John Stevens passes away

John Stevens on the campaign trail during the last General Election
John Stevens on the campaign trail during the last General Election in Oswestry

Yesterday we learnt that our dear friend and colleague, John Stevens, died late last week. North Shropshire Liberal Democrats offer our heartfelt condolences to John’s friends and family at this difficult time.

John was a long-standing member of the Liberal Democrats and a member of St Martins Parish Council. He was very active in the community, a trustee of St Martins Centre and Editor of the St Martins Village Life Magazine. John was a Strategic Partnership Manager for the Citizens Advice between 1999 and 2012. He was also a representative on the Shropshire Association of Local Councils local area committee.

John was the Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Weston Rhyn between 1993-1997 and 2001-2005.  John stood for Parliament for the Liberal Democrats in North Shropshire in 1992 against John Biffen and then Owen Paterson in 1997. On a regional level, he was an Assistant Returning Officer for West Midlands Liberal Democrats. He was an Executive member of North Shropshire Liberal Democrats. John had previously been heavily involved in the party in the South West Region as an Agent and Organiser before moving to Shropshire with his late wife Sue.

Chair of North Shropshire Liberal Democrats, David Walker, said:  “This is very sad news. John was heavily involved in the community and will be greatly missed by everybody.

“As a Liberal, he has been a huge asset to the local party and his clinical insight was widely appreciated. He had a great skill for finding weakness in service delivery and filling the gaps to improve the outcome for local people. Something I have witnessed when we were both County Councillors between 2001 and 2005, and later on our Executive committee.

“Since 2017 John helped me rejuvenate North Shropshire Lib Dems as vice-chair and our Membership Development Officer. John oversaw rapid membership growth of 250% during this time and played a key role in the last general election organising supporters, helping us to grow our vote share more than any other party.

“In 1992 John achieved the highest vote share for a Liberal since the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP in 1988. He often joked that it was his fault we had been lumbered with Owen Paterson.

“His insight and knowledge was a huge asset to us all. Indeed, if he was writing this it would be half as long and four times as good. He will be greatly missed.”

Please feel free to comment below to pass on your own condolences, to share a story or a memory of our friend John:

Postponing our Leadership Election

Not only are we going through what could become the country’s biggest crisis since 1945, but we’re also entering a very new world that will persist once the immediate crisis is over.

I’m proud of what we have achieved so far by championing NHS workers and pressing the Government on issues such as offering a better deal to the self-employed.

Throughout our history, we have always put the national interest first.

Our Federal Board has decided that we will not have a leadership election until May 2021, so that we can focus on dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

We know that coronavirus will have many implications for our society, public services, economy and day-to-day lives.

It will also have important implications for how we operate as a political party. In particular, even when current lockdown restrictions are relaxed, we still be living in a world where for months, if not years, to come it is possible lockdowns will have to be reintroduced at short notice.

That risk will hang over us all until we have a vaccine or effective and widespread treatment.

The Board therefore also started to address how the work of the Lib Dem HQ operation needs to adjust.

But it isn’t only the Board and the party centrally which needs to adjust to this new reality.

It’s a new reality that will require every part of the party to adjust too. If you are involved in running any other part of the party and have not yet started thinking this through, I hope you and your colleagues can start soon.

We also finished the appointments to the Party Bodies Review Group, with Steffan Aquarone, Flo Clucas and Bess Mayhew joining Tim Pickstone.

Amongst its roles is to undertake a strategic review of party bodies, the way they operate and how they interrelate with the rest of our organisation. Though, of course, this work will not be at the forefront of minds at the moment, this is going to be an important piece of work to ensure we build a broad and healthy movement to fight for our values.

Thank you to the NHS

The NHS takes care of us and keeps us safe every day.

Coronavirus is affecting every part of our lives and is already putting a huge strain on the NHS and NHS workers. We want to say thank you to the people working so hard to keep us all safe.

We are so lucky to live in a country where we have access to such high-quality healthcare that’s free at the point of use. It’s saved countless lives and, over the coming weeks and months, it’s going to save many, many more.

To everyone working in the NHS and in our social care system: every doctor, nurse, carer, paramedic, health care assistant, manager, cleaner, administrator, pharmacist, those on the front-line and those keeping the NHS working behind the scene – thank you.

The best thing we can do for our healthcare staff right now is to follow the official NHS advice. That means staying at home if you’re not a key worker, keeping your distance in

supermarkets, and quarantining yourself when you’re showing symptoms.

Not all of these are easy steps to take – but we owe it to our NHS to help them help us.

We are also circulating a letter of appreciation to NHS staff, to show our thanks to them for putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe.

If you’d like to add your thanks, you can do so by signing the card:

Sign the card

How to help in a lockdown

This week, the UK has gone into lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Those of us who can are staying at home and adapting to a new way of life, where we work from home, have hobbies at home and socialise only through video calls.

It is an uncomfortable transition, butit is absolutely worth doing to slow the spread of coronavirus, preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed and saving thousands of lives.

We need to do all we can to encourage our friends and family to stay home and save lives.

It is all of our responsibility to make sure that this happens– and we need to do all we can to encourage our friends and family to stay home and save lives.

We need to get that message out. We’ve made a graphic that you can share on social media reminding people to stay at home to save lives.Will you share it with your friends and family?

Share this graphic

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

We’ll also be releasing more graphics and ways to help over email and also in our Online Champions Facebook group (you can join the champions here) over the coming days.

In these troubling times, I’ve found that the best thing that I can do to ease my worry over what the future holds is to reach out to others and offer assistance. And that’s what I want us to do, party-wide.

That’s why we’ve set up the Liberal Democrat Community Taskforce.Our taskforce will coordinate the efforts of local Lib Dems across the country, suggesting tangible ways to help those who need it most – the vulnerable, those in quarantine, and our key workers.

Our taskforce will coordinate the efforts of local Lib Dems across the country, suggesting tangible ways to help those who need it most

We are continuing to add lots of resources for campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic(you can find them here:https://www.libdems.org.uk/coronavirus) and we have updated our guidance for campaigning now that we are formally in lockdown.

There are resources for phone banking, for how to help your neighbours who may be quarantined and fighting off COVID-19, or may be a key worker in need of assistance. We hope these are helpful to you as we continue to do what Liberal Democrats do best – serving our communities.

We must support the self-employed

Last week, the Government set out a package of financial measures to support UK workers, highlighting just how threatening coronavirus is to our economy and our society.

As soon as these measures were announced, Liberal Democrats stated our concerns that far too little was being provided to help the self-employed through this crisis. Days later, and no new support has been announced by the Government.

“The 5 million self-employed people across the country are in real stress & deeply worried. In many cases, they are simply running out of money.”-@EdwardJDavey

With so many set to be dependent on this support for a period of time, it’s vital we ensure they receive enough money. pic.twitter.com/96W3ysQmf5

— Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) March 24, 2020

There are five million self-employed people in the UK. These are our construction workers, our childminders and our delivery drivers.

Each day that we fail to take action to protect the self-employed, millions of people remain worried and unsure of how they are going to support themselves or their families. Leaving them with no reliable safety net is unacceptable.

Ministers cannot keep hiding from the insecurity these individuals have been put in by the coronavirus crisis. It is not good enough to say it is “operationally difficult” to pay them.

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The Liberal Democrats have put down amendments to the Government’s coronavirus legislation to support the self-employed. They are:

  • increasing the weekly rate of Statutory Sick Pay from £94.25 to £220

  • guaranteeing 80% of self-employed individuals’ earnings, up to £35,000

I have high hopes for the next three years – let’s get to work!

It’s been just weeks since Brexit ended my brief term as an MEP, but today I’m very happy to announce that I’ve been elected as Chair of the Federal People Development Committee.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the outstanding training and support offered by the party.

Like many of you reading this, I’m a relative newcomer to politics and to the Lib Dems. I joined in 2016, so I think I bring a fresh perspective to this role as a newbie. I’m eager to help the party expand and improve on its strategy, structures and processes for recruiting, engaging and activating members.

Although it’s been a short time, I’m no stranger to campaigns, at any level. In addition to winning election to European Parliament last May, I currently serve as a Hertfordshire County Councillor and stood for Parliament in 2017. I think that I’m a good example of what is possible if you engage a new member and provide the right resources. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the outstanding training and support offered by the party.

Just a few months after joining I was able to attend my first party conference. I spent nearly the entire time in training sessions. Clearly I got a taste for it, attending my first ALDC Kickstart weekend a few months later with other members of my local party. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to attend more conferences and more training events. Our face-to-face training opportunities are unparalleled – but the percentage of members who can access that face-to-face training is minuscule. We haven’t been quite as strong at providing other forms of training and resources. That’s something I’m keen to change.

The Liberal Democrats are already leading the way in modern campaigning, and I look forward to supporting this in my new role.

In the past four years, our party membership has boomed, meaning that newbies now outnumber long-time members. We need, now more than ever, to quickly develop the knowledge and skills of a larger number of people than ever before. Add to that the fast-changing landscape of UK politics and new and innovative ways to engage voters, and it’s clear that we can’t just do what has worked in the past. The Liberal Democrats are already leading the way in modern campaigning, and I look forward to supporting this in my new role.

Outside of the Liberal Democrats, I have spent 25 years in the corporate world, and 10 years training and lecturing, including developing learning content both for face-to-face and online learning. I have also led a large voluntary organisation. I can’t wait to bring this experience to the role and to work closely with both staff and FPDC members to take our people development strategies, structures and resources to the next level. We have an outstanding committee, including a diverse mix of perspectives and experiences. I have high hopes for the next three years – let’s get to work!


Members of the FPDC, serving a three-year term, are:

  • Abi Bell
  • Barbara Gibson
  • Bess Mayhew
  • Jon Ball
  • Lisa Maria Bornemann
  • Mary Regnier-Wilson

Short term prison sentences for women don’t work

The Government’s analysis shows that they lead to higher rates of reoffending than community sentences. The President of the Prison Governors Association has described them as “pointless”. They need to end for both men and women.

But we also need to recognise that prison is especially damaging for women.

Most women in prison are vulnerable people. The majority experienced abuse as a child, and many are survivors of domestic abuse as adults.

Self-harm rates in women’s prisons are almost five times the rate in men’s prisons and rising

Self-harm rates in women’s prisons are almost five times the rate in men’s prisons and rising. Eight women died in prison last year; five of them by suicide.

We need reform to prevent more of these tragedies.

Not only that, but two-thirds of women in prison are mothers of dependent children. More often than not their children are moved out of their home when their mother goes to prison. That’s a huge disruption to their wellbeing.

The current system is punishing children for their parents’ crimes and putting even more pressure on our public services. The best interests of children need to be taken into account when making decisions about whether to send their mothers to prison.

Having a parent in prison is a traumatic experience. It can have serious effects throughout a child’s life. They’re more at risk of physical and mental health problems, from liver disease to depression and alcoholism. Their performance at school will suffer and they’re more likely to be involved in violence.

There’s precedent for saying we should do something about it. Baroness Corston’s review for the Labour government in 2007 recommended that “custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public”. She also called for women’s prisons to be replaced with smaller, multifunctional community centres.

The Government accepted the suggestions in principle, then did nothing about it.

Then, in 2018, the Conservatives published a “Female Offenders Strategy.” It committed them, too, to sending less women to prison for short sentences. There’s a cross-party consensus for this – so I’m taking action.

We’re liberals, which means we believe in rehabilitation first

My Sentencing (Women) Bill would ensure women are only sent to prison when they’ve committed serious crimes or are a danger to the public. If not, we’ll impose tough community sentences instead. The priority of our legal system should be to prevent reoffending – and this will help these women turn their lives around.

Nobody benefits from locking women up in prison when it isn’t absolutely necessary. We’re liberals, which means we believe in rehabilitation first. Here’s hoping other parties get behind us and help us make a justice system that works for women.

Our role as community champions

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the local elections we were expecting in May have been postponed until 2021. For many of us, this is disappointing news – especially after months of hard work – but it is absolutely the right call to keep us and our communities safe.

In addition, any by-election that comes up and would be due before May 2021 will also be held off until then. Depending on the public health situation by-elections may restart sooner than May next year.

Our plans for this year’s local elections might not have gone as we expected, but this is an opportunity to let our Lib Dem values shine through and continue to work hard for our residents.

I’d like to pass on a huge thank you to everyone who was planning on standing for election in May. Being a candidate, while rewarding, is always hard work. I hope all candidates and their teams know that all of their work so far has not gone to waste. It is a sound investment to ensure we win those seats, and more, next year.

Some of you, on the other hand, were planning on standing down in May. It must come as a shock to have to continue for another year. We’re so grateful to you all for your continuing commitment to your residents in such difficult times.

Looking to next year, 6th May 2021 will be a ‘Super Thursday’. Many places will have multiple elections. The party is currently advising traditional campaigning is put on pause for now, and replaced with digital, phone-banking and community activism to support the vulnerable people in your area. While traditional campaigning may be suspended, there are some things you can do to get a headstart on the 2021 elections.

If you don’t have a full slate of candidates, you could take this extra time to fill in the gaps. You could get in touch with your members and check they are okay. And, of course, please use this time to check in on elderly or vulnerable people you know in your community. Whether it’s an offer to pick up bits and bobs from the shops or just a friendly chat on the phone, I’m sure it would be greatly appreciated.

Here are some resources to help you get started:

Coronavirus – helping in your community

Finding candidates webinar

In the coming months, people will be looking to us for support. Our role as community champions will be needed like never before. Our plans for this year’s local elections might not have gone as we expected, but this is an opportunity to let our Lib Dem values shine through and continue to work hard for our residents.

Our approach to the emergency Coronavirus Bill

Today, MPs will debate the Government’s emergency Coronavirus Bill.

The Coronavirus crisis is an unprecedented threat, leaving the most vulnerable in our communities at risk. People across the country are rightly worried about their loved ones. This is a national emergency and emergency powers are clearly necessary to keep individuals and communities safe from the virus.

Liberal Democrats are working with the Government and other opposition parties in Parliament to pass the emergency legislation we need. But we are also focused on ensuring that these powers do not go any further than absolutely necessary.

Many of the powers in this Bill have serious implications for civil liberties and human rights. We are therefore making it clear that these powers must only be used when necessary during this emergency – and not a moment longer.

Liberal Democrats will remain vigilant to ensure that any restrictions on civil liberties are only temporary, and that our rights and freedoms are fully restored once this crisis is over. These are exceptional powers for exceptional times. They must not be allowed to become the new normal.

We have tabled eight amendments to try and improve the Government’s Bill:

Limiting the powers to 3 months

As currently drafted, the Act would expire in two years. We believe that is far too long. Liberal Democrats have serious concerns about Parliament handing over such far-reaching powers to Ministers for a full two years.

We have therefore tabled an amendment (New Clause 10) which would mean the Act expires after 3 months. Parliament would then have to vote on whether to renew it for a further 3 months at a time, up to a maximum of 2 years.

In addition to proper oversight and transparency as to how these powers are used during these shorter periods, this would provide at least some protection.

Extending the Brexit transition period

It is extraordinary that the Government hasn’t already admitted that the Brexit negotiations have to be suspended during this national emergency.

The negotiations on our future relationship with the EU cover everything from trade to security, energy to intellectual property and air travel to extradition. It is vital we get them right. That requires far more time and resources than the Government has to spare, now its priority is rightly the coronavirus emergency.

Moreover, the transition period is due to end at the end of the year – and this Conservative Government has written into law that it cannot be extended. We therefore face the risk of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit in just nine months’ time. With another economic shock to compound the damage of coronavirus.

So the Government must extend the transition period now. Our amendment (New Clause 12) would both enable and require the Government to seek and agree an extension to the transition period. It would also require the Government to seek to keep the UK in the EU Early Warning System, which was set up to provide alerts and monitor pandemics.

Protecting those who rely on social care

One of my biggest concerns is what this Bill proposes for how we care for people – indeed how we care for the most vulnerable people in our society.

The Bill temporarily suspends the duties on Local Authorities to meet people’s care needs. We have serious concerns about what this will mean for older people, and adults and children with disabilities, who rely on social care.

We have therefore tabled two amendments to ensure care standards are not reduced any more than absolutely necessary during this crisis.

One (Amendment 14) would place a duty on Local Authorities to continue to meet an adult’s needs for care and support conditional as long as it has resources available to do so. The other (New Clause 14) would require the Government to urgently publish a comprehensive report outlining how it will guarantee provisions for social care while this Act is in force.

The Government must give councils the resources and support they need to undertake these duties to our most vulnerable, rather than leaving people without care.

Guaranteeing the incomes of self-employed people

The Government’s measures to support businesses and employees are welcome as far as they go, but they still leave the country’s 5 million self-employed people with no reliable safety net. Each day the Government fails to act for them, many of these 5 million self-employed people get closer to irreparable damage to their livelihoods.

Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment (New Clause 13) to create a Self-Employed Income Guarantee, with the Government guaranteeing self-employed people 80% of their average incomes over the last three years, up to a cap of £35,000.

While assisting the self-employed does create more challenges than with PAYE employees, the Government must surely err on the side of caution and get help out to people, rather than find reasons and excuses for doing nothing, or too little.

Introducing a Citizen’s Income

It is the Government’s duty to do everything in its power to protect those facing destitution as a result of this pandemic. Those most in need must be given financial security.

Liberal Democrats are calling for a Citizen’s Income: an increased benefit of £150 per week for a single person and £260 per week for couples. This should act as the minimum income guaranteed to all UK adults, rather like the universal basic income many are talking about.

Our amendment (New Clause 9) would achieve this by increasing the standard allowances of Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance to these rates. It would also ensure that people can get their first payment on day one without it being clawed back later, and it would abolish benefit sanctions for 12 months.

Increasing Statutory Sick Pay

At £94.25 a week, Statutory Sick Pay simply isn’t enough to make up for people’s lost incomes. We have tabled an amendment (New Clause 11) that would increase it to £220 a week – two thirds of average earnings – to provide a much more adequate safety net.

Making sure children can still learn

Staff and pupil safety must be a priority. The scale of the coronavirus pandemic means that school closures were inevitable. This is another serious but essential intervention to slow down the spread of the disease.

Now that schools are closing their doors, Ministers must take urgent action to minimise disruption to learning and protect vulnerable children. However, the Bill contains no explicit duty on schools to ensure that children continue to receive an education – or funding for them to do so.

Many schools are doing the right thing and are already preparing online resources to help pupils study at home. It would be a disaster for social mobility if some schools continue teaching their curriculum during the closure while others do not.

The Liberal Democrat amendment (New Clause 8) would place a duty on schools and colleges to provide teaching and resources to all pupils, whether they are in school or at home.

Our amendment would also ensure that the Government pays schools and colleges whatever it costs to get pupils and staff the equipment and resources they need for learning to continue.

Conclusion

This emergency legislation will only get 6 hours of scrutiny in the Commons. Munira Wilson and I may get just 15 minutes between us to make our points. For such a dramatic piece of legislation, that is nowhere near enough.

So the case for an early review, with an early requirement for Parliament to have to vote to renew these powers, is essential. The Liberal Democrats – like other opposition parties – have behaved responsibly and constructively throughout. Ministers must now do likewise.

Coronavirus update

David Walker in West Felton

The Coronavirus scourge that is rampaging across the globe is now causing increasing disruption across the UK, as normal life is increasingly suspended, including politics. Venues are closed. Meetings are cancelled.

As people self-isolate and socially distance and we move towards more general isolation, it is important that we help stop the spread of coronavirus whilst supporting each other, particularly the elderly and vulnerable and those self-isolating. Isolation and loneliness have been growing issues amongst the elderly for some time. It is important that we are vigilant and look out for them and their mental health while they isolate. Equally, we need to protect them from disreputable people who are already seeking to exploit the elderly and vulnerable. West Mercia Police: Scam callers targeting elderly and vulnerable

coronavirus update wash your hands more oftencoronavirus update wash your hands more often
Coronavirus: wash your hands more often for 20 seconds

Where to get help and support

The latest Government advice: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

The latest medical advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

IF you think you have symptoms go to the 111 website: https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19/

Shropshire Council: https://shropshire.gov.uk/coronavirus

Facebook groups:

West Felton Support Network

Whittington

Other groups can be found here: https://covidmutualaid.org/local-groups/

Homeworking

Last week at work I spent the whole week preparing our systems for our key workers to work from home. The most recent government advice on social-distancing and self-isolation meant an accelerating of planned changes at work. As a result, this week key staff are now working from home.

With increased home working there will be increased pressure on the internet. YouTube and Netflix have just throttled back their services to make sure the internet doesn’t collapse. Collapsing the internet is no mean feat when you consider it was designed to survive a nuclear war. The internet is a critical service now more than ever. We can’t afford for it to collapse. For those of us who have campaigned for better internet speeds for decades, to enable a diverse economy in rural areas, this news is particularly worrying. As the government pumps billions into the economy to protect jobs, businesses and our way of life, they also need to inject much more into building internet capacity in rural areas. Rural businesses and remote workers are going to need it. People are going to need it at home as more and more services shift online.

Social distancing works

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Social distancing works and will slow the rate we get infecting – buying us all time to find a vaccine

As an Asthma sufferer who has the flu jab, I am in an at-risk group so I am following government advice and socially distancing myself. I have had the flu jab since the Millenium when I spent the last week of 1999 and the first week of 2000 in the Princess Royal Hospital after flu brought on a severe chest infection which developed into pneumonia. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

If we all do what we can to socially distance ourselves, it slows the rate the Coronavirus spreads. This takes the pressure off the NHS which has largely been at breaking point for ages. It also buys us all time for a vaccine to be found and mass vaccination to happen. It is frustrating but the number of elderly and vulnerable people exposed to the risk of death is vastly reduced.

Canvassing and social events suspended

The liberal democrats cancelled their Spring Conference. As a constituency party, we suspended canvassing a few days ago. Closely followed by the decision to cancel social events until further notice. On Monday we took the decision to abort the latest round of Focus leaflets.

Leaflets were ready to be sent to the printers. The escalating Coronavirus situation meant these were edited, re-edited and re-edited. Such has been the pace of change, it has been impossible to keep up and remain accurate. This is frustrating as much because we wanted to continue to support our printer while their other trade was collapsing.

I had 3 versions about to go to print. These are included below in case you want to read some non-coronavirus news:

In the absence of delivered newsletters, while I am socially distancing myself, there will be more updates on this website and on my Facebook page.

Given the pace of change I will be sending out email updates on Coronavirus and other matters of interest – If you want to subscribe to these updates please fill in the form below:

Don’t panic

Coronavirus represents a huge threat to society. This can not be emphasized enough. So it important that we all follow government advice and protect ourselves and society from the spread of this pandemic as much as possible. That doesn’t mean we should panic. We definitely shouldn’t panic buy. There is enough to go around. We should just be sensible, come together as a community and help each other.

Life as we knew it…

It is important that we try to keep things as normal as possible while we combat Coronavirus. During this time life will carry on as far as it can… Just not the life as we knew it. Dealing with Coronavirus will bring permanent changes to how society functions. For example, many people won’t want to give up working from home once they get used to it.

Important issues still are happening despite Coronavirus dominating everything, as it rightly should. Issues like potholes and flooding remain unresolved. Issues that could easily be forgotten in the viral news storm. Coronavirus is going to dominate for months to come. 18 months has been mentioned in some quarters. Coronavirus will certainly dominate 2020.

It will be important that democracy is protected during this time; that accountability remains important; and that the new normal works for us as far as it can. Elections have been postponed for a year and the government’s Corona Bill proposes to suspend due process for two years, without checks and balances or a sunset clause. It is far better to have a rolling review of the Corona Bill every three months with a defined sunset when the powers expire. We need to make sure life returns to normal after the threat is over. Financially, the cost of dealing with Coronavirus will be huge for the economy and it may well take a decade to recover.

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Coronavirus: Isolate your household – stay at home