat campaign for a People’s Vote, to stop Brexit.

Given that the United Kingdom has caused such huge difficulties and tumult in the European Union, the warm reception given to us by our sister parties – patient, rather sad – is always impressive. I emphasised to the danger the Prime Minister is placing both the UK and Europe in, by arguing for a short extension which simply postpones the cliff edge we have been facing. What is needed now is a long extension to Article 50, to permit a real rethink and a final public say on the deal.

It is very important on these occasions that we get the chance to remind liberals in Europe that the Brexit story is far from over domestically: government ministers will always say they are ‘delivering the will of the people’. In truth, the ‘no deal’ exit Theresa May is threatening us with would be a total distortion of that result, abandoning many Leave voters as well as the 16.1 million who voted Remain. Now, around 60% say they would vote for Remain rather than the deal or ‘no deal’, so the will of the people is changing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for my European counterparts was when I articulated our own position – agreed at conference just last weekend. If there is no extension, and we are approaching the ‘No Deal’ cliff edge, Liberal Democrats are clear: we should revoke Article 50 rather than crash out. There was a ripple of applause in the room when I said as much. Revocation would be a major step, causing huge unrest, but it is preferable to leaving without a deal.

The biggest non-event of the week was my meeting yesterday (Wednesday) with the Prime Minister. No 10 called my office mid-morning, asking to meet in the evening. There was a frisson of excitement around the place: might she have something really significant to say? In the event, the only thing that really happened was that Jeremy Corbyn stalked out before anyone had sat down: a childish display of pique when he discovered Chuka Umunna would also be in the room.

Once the discussion got going, it became embarrassingly clear that the PM just wanted to repeat to us all the things she has already said a hundred times in public. She doesn’t seem to appreciate that finding a way through will involve some change in position on her part, and she is needlessly dismissive of the proposition that attaching a referendum to the deal might be the best (and the only) way to get it through Parliament.

These circumstances create a dizzying rollercoaster. Some days it’s clear the PM is on the backfoot, and the People’s Vote is in the ascendant. Other days she seems to regain initiative. It’s our responsibility to make sure this weekend puts fresh wind in the sails of the People’s Vote campaign – one I am determined we should win. I will be leading our troops on the march on Saturday and speaking to the crowd at the end. I hope to see you there too.

This should be a national scandal

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

In the news this week, it was announced that an increasing number of schools across Birmingham have stopped their LGBT+ relationship education directly as a result of protesting parents.

This should be a national scandal.

A select few parents have protested against teaching children that same-sex relationships exist and are ok.

I have a message for these parents.

Just as our rich and vibrant communities are made of people from many religious and ethnic backgrounds, they include people who identify as LGBT+. Our schools teach children about all religions which helps to ensure our children grow into adults who are accepting, kind and understanding towards all people, irrespective of their religious background. We must do the same for the LGBT community as we have done for religious communities.

Schools are not converting anyone to becoming LGBT+, just as they are not converting anyone to becoming Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or Atheist.

Intolerance is intolerance, and it is our responsibility to build a kinder, more inclusive future for the next generation.

Being gay is not a choice. Being LGBT+ and being religious are not mutually exclusive.

All children need to have LGBT inclusive education.

30 years ago, the Conservatives’ Section 28 legislation prohibited kids from learning it was ok to be gay – and a generation of adults today are still suffering from it.

Restricting LGBT awareness education has real consequences – it affects mental health, self-esteem, well-being, and giving everyone the chance to a life with an understanding of who they are and respect for others.

It is the job of schools to teach our children about the reality of life.

And it is the job of government, including Andrea Leadsom, to back our schools not undermine them.

Meet our new Vice President BaME

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Warning: use of a trigger word in this article

A few days ago, I was surprised to receive an email with ‘Vice President’ in the subject title.

‘Why would the Vice President of the Party be writing to me?’ I asked myself.

Then I realised that the ‘Vice President’ WAS me…

That email was the first of many congratulatory messages. It was sent to me by the ‘tour de force’ that is Roderick Lynch, the Chair of the LDCRE (Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality).

Since receiving his email, I’ve been able to get to know Roderick a bit better. I was humbled by his experience of running a business under the regulation of an allegedly corrupt Council. Roderick ended up losing – and then, after a hard fought battle, regaining – a £21 million pound contract. It was through his David v Goliath experience that Roderick became such a passionate supporter of the Liberal Democrats. Because individual members of our Party were willing to put their careers on the line to plead his cause. And help him win.

I look forward to working more closely with Roderick and the LDCRE team. I’m buoyed by Roderick’s stance that the word ‘No’ doesn’t exist in his vocabulary. He’s definitely the kind of person who, if there’s a problem, won’t go around it. He’ll go through it.

I think we’ll complement each other because I take a slightly more diplomatic approach (I think that’s the barrister in me). Watch this space – there are exciting times ahead. Starting from today.

My Manifesto

I had the chance, at Conference, to set out the priorities I have for my Vice Presidency, the details of which can be found in my Manifesto.

In summary, though, they are as follows:

Unification

I believe there is a huge amount of incredible work on race equality already being done within the Party…

I aim to:

1. Connect those within the Party with shared goals on race equality to focus our efforts to attract new voters, members and candidates.

2. Consolidate and champion the work that is already in train and hold the Party to account in implementing it.

3. Identify and grow BaME talent within our Party, ensuring that they ‘have a seat at the table’ and that their voices are heard.

Outreach

I believe that attracting and retaining BaME voters, members and candidates begins with the individual and needs to transcend Party politics…

I aim to:

1. Model and cascade means of integrating with BaME communities and organisations through community service and support.

2. Build networks of potential voters, members and candidates within BaME communities and organisations.

3. Recruit prominent BaME and other individuals to donate their expertise, resources and funds towards our race equality goals.

Representation

I believe that our voice needs to be heard on the public stage when it comes to changemaking in the area of race equality…

I aim to:

1. Act as a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on race equality issues within the media.

2. Advocate for the interests of the BaME community from a Liberal Democrat perspective on key panels, debates and discussions.

3. Attend major community events and contribute meaningfully to them as a representative of the Liberal Democrats.

I have already received an incredible welcome from fellow members into my new role. What I look forward to now, on behalf of those whom I represent (that’s everyone), is your support, connections, funds and knowledge so that I can work with the LDCRE, the RDC (Racial Diversity Campaign), the FPDC (Federal People’s Development Committee), the ALDC (Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors) and many others to achieve my goals, which are based upon the Alderdice Report.

On a final note, as I was writing this, I had to deal with the case of a young boy who attends an extremely caring, outward-looking secondary school, but where, despite its compassionate ethos, he is being bullied on the basis of his race.

When I hear that he’s being called a ‘Paki’ and that his ‘ethnic surname’ is being parodied and chanted at him in the school playground by gangs of up to 10 children, I have to pause. And remember that this is 2019. This is not 1979, when this kind of thing was both routine and tolerated. This is 2019.

This story shocks me, as a former school Governor.

As a parent.

As someone who, as a young girl, was bullied in exactly the same way. In 1979.

Outright racial abuse has to stop. Hidden racial discrimination has to be exposed and overcome.

Please stand with me in whatever way you can.

Starting from today.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“There are two days in the year that we cannot do anything.

Yesterday.

And tomorrow.”

The change in the culture of this Party begins.

Starting from today.

Lifelong learning for all

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

In 1919, the Lloyd George government’s Ministry of Reconstruction published the Report on Adult Education. The report set out the fundamental importance of educational opportunities throughout life:

“Adult education is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong.”

Today, access to learning throughout life is no less vital for individuals or for society as a whole. But sadly, a century on, the aspirations set out in the 1919 report for an education system which is truly “universal and lifelong” is no closer to being a reality.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable convened an independent Commission on Lifelong Learning.

This report covers their recommendations in relation to Personal Education and Skills Accounts.

Download the full report and recommendations here.

Let’s act on knife crime

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

No parent should have to bury their child.

It’s crushing to see it happening so much in the news.

Knife crime has become an epidemic on our streets. In 2017-18, over 800 teenagers were admitted to hospital with stab wounds.

There are various causes – but the Conservatives’ drastic cuts to our police have made things much worse. As have youth service closures due to the Tories’ cuts to local government.

Liberal Democrats have long championed a major boost to police funding and an increase in community police. Today we have backed a major expansion in youth services.

High-quality youth work has been proven time and time again to help vulnerable young people escape the clutches of gangs. We owe it to our children to fight for this funding to be restored.

Liberal Democrats demand better.

We’ve passed policy to refocus our fight against knife crime at York conference. We’re committing to:

  • a major reinvestment in youth services
  • making youth services a statutory service, protecting them from cuts
  • working with local government to produce clear guidance for councils for what they should be doing

    enough grant funding to match that service provision

There’s a solution to knife crime.

Contrary what Gavin Williamson thinks, the solution is not sending in the SAS. Our policy is a welcome step to making our streets safer: I’m incredibly proud of it and of our party for passing it.

Spring Conference Rally!

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Jo started out with a heartfelt tribute to those killed in the Christchurch mosque shooting this morning.

“The forces that sow hate and division and seek to turn fellow citizens against each other must not and cannot win”

She continued to pay tribute to outgoing leader Vince Cable – “a powerful champion for liberalism”

She carried onto Brexit “the word omnishambles doesn’t do it justice” “At every stage the Conservatives have put the interests of their party than the country” “Brexit’s distracting us from the other issues that we need to tackle – all of which will be made worse by Brexit”

She spoke about our fight for a people’s vote: “Together, we’ve been fighting since 2016 and still are”

She paid tribute to our councillors delivering local wins up and down the UK – “millions for geothermal energy in Cornwall” “LD councillors working hard every day delivering liberal policies for liberal Britain”

She rallied the troops for a last push before the local elections in May: “Let’s get out there and knock on doors. Let’s deliver letters and Focus leaflets, let’s reach out on social media. Together, we can demand better for our environment. We can demand better for our children. Together, we can build a better Britain”

Jo handed over to 2 council candidates Ali and Christina – both originally European citizens. Their message to us was simple but powerful: “Don’t be stopped by your gender. Don’t be stopped by your accent. Don’t be stopped by your age.”

Ed took to the stage briefly – and invited Siobhan up to join him.

“I’m hugely upset and angry by the way the two parties are being dragged to the extremes” “Now is absolutely the moment that everyone with liberal values needs to come together”

“We need different kinds of people coming forward. There’s been a lot of testosterone in City Hall”

“We need to wrap every young person in London with love and hope”

Siobhan welcomed Jane Dodds onto the stage:

“90% of Welsh lamb exports go to the EU. Which is odd, because Mid Wales Conservative MPs voted for a no deal Brexit.”

“Welsh farmers want the opportunity to vote again to stay in Europe. They are very clear that the facts were not available to them and what they have seen is a real fear that farming in Wales will be denigrated”

“Don’t stop fighting to stay in the EU. Don’t stop fighting for a people’s vote.”

Next up was Mohsin Khan, NHS psychiatrist:

“Many EU citizens have families, leaving them uncertain for their futures. Do they leave now? Do they wait?”

“it’s heartbreaking hearing young teenagers talk about the abuse hurled at them. Frightened to go out, to go on buses or trains”

Jenny Marr was next onto the stage:

“Type 1 diabetes plays a big part of my life. I went to the pharmacy last week to pick up 4 items. They had 1.”

“Nobody should be losing sleep because they’re losing access to the one thing keeping them alive”

“Only the Liberal Democrats have the answer to this – a people’s vote”

And next up was none other than Lib Dem Anti-Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake:

“Fewer than 20% of people supported a final say referendum in 2016. Then there was Jeremy Corbyn, demanding that Article 50 was triggered immediately”

“We knew the only way to solve Brexit was to go back to the people at the end. What started with democracy must end with democracy”

“So back to the present day and look how far we’ve come. We’ve defeated Theresa May’s Brexit plan by the biggest margin in Parliamentary history – twice! We’ve ruled out crashing out the EU in 2 weeks. A majority of people now support a people’s vote. We’ve reached over 5 million people online. Over 250,000 people have signed our petition calling for a people’s vote”

“In whipping his MPs to abstain yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn has let down Remainers, Labour members and voters”

“There is still time for a people’s vote. But we must keep up this fight”

And with that, he handed over to Ed Davey, “the gin to my tonic”

“I want to pay tribute to Vince. I met him on a Lib Dem policy working group in 1990. I was impressed that he, chief economist for Shell at the time, called for higher taxes on oil and gas”

“If we can beat Brexit, if we can get a people’s vote, it’ll be our party’s biggest victory ever”

“We must have answers to these divisions, to get back in the game again”

“We must speak with more passion. More emotion.”

“We must stand for radical change. Thanks to us, Britain is now the global leader in offshore wind”

“For our young people, let’s make the environment top priority again. Like Vince, let’s take on the banks who still invest in fossil fuels. Let’s decarbonise capitalism”

And then came the main event – party leader Vince Cable.

“York is where I had my formative political education. I was a candidate for the Alliance in the 80s”

“A friend of mine got a feel of what Jacob Rees-Mogg is about when she went to his house. There was a board with instructions for the servants on. In red letters was ‘when filling the steam iron and feeding the potted plants, always remember to use Perrier mineral water”

“I’ll list the 3 most incompetent members of the govt. Third is Karen Bradley, who thought the Battle of the Boyne was in World War 1. She’s pipped to second by Chris Grayling, inventor of the invisible ferry service. But top is Gavin Williamson, who wants to send in the SAS to combat knife crime”

“When I introduced the phrase “Exit from Brexit” 2 years ago, I think we can all admit it felt like a long shot. But it isn’t anymore. It’s the main argument Theresa May is using to scare her MPs into line.”

“We had a setback this week. Jeremy Corbyn went AWOL, but it’ll come back.” “We heard the killer argument yesterday – Donald Trump thinks it’s unfair”

“If we want this to be more than an email list, we need to give them a stake in the party’s future”

Beyond Brexit

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Liberal politics for the age of identity

In a wide-ranging set of essays on Britain’s future, Vince Cable casts his party not at the centre of the tranditional left-right axis, but as the leading proponent of a values-based politics, which is open, inclusive and outward-looking, not closed or narrow-minded.

He examines how liberals should respond to the ‘age of identity’ and proposes an ambitious program of radical reform.

In a thoroughgoing analysis, he warns about the growing inequalities of income, wealth and opportunity that are fuelling populist movements. His prescription for change embraces reforming capitalism; tackling the power of the tech giants and harnessing their potential; changing the tax system; investing in public and private housing; infrastructure and the green economy; and achieving a revolution in lifelong learning.

Together these changes will help individuals take control in a more meaningful way than Brexit could achieve, particularly through establishing new rights for workers in the ‘gig’ economy, creating opportunity for young people, dispersing power from the centre to communities, and fixing the broken model of UK parliamentary democracy.

He challenges liberals and social democrats to avoid eulogising the past, and instead to prepare the country and its citizens for the 2020s.

You can read the booklet here:

Read Vince Cable’s speech to Spring Conference in full

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Read Vince Cable’s speech to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, 2019 in York:

THE ROMANS

It is a sobering thought that just under 2,000 years ago there were people gathered on this spot no doubt complaining about a treaty from Rome.

…with tiresome regulations about daily baths and straight roads; muttering under their breath that these legionnaires should go back to Gaul or Carthage.

And you would have heard lots of people saying Interum sumo inferium. For those amongst you who don’t converse in classical languages, that means: take back control!

It then took them over 300 years to get their ’Rexit, when the Romans went home.

That’s the kind of timescale Theresa May seems to be working on.

It then took about 700 years for York to recover from this early Brexit.

Eventually it did, mainly thanks to French newcomers. They and their descendants left much that is beautiful in this city, like the Minster.

But there are also reminders of past ugliness. Only a few hundred yards away from here one of Britain’s early displays of organised antisemitism when Yorkshire’s Jews were rounded up, locked up in Clifford’s Tower and burned to death.

That the country should still be battling the scourge of anti-Semitism today is a terrible reflection on our society.

And after this weekend’s horrors in New Zealand, Islamophobia is another scourge, indulged by populists and conspiracy theorists – with terrible consequences.

But back to my home city. York is where my life, and my upbringing and my political career began.

I have fond memories as a returning native, and I am heartened that York now enjoys a luxury which I hope will soon be more widely shared: a Lib Dem-led council.

And it is a place which is proud of its traditions and identity as a great British city, but open and welcoming to outsiders.

York University, a symbol of that openness, welcomed as its first ever student, in 1963, a young woman from Kenya who a few years later became my wife.

And, by the way, the city voted to Remain.

REMAIN

Brexit is dominating the life of Parliament and the country and not in a good way.

It is dividing families, communities, and even the United Kingdom and sucking the energy out of government.

Last week’s farcical debates have diminished even further the standing of Parliament.

Many of the really big issues which will dominate the future – how we live sustainably; how we adapt to and control a new generation of technologies; how we plan for our ageing population – all of these are being put on one side: postponed, ignored, neglected.

I am not surprised that growing numbers of people are simply reacting with a mixture of boredom and anger: boredom because the same arguments are being advanced with robotic regularity; anger because what we were told would be very simple and straightforward is, in reality, hideously complicated.

I am proud of the role our party has played, unapologetically leading the case for Remaining for an Exit from Brexit through securing and then winning a People’s Vote. Against all the odds, our cause is very much alive.

We have been quite clear that the 2016 referendum, now more than 2½ years ago, was not a good basis for leaving. It was undertaken solely to satisfy an internal quarrel inside the Conservative Party. A narrow majority of voters, and only 37% of the electorate, voted to Leave.

Facts change, and they have changed. We also now understand much better the scale of the cheating and lying, which went on to secure the result.

Without a confirmatory referendum there will be no such thing as the ‘settled will of the people’: merely a feud without end.

I remain astounded that some people claim a new referendum would be undemocratic. What is democracy if it is not the right for a country to change its mind?

I, myself, serve as an illustration of this principle. In 2015, I was defeated in the General Election and lost my seat. Two years later, in another election, they told me on the doorsteps, and the in the privacy of the voting booth, that they had had a change of heart and I got back with a near 10,000 majority.

Twickenham changed its mind. Britain is now changing its mind too.

And anyone who imagines that getting Theresa May’s proposed Brexit through Parliament at the – third, fourth, fifth – time of asking will bring closure and stability is suffering from serious self-delusion.

The Withdrawal Agreement – the divorce – is the easy bit.

If Brexit is a political Everest, we have only just got to the Base Camp.

The brief, vague, woolly, Political Declaration doesn’t even tell us where the summit is, let alone how to get there. It promises years and years of frustration and friction.

We keep being told, not least by the Chancellor, that once Brexit is agreed and delivered, the fog of uncertainty will lift and there will be a surge of renewed confidence in the UK.

Business investment will pour in. We will all live happily every after.

But this is a triumph of political fantasy over economic reality. Any well-run business can see that chronic uncertainty would follow any endorsement of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The cliff edge would merely have been postponed for 20 months. Not a great offer.

But it isn’t just about business, and economics, important though they are.

As an MP for a university area, containing one of the leading scientific research centres in the country, I see a generation’s worth of work going up in smoke.

Pan-European teams; the free movement of students and staff and crucial research funding… are all being seriously damaged.

And we are turning our backs on the most successful peace project in European history; a project which brought democracy to Southern European military dictatorships and then to the former communist countries of the East.

That is why Europe is worth fighting for.

That is why we will continue to fight to Remain.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks of parliamentary twists and turns, we must argue that none of the many, mutually exclusive versions of Brexit now on offer – soft or hard – are as good as the deal we currently have.

To those outside the Westminster bubble, the parliamentary games on Brexit are baffling: a weird combination of snakes and ladders, chess and all-in wrestling.

So I want to pay tribute to our anti-Brexit parliamentary team, led by Tom Brake, Sarah Ludford and Dick Newby, who together have helped us ensure that we are in the right place on the panoply of Brexit legislation.

I am grateful, too, to all of you. You keep campaigning; You never give up; You continue to believe we can win this historic argument.

I am looking forward to joining you and leading you once again in a show of Liberal Democrat strength on the march next weekend.

Together we will make a statement, on the streets, that the fight continues, and can be won.

I got into some hot water with some of you last year, suggesting that ours might be a ‘movement for moderates’.

Naturally, we are – economically – in the centre; supporters of private enterprise, unafraid of active government.

But in the new world of identity politics, we are on one side, not in the mushy middle. We are Remain.

The choice between good and bad, right and wrong, isn’t to split the difference.

As King Solomon once observed: you don’t settle a dispute on the parentage of a baby by splitting it down the middle.

In a world of Trumps, Le Pens, and Putins…

….the new champions of nationalism and Xenophobia… we are firmly on the other side.

We are Remain. We are internationalist, liberal, outward looking.

If there is one issue which exposes the motives of British politicians today, it is the current bitter arguments over the ‘Irish backstop’.

For the hard Brexiteers, the pure identity of the United Kingdom as a ‘sovereign’ entity – which can do what it likes and close its mind to the world – is more important than peace, trade, and prosperity.

For them, our shared history with Ireland is irrelevant; of second order to their own obsessions with nationalism.

And to make things worse, this government is so lacking in talent that it employs a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who makes even Chris Grayling look like a serious figure.

Karen Bradley says she doesn’t understand sectarian voting patterns, and then compounds this public declaration of ignorance with a blatantly and naively one-sided view of the killings in the Troubles. Ireland, like Czechoslovakia in pre-war days, is seen as a faraway country of which they know nothing and care less.

She has revealed an ugly truth: that peace in Ireland matters less than peace in the Conservative Party.

CAUSES

But just as we are committed to fighting the consequences of Brexit, we are committed to tackling the underlying causes. That isn’t straightforward.

We shouldn’t be seduced by the lazy clichés and the simple idea that Brexit was caused by deprivation. In fact, some of Britain’s poorest cities voted to Remain. And many of the most prosperous towns and villages, in the South voted Leave.

But there was a clear pattern of towns in the North, the Midlands, Wales, and coastal England which felt neglected and voted Leave to give the Government, and the wider establishment, a good kicking.

Government must invest heavily in the infrastructure and public services in former industrial or mining or seaside towns.

I have set out in a pamphlet, which will be available as you leave, my ideas about how government should approach this.

It may not be the most exciting bedtime reading, but it should provide some material for the train home!

The big challenges which my booklet addresses have been obscured not just by Brexit, but by the upheaval in Britain’s two main parties.

The Conservative Party was, until recently, a broad church; but now it is narrowing to a party of English nationalism. The UKippers are quietly taking over that hollowed out, geriatric, structure and those that don’t fit in are being pushed aside.

This is a mirror image of what has already happened to the Labour Party. Ever since the Labour civil war 40 years ago, which led to the social democratic split, there has been an unresolved conflict between revolutionary and democratic socialism.

And now there is a nasty twist; the anti-Semites who feed off the conspiracy theories of the ‘far left’ are back. Reminding us that there is more that unites the far left and far right than divides them.

But the problems of the Labour Party are not just a problem for them, but for all of us.

There are millions of Conservative voters who are disgusted with the incompetence, the self-indulgence and the inhumanity of this Tory Government but so long as Labour appears to be a nightmare, they will cling to the Tory nurse, for fear of something worse.

THE CENTREGROUND

The question I have been asked from the day I took on this job is “why don’t the Liberal Democrats fill the political space created by these extremes?” I believe we should, we can and we will.

But anybody who thinks it’s straight forward to rush in and fill this so called ‘centre ground’ will soon encounter the barrier of which we are all too painfully aware. The first past the post voting system.

Every parliamentary constituency and council seat in England and Wales is fought on this basis, crushing the life out of insurgent parties trying to operate as if they were in Holland or Sweden, where there is proportional voting.

Dozens of new parties have been registered in the last couple of years, many claiming to be the Holy Grail of the ‘Centre Ground’.

They need to ask themselves a simple question: why isn’t the Women’s Equality Party running the country? With a potential voter base of over half the population; many sensible policies; lots of committees; a clear, attractive, brand; and some nice people…but they haven’t got anyone elected.

They can’t get over the hurdle of ‘first past the post’. So, when people tell me that a new force can win in France, why not here, the prosaic answer is: this isn’t France.

We don’t have a Presidential system; and we don’t have a transferable vote.

REALIGNMENT

These are the problems and we are all too familiar with them. But there’s no reason for giving up.

The massive challenge we face now is to create an alternative to the politics of fear and division; which has attractive, liberal and social democratic values; but is also grounded in the political reality and experience of winning in the current system and running things well at local and national level.

This year’s local elections must be the place where we finally shake off the set-back of two damaging general elections, and regain confidence, building on the advances of the last year. We can and will.

The environment in which we do so has now changed. We are seeing early signs of some realignment. The breakaway group of independent MPs is a sign of that.

I have been very clear that we must welcome a realignment of British politics and the opportunities it presents. I have also been clear that we should offer the hand of friendship to those who want to work with us rather than against us.

Most of their statements of policy could have been cut and pasted from ours. But these are early days.

The new group has a following wind from people who are curious about something new, and who admire their decision to break with their parties. But there is nothing yet beyond Westminster.

No local infrastructure. No local base.

They are very exposed to a wipe out in an early election. We aren’t. As Tim Farron once observed, we would survive as cockroaches would survive a nuclear war. Speaking as Chief Cockroach, I would prefer a more flattering metaphor, but his point is well made.

But I think we can do more than survive. We can do much more and much better by working with them and others who share our values, to take on the decaying and dysfunctional Labour and Conservative party machines, which have dominated British politics for far too long.

The fringe this weekend where Jo Swinson welcomed Anna Soubry to conference was a very positive step.

FRUSTRATION

One of the reasons that there appears to be some public appetite for something new is frustration with the relentlessly negative and adversarial nature of British politics. There was some tut-tutting in the party when I forged an agreement with the Green Party covering national and local elections in my part of London.

One irate member told me that he was appalled that I was collaborating with people whose stance on NATO and nuclear weapons was different from ours. But the public liked the collaboration and rewarded both our parties.

And anyway, I’d suggested that nuclear weapons weren’t a great help in devising environmentally sensible traffic management in Twickenham.

PADDY ASHDOWN

And in a year when we remember with gratitude and affection the legacy of Paddy Ashdown it is worth recalling his last major political initiative which was to establish More United; bringing together politicians of different parties, much as he sought to do with the semi-formal alliance he – and we – had with Tony Blair’s Labour Party in 1997.

In the event, the nature of Corbyn’s Labour Party kills off meaningful frontbench collaboration. But Paddy’s instincts were right: the organisation has gone on to unite backbenchers on opposite sides of the traditional divide.

And let me be clear: I identify with this approach to politics and I believe it is part of our duty to Paddy’s legacy to promote it.

Our mission to move from survival to success, from protest back to power, takes place in a world where liberal values are under siege and in retreat.

Nothing quite defines liberalism like its opposite, illustrated by Theresa May’s policies on immigration.

Slamming the door on refugees, including children. Threats of deportation for decades-long legal residents who don’t have the right papers. No appeal against arbitrary refusal of visas. Separation of partners from their loved ones. Using landlords, teachers and health professionals to create a hostile environment of suspicion of those who sound and look different. Depriving the destitute of the right to work.

What a sad state of affairs that our main safeguard against Home Office tyranny is its own chronic inefficiency.

Immigration is a touchstone issue which has defined liberals from long before Theresa May stepped into the Home Office.

I recall the panic half a century ago when a British government slammed the door on British subjects from Kenya, including my late wife’s family and friends.

Only a small group, led by the then Liberal Party opposed the government.

And you may remember that one of Paddy’s great campaigns was the then – unpopular – defence of the rights of Hong Kong Chinese, who faced loss of their citizenship.

As we forge a new politics, we must never lose our edge on this issue. We do not argue that immigration should be unlimited or unmanaged but we will never give in to populism.

Ours will always be a distinctive voice, speaking up for the benefits of migration to our society and our economy; and our party will always open its arms to refugees when others turn their backs.

It may be uncomfortable for many people of my generation but there is an enormous gap in attitudes and interests opening up between the old and the young.

That is true of Brexit where an overwhelming majority of young people voted Remain, and most of the two million who have turned 18 since would do so now.

It is also true of the environment. There is now a climate emergency. But you wouldn’t think so from the complacent attitude of the government, which has quietly dumped the relentless focus on carbon reduction, which we maintained when Ed Davey was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change;

Whether it is the short-sighted cancellation of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon Project or the cynical sell-off of the Green Investment Bank, Conservative Ministers are frankly put to shame by the children who have walked out of school to put the future of the planet first.

I believe there are four other issues which matter above all.

The first is housing. Housing inflation has created paper millionaires of large numbers of older home owners who have repaid their mortgages. Young families by contrast are forced into insecure, unsatisfactory and often exploitative rented accommodation.

We are, therefore, committed to massive affordable house building of social and private homes, as an absolute priority. And that, in turn, means breaking the existing model of developer-led housing which depends on rising land prices and grotesque profits and bonuses.

The second issue is the wave of violent crime. The victims are overwhelmingly young and male (and often black).

What is clear is that cuts to police have undermined crime prevention; diminishing their ability to gather intelligence and to catch perpetrators.

I started my involvement in politics 50 years ago representing a tough ward in Glasgow. Gang violence was endemic; the weapons of choice were open razors and broken bottles; and the catalyst was drink rather than drugs.

Glasgow was once a far more violent place than inner London. Today the city is leading the way in treating knife crime as a public health as much as a law and order issue. This is an example we must follow across the whole country.

Thirdly, there is mental ill health. I am shocked on visits to schools and colleges by the prevalence of mental illness among young people.

A few weeks ago, I was at a lovely infant and primary school in a comfortable, middle class part of my constituency. But the Head told me that over 10% of his pupils were coping with mental health problems. At the neighbouring secondary school, it was over 20%.

Lib Dems will always challenge the underfunding of mental health services – building on the work we did together in Coalition, led by Norman Lamb.

Finally, education, where Layla Moran is taking the lead to argue for a world-class academic and vocational education system.

By contrast, this Government is taking education backwards with the scale of school and college cuts:

Head teachers asking for financial contributions from parents; schools closed down on Fridays to save money; the curriculum narrowed because of a lack of staff; neglect of Special Needs; and a general deterioration of morale.

There is no shortage of issues to campaign on. We have good ideas and clear messages. The challenge now is to translate our values and those messages into electoral success.

The next big test at the ballot box is the local elections in May. These aren’t opinion polls but real elections.

And they matter enormously, not just because we want, and expect, to do well, but because local government reflects our belief in localism and community politics.

If ever you feel pessimistic, the councils which we run, or lead coalitions: Bedford, Watford, Portsmouth, South Cambridge, South Somerset, Eastbourne, Eastleigh, Three Rivers – and indeed right here in York.

With 9,000 seats up for grabs these elections are a big challenge but a great opportunity.

An opportunity to get more Liberal Democrats elected, and to recruit more Liberal Democrat members and supporters across the country. I hope that all of you will channel your energy into these campaigns whether as a candidate or activist. If you don’t have elections in your part of the UK, you can still get involved somewhere that does.

Success and persistence banishes the negativity we encounter in the media.

I became a parliamentary candidate for the seat I now hold at a time when we didn’t register in the polls at all; but we then won the seat at the second attempt.

And what always lifts my spirits is to meet up with those who fought in previous campaigns and are still fighting today; like those who were here in York with me over four decades ago and are now running the city as Lib Dems.

Friends, we have every reason to be optimistic that our party can grow and make real progress.

And if, as I sense, the two old, tired and increasingly discredited major parties are to fracture,

we shall move forward not in small steps, but in leaps and bounds.

There is everything to fight for.

Ensuring there is access to justice for all

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Our justice system is failing the vulnerable, and we should all be embarrassed about it.

Legal aid spending in England and Wales has been cut by £933 million in the last eight years. And as a direct result, we’ve seen huge reductions in support.

  • The number of civil cases receiving early advice has dropped by 80%.
  • The number of criminal cases receiving legal aid funding has fallen by a third
  • The number of legal aid providers has fallen by a third, leaving parts of the country with no provisions at all.
  • The number of people representing themselves in count has increasing significantly.

And what infuriates me the most is that cuts to legal aid have disproportionately affected the vulnerable, particularly disabled people, women, BAME people and those whose first language is not English. By being denied access to justice, legal aid cuts increase poverty and social exclusion.

The Liberal Democrats demand better.

At our spring conference, we have just passed a motion calling for:

  • the restoration of legal aid for early legal advice, assistance and representation in civil cases
  • a simpler, more generous legal aid system
  • urgent reform of the Exceptional Case Funding scheme
  • a new, independently overseen right to affordable legal assistance

Read the full motion here:

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Justice is becoming the reserve of the powerful and privileged. It’s unacceptable. We’re taking a stand for the rights of the less well off and proud to be doing so.

Saving our town centres

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Across Britain, you can’t have failed to notice that our high streets and town centres are run down.

Local businesses are closing, leaving our high streets empty of anything bar charity and betting shops.

People have to travel further for necessities like groceries, needlessly adding more cars to our busy roads.

And those without independent forms of transport, like the young, old and disabled, are reliant on public transport – that has also been cut to the bone by this Conservative government.

The Liberal Democrats demand better.

At our spring conference, we have just passed a motion which will:

  • Require regional leaders to develop a long-term plan for the growth of town centres under their jurisdiction
  • Provide businesses with an easier path to setting up on the high street, making use of empty store fronts and supporting local businesses;
  • Reform commercial planning law and work with industries to create best practices for how businesses can thrive in today’s economy

The Liberal Democrats have a credible plan to save and rejuvenate our town centres, and demand better for our communities.

Read the whole motion here:

Read more