The next election could get weird, Lib Dem gains weird.

Yes. I know. Work with me here….

So…

I’ve said on that twitter that, thanks to the wonders of our electoral system, the Lib Dems could be seeing net gains at the next election.

(In fact what I actually said was “UKIP on 25% means about 80 seats for the Lib Dems and 10 seats for UKIP”)

This has been met with consternation from some quarters. I have been drinking (One Gin and one Beer as it happens) and that sounds quite odd, probably so– I am Lib Dem core vote strange as it might seem and weren’t many of us to start out with – but this is not some weird theory – it’s a reading of the poll numbers – where UKIP support is coming from and, in a utterly seat predication model crushing scenario where UKIP do achieve 25% of the popular vote more or less across the board what the actual impact on individual seats is.

Keep your UNS at home

There’s a few things to get out the way here. The Universal Swing is dead. It hasn’t been very good at anything other than Labour to or from Tory swing since its inception and it’s become increasingly meaningless – especially where Lib Dem seats are involved.

If it was a valid model then the near million extra votes the Lib Dems achieved in 2010 would not have resulted in 5 losses.

The second thing to get out the way is that First Past the Post is not a fair system and has zero correlation with seats won. David Cameron won a minority of seats with a higher vote share in 2010 than Tony Blair achieved in 2005 when he won a handsome majority. The Lib Dems won 23% of the popular vote in 2010 and 9% of the available seats. Cry me a river.

FPTP is an arse – as UKIP are soon to find out.

Now back to the claim. On the assumption that UKIP win 25% of the Vote and the Lib Dems recover to around 10% of the vote, two things will likely happen.

UKIP will likely get lucky in the 5-10 of the 10 or so seats they are planning to target and rack up huge numbers of votes in all other seats resulting in good third and second places.

The Lib Dems will find it much easier to win and defend seats.

This counts for both Lib Dem defences and targets, and helps them disproportionally against the Tories.

This means a seat by seat analysis – which I will get onto – but first I want you to take a look at where UKIP’s 2015 votes are coming from – consider these polling info-graphs from You Gov: (First from Feb 2014 second from October 2014) and keep them in mind when discussing the seat by seat business.PK UKIP-01

 

UKIPlike me2The thing to remember about UKIP is that they are at heart an anti EU, Anti-Immigration and predominantly right wing party. This is a poor fit for that 30% of the population who vote or would consider voting Lib Dem, whereas that platform appeals to a great mass of Tory voters, and to a lesser but by no means insignificant extent, working class voters who usually vote Labour.

The one subset of 2010 Lib Dem voters UKIP does appeal to are those disaffected by politics and voted for the party because it was seen as representing a change from the establishment or as a protest. These voters were lost to the Lib Dems the moment they agreed to Coalition. They represent 10-20% of the parties 2010 support in general terms but, and it is worth saying – they are breaking to UKIP more so than Labour in opposition which is much better for the party than them going to Labour or the Tories.

Seat by Seat: Defence

So, the Lib Dems are hopeful they can retain at least 30 of the 56 seats they currently hold – I think, based on Lib Dem strength when defending seats due to incumbency factors, like relative local strength of the parties, more emphasis on the individual MP, casework and street campaigning, they can be hopeful of retaining 40. Perhaps this is just expectations management.

Where the Party does have a concern is in Labour facing seats – basically anywhere north of Watford – Birmingham Yardley, Redcar, Manchester Withington, Leeds North West, most of London, Brent, Hornsey and Wood Green, Southwark and basically anywhere in Scotland not represented by Ming Cambell, Alistair Carmichael or Charles Kennedy.

That’s not to say all hope is lost – all those seats are represented by MP’s who are popular locally and well regarded by their constituents – but if the Lib Dems make big losses it will be in these seats.

It does help that the chunk of their vote in these seats which is anti-establishment is not transferring directly to Labour, the Lib Dems can count themselves lucky that Labour’s leadership has been inept, that UKIP is stealing populist support is an added bonus as, thanks to a lack of transfer, these are likely to minimise any Labour gain from a reduced Lib Dem vote and drain some of the Labour vote from the Labour total, meaning that these seats can be retained even on lower vote shares.

This latter consequence of UKIP support has a magnified effect in Lib Dem defences against the Conservatives – Solihull becomes much easier to retain when you consider that Tory voters are switching to UKIP in droves and Lib Dem defectors are going to UKIP and the Greens by a much lesser extent – this seat will essentially come down to whoever between the Tories and Lorely Burt can more effectively stem the tide of seepage to the minor parties but that’s a much easier fight for the Lib Dems than a straight up fight with the Tories.

Seat by seat: Offence

Here’s where things get interesting – If I said to you the Lib Dems could make gains at the next election, if you were someone who vehemently hates the party your head might explode and if you merely were resigned to a very poor night for the party you might think I’d been drinking more than I have.

The problem is, it’s not at all impossible – and – if UKIP are going to do well enough to win more than a fifth of the vote – mostly at Tory expense – all you need to do is take a look at the following seats. (Kindly Stolen from http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/2015guide/lib-dem-targets/)

1. Camborne & Redruth Majority 66 (0%)
3. Oxford West & Abingdon Majority 176 (0%)
7. Truro & Falmouth Majority 435 (1%)
8. Newton Abbot Majority 523 (1%)
14. Harrogate & Knaresborough Majority 1039 (2%)
15. Watford Majority 1425 (3%)
16. Montgomeryshire Majority 1184 (4%)
18. St Albans Majority 2305 (4%)
21. Weston-Super-Mare Majority 2691 (5%)
22. Hereford & South Herefordshire Majority 2481 (5%)
23. West Devon and Torridge Majority 2957 (5%)
24. Winchester Majority 3048 (5%)
25. Northampton North Majority 1936 (5%)
26. South East Cornwall Majority 3220 (6%)
27. Bristol North West Majority 3274 (7%)
29. West Dorset Majority 3923 (7%)
30. Richmond Park Majority 4091 (7%)
31. York Outer Majority 3688 (7%)
37. Warrington South Majority 1553 (3%)*
39. Romsey & Southampton North Majority 4156 (8%)
40. Colne Valley Majority 4837 (9%)
42. Bosworth Majority 5032 (9%)
43. Chelmsford Majority 5110 (9%)
44. Plymouth Sutton & Devonport Majority 1149 (3%)*
47. Totnes Majority 4927 (10%)
48. South East Cambridgeshire Majority 5946 (10%)
49. Ealing Central & Acton Majority 3716 (8%)*

Those are the top 27 LD/Conservative Marginals in the country.

Now, look again at You Gov’s Data and bear in mind that UKIP are much more likely, by almost 3 to 1 to gain Tory Voters than Lib Dem. Bear in mind also that the Lib Dem vote will most likely keep up in seats where it is a strong challenger and has a strong local party and candidate, then do me a favour and look at Hereford & South HerefordshireWest Dorset and Romsey & Southampton North and tell me how, if UKIP poll 20% in those seats and three Tories vote UKIP to every Lib Dem, the Lib Dems fail to pick up these seats?

That’s 22, 29 and 39 on the most winnable Lib Dem seats.

It also makes seats like Watford – where the Lib Dems hold the mayor and it remains a very competitive three way seat – even more competitive if the Tories get knocked out this way.

There’s even a few Labour seats where things get too close to call – defying all logic. If UKIP are, as Labour fear, picking up working class voters dissatisfied with Ed Milibands leadership and want to give them a good kicking as well, Hull North could become one of about 5 ‘dark horse’ Labour/Lib Dem battleground seats where, if the Lib Dems can hold up their local vote and UKIP hit Labour’s working class support, Labour could be dropping seats to the Lib Dems.

I’m not the first to notice how UKIP could hurt Labour  - but Conor Pope does fail to look at any impact on Lib Dem/Labour target seats – perhaps he might tell me what he thinks could happen in Kingston upon Hull NorthSwansea WestAshfield, and Chesterfield if there is a strong Lib Dem local party in place putting a heavy squeeze on the Tories and any voters Labour gain from the Lib Dems being at least equally lost to UKIP?

I’d also like to know what he might think of Edinburgh South if you swap UKIP for the SNP…

Is it possible?

This isn’t, by the way, on the assumption that the Lib Dems will increase their share of the vote – everywhere where the Lib Dems have no real presence they can expect to halve their support if they are lucky – there is a precedent for this – the Lib Dems dropped 5% vote share in 1992 nationally resulting in only 2 losses. Vote share dropped a further 1% resulting in a gain of 26 MPs in 1997. It’s not about how many votes you win – it’s about where you win them and how you target your resources in this crazy First Past the Post World.

Nor am I saying this is a likely outcome. The game can change in all kinds of ways yet – can UKIP sustain their surge? What if there is a Labour defector to UKIP? Does Labour Change leader or tack to the right on immigration putting off any potential Lib Dem switchers? Is there a pact? What if Lib Dem and Tory vote share drops at more equal rates in marginal seats? What if the Lib Dem’s aren’t as good on the ground in the face of a hostile electorate as we all expect and opposition ground game is?

It’s possible I have too much faith in Lib Dem ability to hold on to what it has, or the parties resources to maintain fights in 30 marginal seats at once and in the face of a repetitive narrative of doom and wipe-out this seems hard to fathom. I know all this – but consider this scenario:

UKIP win the next couple of by-elections – a few more Tory and one or two Labour MP’s defect, Labour and the Tories go right to compensate putting off a great swathe or centre ground voters and still losing small ‘c’ conservative voters to UKIP. The Lib Dems with a small bounce in support and facing split opposition hold on to 50 seats and take 25 more on reduced shares of the vote.

UKIP Win 10 Seats, Lib Dems win 75-80, the SNP take 15 from Labour in Scotland and the Tories and Labour make net losses.

I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m not saying it’s just. I’m not saying this is what I think will happen (I’ve been saying 40 Lib Dem seats since 2012) I’m not saying there won’t be outcry that, on half the vote share from last time the Lib Dems have a stronger strangle hold in a hung parliament but I would ask you – is it entirely impossible?

Don’t blame me – I campaigned to get rid of First Past the Post. Silly system if you ask me…

British ‘Sub Human’ – Cameron

Rights will be crushed within this fist

Rights will be crushed within this fist

Yesterday the Prime Minister of the not quite United Kingdom announced to the Conservative Boris Johnson fan club that he was abolishing Human Rights.

“The British don’t need human rights! I look out of my gold tinted limo windows every morning and all I see are sub human zombies wandering around and squat, pale, things blinking in the sunlight as they emerge from tube stations. These ‘people’ don’t need human rights!”

“This is the country which wrote Magna Carta! The fact that esteemed British Lawyer, Judge and Conservative MP David Maxwell-Fyfe, 1st Earl of Kilmuir basically wrote the European Convention on Human Rights is undermined by the fact he loved the French.”

“Winston Churchill spent more time bombing Europeans than giving them rights”

William Hague, a bluff lager drinking Yorkshireman with a 35 year sufferance of Stockholm Syndrome  chipped in “who needs the right to free speech or thought? I’ve not had that since my first conference speech as a wee lad, and what good is the right to a family life? It only ends in tears on Corrie and Eastenders”

Theresa May, In a brief break from snooping on everyones emails said. “the right to free religion is only ever used by Muslim terrorists and Irish Catholics. You’re not in the IRA are you?”

A British Bill of rights, abolishing hated rights such as right to life, fair trial, liberty, privacy, marriage and freedom from slavery & discrimination, is rumoured to contain the right to Chips and Gravy, the right to be offensive toward people with funny accents, the right to make jokes about the Welsh and the right for the English to invade Scotland every 15 years to keep them in line.

A protest was put down outside the Conference by policemen with truncheon-sabre swords after the right to free association and assembly was scrapped. 72 non humans were pronounced terminated.

Before being slapped into silence by his landowner a random bedraggled serf said. “Tory welfare policy is already in breach of my human right not to be tortured so they might as well stop pretending”

What happens if Scotland does go?

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A union flag, with the Green of Wales instead of the Blue of Scotland?

With the referendum too close to call, here’s a few thoughts on what needs to happen next if Scotland does vote to leave the UK

We should part as friends

The referendum has been heated and ill tempered – anti-English sentiment – as wrong headed as I believe that to be – has played a huge part in this but the last 307 years have seen
Scotland and the rest of the UK work together in partnership and achieve great things for a tiny rainy Island to the North West of Europe.

Scotland can stand on its own two feet and what remains of the United Kingdom should always try to be friends with Scotland as it does with Ireland. We may become separate, we may be foreigners to each other but that doesn’t mean civility has to go – but this works both ways.

That doesn’t mean we owe the Scots anything

Scotland and England as it was entered into Union on equal terms despite the disparity of power and wealth between the two Kingdoms – this was a rare act of self-enlightenment after centuries of bloodshed and war but that doesn’t mean Britian owes Scotland anything.

Alex Salmond makes great play about what the rest of the UK will have to do to accomadate Scotland after a Yes Vote. Bluntly, we don’t have to do anything. If Scotland decides it needs to look after it’s own and casts solidarity on these Isles aside then so should we.

Negotiations will be tough, but the British should approach them with firmness about whats best for the people of Britian, not what the people of Scotland need.

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None of this please

We should be proud to continue to call ourselves British 

You’ll note I’ve not referred to the English in this piece – what happens to the rest of the UK, her flag, her anthem, her name, is a matter for debate if Scotland goes, but our instance on calling ourselves British should remain.

The residual country will be made up of territories in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the peoples of each of these Home Nations are so intermarried, mixed and jumbled that it makes little sense to pretend anything other than the truth – we are one people with many traditions and cultures.

We should avoid the Nationalism some Scots seem to hang on to – Britain is better because we are welcoming of other creeds, faiths and peoples. A resurgence in English Nationalism would be tragic in the wake of a Yes vote, a re-focus on what it means to be British, with our proud heritage and rejection of nationalist dogma, is something to nurture, not abandon.

If Scotland goes Britain should remain.

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Another late night…

A recall of Parliament is vital. So is an extension of this Parliament. 

We will need to get on the front foot immediately. A recall on the Monday, despite the opening of Labour Party Conference I’m afraid, is necessary to show Westminster is seen to be responding to this and to address the constitutional crisis which would be immediate and pressing.

The general election in 2015 should also be cancelled, a Government of National Unity involving all residual UK MPs set up and a rump Parliament operated until May 2016 when Scotland is due to leave.

There is no sense having an election for 1 year of the last year of Union. If a Governing Party or Coalition was in place with the support of Scottish MP’s this would cause a constitutional crisis in the rest of Britain – decisions made for England, Wales and Northern Ireland by newly elected members of a soon to be foreign country would be untenable. A continuation of the current coalition post a general election would be untenable if it relied on Scot’s Lib Dem and Tory MPs as much as a Labour Government reliant on Scottish MPs.

It would also be necessary to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on matters relating to the Breakup of the UK – the Scottish Parliament should be the sole vehicle and voice of the people of Scotland in these circumstances.

The Prime Minister should resign as leader of the Conservative Party – but not as Prime Minister – in this eventuality as long as he can command the support of British MPs in the House of Commons so that he can form a nonpartisan government of Conservatives, Liberals, Labour, Green, DUP, Alliance, SDLP and Plaid and lead negotiations.

No Currency Union and Scottish access to assets is dependent on Scottish acceptance of debts

I said earlier that Britain should be firm with its new northern border. Salmond may wish a currency union in the event of a Yes vote but this is manifestly not in the interest of Britain. British Taxpayers should not act as lender of last resort to a foreign government when it has no control over tax and spend or policy. Independence means just that and neither Scotland nor the British can be independent of one another if Scotland must bend to British interests or vice versa.

Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain are in currency union with the Euro – the European central bank puts political demands on these countries for fiscal support and they have no control over money supply or fiscal policy to suit their needs – this is part of the reason why they are still in crisis and the UK is not.

Britain should not bail out a Scottish bank if it fails, it should not increase or decrease interest rates to suit Scotland’s needs alone. Our economies are entwined but The Bank of England should look out for British needs and the Scots should look to set up their own central bank and currency.

The SNP have also threatened not to take their share of debt without currency union. Let them. Any share of the UK’s assets must be dependent on Scotland taking on her liabilities as well. No share of embassies or property abroad, no share of military equipment, no share of government gold and holdings.

As sad as I would be to see the effects of a Scottish Default on Scotland’s cost of borrowing, domestic interest rates, higher taxes, lower growth and fewer jobs, it would have little impact on Britain’s credit rating and as long as assets are kept in Britain it could afford to take on the extra debt.

A new British Constitutional Settlement needs to be reached

Actually this applies whether Scotland stays or goes – our political system is simply not fit for today’s politics. The voting system means the Conservatives can poll 410,000 votes in Scotland, the SNP 490,000 votes and the Tories get 1 seat and the SNP 6. The Lib Dems won 11 seats in Scotland with 465,000 votes. It makes zero sense.

As does the lack of an English Parliament or assembly. The Great mistake with devolution was that it was piecemeal and unequal – if Scotland votes No today it will get more powers to her Parliament. Powers the North of England and Midlands would love to have, powers far outstripping the Welsh or Northern Irish Assemblies. This is untenable.

We will need a constitutional settlement in the round – does an unelected Lords larger than the commons make sense in a modern democracy? Is a first past the post system which causes disengagement and undemocratic results really in our democracies best interests? Does a system of funding the regions and nations need urgent reform? Would Britain work better as a federation? This needs to be the focus.

Britain will be richer for it

Blunt but true. Both London and British Banks benefit from a Scotland which is more risky and has higher borrowing costs. Banking sector Jobs and money will move south.

British Military manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding will move south, Portsmouth and Plymouth will benefit, perhaps in time Cardiff, Liverpool and Hull, it will make no sense for the British to build warships on the Clyde or in Rosyth – the type 26 Frigates will be built in England instead and the local economy will benefit at the cost of Scottish Jobs.

Oil might make up the shortfall in Scottish social spending in the short term but in a decade it will have declined massively as a share of Scottish GDP unless major new fields are found (and if Shetland leaves Scotland much of that oil is no longer Scotland’s to have) In the rest of the UK Shale will be coming online soon and renewables are a key growth industry and we always have clean coal to fall back on if necessary – in 50 years’ time Britain will be energy rich and diverse and Scotland reliant solely on wind and hydro. In a United Kingdom this prosperity would be shared.

I hope none of this happens aerial+view+hirst+flag+for+olympic+closing+ceremonies+iihih2

Breaking up the UK is, to my mind, petty, insular and short-sighted. The UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together have done great things and made this tiny corner of the world prosperous, envied, feared and respected. It makes no sense to me to break this partnership up when we’ve done so much bringing people together.

Scotland can govern its own affairs – although it will neither be the Celtic tiger nor the socialist utopia Yes supporters think it automatically must be and Britain can work well without her  – but we would be diminished in so many ways and for the first time in 300 years, less than the sum of our parts.

Separation means lost growth, lost jobs, uncertainty and market upheaval. It could mean passports at the border – it could mean Scotland loses access to the EU and it would accelerate British withdrawal from it as well and we would become a truly second rate power – Scotland not even that. We would be smaller, not just literally in terms of geography but in terms of international prestige, our economy our clout – as well as feel a little shorter in this world.

But it is a credit to our democracy that we can have this debate and we can manage a divorce in a respectful way. If we stay together we could sort out the problems we think we face, if we don’t we can remain respectful friends – if acting in self interest, nor our interests as a whole.

If you’re Scottish and you’re reading this. All I ask is that you vote today, whichever way you see fit. Whatever happens, don’t realise in hindsight you were a passenger on this journey.

The UK needs fundamental change whether Scotland stays or goes

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There is a fallacy, peddled mainly by modern day Scottish Nationalists that Scotland was merely one of the first Colonies of England – that somehow the Scots were unwilling victims of English colonial zeal.

The truth couldn’t be further away from that. The Scottish Parliament passed the act of Union willingly. It had been almost 100 years since Scottish Kings had first sat on the English throne – James I was James VI – King of Scots – when he succeeded Elizabeth I. The First Formal English Colony – we weren’t yet British in 1607 – was of course Jamestown, in Virginia in honour of the new, Scottish, King.

Indeed the Plantation of Ulster under James I/VI is the base reason Northern Ireland exists as a majority Protestant entity today; those who think it’s a term used for crops might reflect that it was the term used by the English and Scottish Kingdoms for the state sponsored immigration of both Scottish and English Protestants to Ireland.

No. Scotland wasn’t tricked, fooled, coerced or colonised by the English. Scotland entered into Union willingly, it participated in founding the British Empire enthusiastically, Scottish Regiments fought for the British State from South Africa to America, Germany to China, Egypt to Palestine. There were Scots who ran India, Scot’s who colonised Africa, Scots who helped found Australia and New Zealand.

There are more Scots around the world as a result of the empire they helped found than there are Scots in Scotland.

We founded the modern world together in partnership, from the economic Theories of Adam Smith to the great engineering projects of Brunel. We established democratic governments in our wake, opened the modern sea lanes, modernised and mechanised every corner of the planet, pushing the boundaries of discovery to the very end of the world.

After all When Scott died in a freezing tent having led an expedition to the South Pole, Henry Robertson Bowers, a Scot, walked and died alongside him, not as a foreigner, but as a fellow Briton.

Scots and English, Welsh and Irish under a British flag fought and died defending the world from barbarism and Nazism and they stood together in the face of terrorism and the treat of nuclear annihilation.

However as time has gone on, as our interests abroad fall away, as our commonwealth and Empire has opted for rule from home, not London and as our courage fades – as it has in addressing the threat of a resurgent Russia and fundamentalist jihadists, our agreement inked on paper 300 years ago has descended back into the petty rivalries stretching back nine hundred years focused on within, back to the border skirmishes, the nationalist hate. Scotland for the Scottish, England for the English.

We’ve forgotten the pains we had before and swapped our broad view of the world for the narrow view of self interest.

Ever changing social, economic and political factors have, for some time now, led to a sense that to be ‘British’ is to be out-dated, the term is a forged if soothing confluence that the English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cornish and everything between are one people with regional differences created by the Acts of union in 1707 and 1801.

Think of the United Kingdom as an immense railway line stretching across the British Isles, forged together by Irish Labour, in English Factories built by Scottish Engineers and fired by Welsh Coal. The steel nails which hold it together have corroded in time, the different political bodies set up along its path squabble over who should pay to maintain it, it’s domestic fuel is drying up, it’s engines are no longer manufactured at home and many of its destinations are either closed or no longer traversed. Where it once linked London to Delhi, Johannesburg, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ottawa we now fly to Europe and Washington instead, failing to uphold our heritage even as we widen ties elsewhere.

Where the Monarchy was a focal point of governance and nation its proponents now point to its power as a brand to draw tourists. Devolution, a more prosperous working class, a richer ethnic heritage, ever greater democracy and the saga of Ireland, home rule and republic and the marginalisation of the Lords has changed the Political, economic and social makeup of the country beyond recognition for the better, but the institutions have failed to keep up

Patchwork constitutional changes here and there like so many railway engineering works has left a creaking, unfit political settlement which satisfies no-one. A Parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland, nothing for England, an unequal rough cut which has chipped away at the very definition of what it means to be British to be treated as friends and equals.

Scotland votes this week. Whilst I would lament the loss of our partnership whether it votes yes or no to independence is largely mute – the United Kingdom is neither united in name nor in purpose. It hasn’t actually been a United ‘Kingdom’ since Ireland declared independence in 1922 – before the act of Union 1801 the country was merely the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The decision to pretend the British Isles were still united was an egotistical procrastination then, much the same as the piecemeal changes to the way we have been governed over the last four decades have not dealt with the matters at hand either.

The fact that a founder member of what remains of this country could come within a whisker of breaking it up because of the impossibly utopian and conflicting promises of some Nationalist populists only extends the charade. The Union has been a boon for the Home Nations but no one believes that anymore, even as it is true.

Is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland better together? I would say so, and I would include the republic of Ireland in that as well – we share bonds of fellowship which are unique in this world, our turbulent history put aside and prosperity found once we stopped aiming the Muskets, Longbows, Claymores and during the troubles – bombs – at each other and worked toward a common goal. There is more that unites us than divides.

There was hope, once, that the British people, working together, could survive assailment from all the world in arms and prosper. Of Couse, Scotland could be its own nation, but a divided Scotland from the rest of Britain would result in a loss of charitable feeling and co-operation which would impoverish us all. Still a united country needs fundamental change if it is to mean something meaningful to the peoples of these isles.

If there is a no vote, if the country remains in union, we need to be able to look forward to the next 300 years with the same sense of adventure and motivation which drove us for the last 300 but it is clear that is lacking today.

What we do to reshape Britain is something we will all have to search our beings for, but it is clear that our broken political system – unrepresentative as it is – must face fundamental change. A written constitution? a Republic? Federalisation of the home nations? The west Lothian question and the Barnett formula? A voting system which properly represents the will of the people?

When the polls close on Friday, either way that debate must begin and it is long overdue.

The ‘Bedroom Tax’: The case for reform

Bedroom tax stock photoThe Lib Dems are today proposing reforms to the Spare Room Subsidy – more commonly known on the street and in the tabloids as the ‘Bedroom Tax’. It might be a good sound bite but in reality we’re talking about a reduction in Housing Benefit, not a levy.

But that argument aside, let’s discuss what the Lib Dems are and are not proposing:

What the party is not proposing is scrapping the policy as some early media outlets erroneously claimed.

What the Lib Dems are proposing are two very simple reforms.

First. That no disabled person with a genuine medical need will see a reduction in Housing Benefit if they have a spare room – this group of people will be exempt.

Second. Whilst new social tenants will still be subject to the current rules on spare bedrooms as soon as they take up the contract. Existing Social tenants should, the party believes, be offered the choice of a suitable alternative before any reduction in Housing Benefit occurs.

The Government should not pay for spare bedrooms to remain empty, as Labour want, nor should the damaging implementation of the policy remain unreformed as Tories desire.

You might not have seen in the midst of the Reshuffle and the Data Retention bill that the first report on the impact of this policy dropped earlier this week and it doesn’t make great reading. More than half a million tenants are now in arrears despite the increase from the Government in Discretionary Housing Allowance and only 5% have been able to downsize to avoid paying for the spare room.

The policy objective, to ensure every room is used or paid for, is sound, the damage poor implementation of that policy has caused cannot now be ignored in light of that review.

Social Tenants in existing contracts should never have been asked to take a hit in Housing Benefit without also first being offered a suitable smaller choice and that is what the Lib Dems will now demand of its Coalition partner, the status quo is simply socially unjust.

No, when there is a housing shortage, when young people can’t afford to buy and struggle to make the rent and when hundreds of thousands of Families are in cramped and overcrowded homes the Government should not pay to keep spare bedrooms spare.

Labour are, let’s not forget, the party which changed the rules for those getting Housing Benefit in the Private sector in 2008 so that they could not claim for spare bedrooms. Before we hear shouts of hypocrisy from them let them first answer if the ‘Bedroom tax’ is not, in principal simply levelling the playing field for private and social tenants.

Labour also need to answer if they think the taxpayer should pay to keep vacant rooms empty. Why should home owners & private renters pay for spare bedrooms for social tenants they can’t themselves afford nor claim for?

Then there is a moral question. When there is a shortage of housing for people to move to is it right to reduce housing benefit without helping people find an alternative which avoids that first?

This is where the Lib Dems and the Tories now divide. The Conservatives were keen that this should be an immediate cost saving measure. Liberal Democrats have always been uneasy about that and are right to be so – there are nearly one million spare bedrooms which need to be filled, not paid for. This should never have been about cost savings.

People will point out there is a shortage of housing to move to. This is true, but there are plenty of people in overcrowded properties who could make use of those empty spare bedrooms which would then free up smaller properties and we cannot continue to ignore the pressing need to build more houses.

It is safe to expect to hear more from the Liberal Democrats about that in the near future.

It is nothing short of a scandal that we have allowed a social housing regime which lacks capacity yet allows spare bedrooms to go fallow as overcrowded families sleep 4 to a room.

It cannot be socially just to pay for rooms to be empty nor is it fair to fail to put in the effort to match families and individuals to suitable accommodation in swaps or fail to do what we can to promote new builds.

The Lib Dem proposals announced today will ensure that the Government spends taxpayers money wisely whilst offering people the choice to stay and pay or make way for those more in need of more room.

Frankly it’s long overdue.

Its our communication, not the leader, which has to change

TV_CameraLet’s not pretend the Lib Dems aren’t in troubled waters. Over the Coalition the party has lost activists, councillors and voters as it has struggled to deal with the twin terrors of the fall out of the greatest economic depression since the war and the 6 fold larger Conservative Party suffocating its appeal and message.

Yet the Liberal Democrats had little choice but to enter Coalition, there was no majority for a Lib-Lab pact and a minority Tory Government would have fallen at the first budget bringing economic ruin for which the Lib Dems would inevitably foot the blame.

Four years of stoicism later the party is widely credited with two things; having the courage to enter government despite the immense difficulties and dangers and being disciplined enough to stick together in the face of those pressures where lesser Parties would have been crushed.

Sadly, this latter credit was discharged this week with the demise and duplicitous behaviour of Lord Oakeshott.

Oakeshott’s remedy to tackle the parties increasing electoral challenges, however is simply wrong. Eleven months out from a general election no party of Government has the time or political capital to knife their leader, spend months bickering about who should take the reins whilst failing to govern and then spend the few months left before polls open rejigging policy and introducing the leader to a sceptical press and an apathetic public.

Nick Clegg may be painted by his opponents as a shrinking man being bullied by Tory Cabinet ministers or even the devil himself for his supposed betrayals but he is the man who took Liberals into Government for the first time in 90 years, righted the economy, created jobs and fought 300 Tories for more school funding, a cut in income tax which directly benefits 24 million of the lower paid and restoring the link between pensions and earnings.

He’s also the man who stopped those same Tories from allowing workers to be fired at will, schools to make profits, weakening the equalities act or cutting the ‘Green Crap’ which will provide jobs and clean energy for future generations.

There is a story the party can tell but they are doing a poor job of doing it so far. If the Lib Dems have to change something it’s how they communicate that story to the public.

When you talk to members of the public about the party you hear the same sort of detractions. “You sold out your principles for power” says someone who doesn’t understand the rock and hard place the party found itself in. “You gave a tax cut to millionaires” says someone who has neither heard that the top rate of tax is higher now than under Labour or that the Party has taken 3 million basic rate payers out of income tax.

“You’re not standing up to the Tories” Says someone who doesn’t know of repeated Tory frustration at Lib Dem roadblocks to their damaging policies. “You break your promises!” says someone angry that the Lib Dems broke one major commitment to ensure deliverance of many others.

The party needs a communications strategy that cuts through to voters to help them understand why it went into government, what good it’s done in government, and what bad policy it’s stopped from happening without getting drowned out by Labour spin and Magpie Tory Policy theft.

I don’t know if that’s a question of resources or messaging but it is the single biggest thing killing the party and the one thing the leadership should address to help the Liberal Democrats recover.

A new leader might get a honeymoon, although I suspect the problem is the brand not the messenger, but only the current leader can explain the journey from opposition, to government, to Liberals having, for the first time in generations, a raft of policies they’ve actually implemented which has strengthened the economy and helped millions of people ,because he’s the one who walked it.

Never waste a good crisis and if this mini one has just one positive impact it has to be a good hard look at how the Liberal Democrats are selling their time in government. A failure to do so will mean it will be the history books, not election returns, which will credit the party’s stint in power.

Now is not the time for introspection

Liberal-Democrat-badge-Some-rights-reserved-by-Paul-Walter-Newbury-UKIt’s the Sunday after the elections before. When I hung up my trainers for this election cycle I was hoping for  a bit of a break. Fortuitously it’s also a bank Holiday, better yet, recess. MPs are away until a week on Wednesday. Wonderful.

Sadly however, it seems some party members thought otherwise.

Those behind ‘Lib Dems for Change’ – and that is specifically a change of leadership – presumably a vehicle for Vince Cable, have concerns about Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Now, I don’t think a change of leadership is even slightly a good idea, even if I fully understand where these people, many of them friends I respect, are coming from but that’s not to say I don’t have concerns.

Lets say Nick isn’t the most popular person, he didn’t do very well against Nigel Farage in the European Debates, much of the electorate don’t have time for him and voting for an increase in Tuition Fees was a mistake.

But that said, he does deserve some respect…

Yes, he wasn’t able to win the debates on Europe in the face of decades of tabloid myth making but he was the only party leader to take on UKIP on Europe, and is ahead of the pack.

Yes much of the electorate don’t have time for the leader of the Liberal Democrats but seeing as this has always been the case it’s not something which should shock anybody or can be fixed by a new leader, it comes with the job.

Yes, Nick Clegg signed a pledge on fees. He voted contrary to that pledge, he apologised for breaking that pledge and he has been the subject of mockery and venom ever since;

But if you think replacing a man who broke his word on fees with, say, Vince Cable, the Minister who introduced the bill which raised fees will fix the Liberal Democrats image problem as a party you can’t trust to keep to its pledges you probably do need that Bank Holiday rest you’ve denied yourself.

And this goes to the heart of why ‘Lib Dems for Change’ is a spectacularly bad idea.

First, if Nick goes, who replaces him? Vince Cable? The man who didn’t just break his fees policy but wrote the betrayal? I hear if Lembit Opik was asked he’d consider it.

Everyone else is either a minister as knee deep in the Coalition as Clegg, or utterly unknown to the wider population. The idea that there’s a King or Queen across the water untarnished by coalition, who the public are dying to hear talk about the merits of Land Value Tax is as fanciful as it is indulgent.

Second, Time. We don’t have any. The most important and least predictable General Election in generations is a mere 11 months away. Lets say Clegg goes tonight and 250 odd letter signers out of 45,000 Lib Dems rejoice. The leadership election will be finished by August, a month before Conference. We then have 7 Months until the General Election.

7 months to write a manifesto, 7 months to re-tweak our election strategy, 7 months to heal the divisions of the previous 3, 7 months to try to get the public and press to recognises our new leader, 7 months to refute accusations from the Tories that we can’t hack it and from Labour that the new leader’s just the same as the old.

That’s an impossible task, and it won’t be made any easier by:

Third, appearance. Sure, I don’t underestimate those behind this effort at all. They’ve chosen a time of acute distress for the party straight after bad election results, they’ve co-ordinated their media appearances and are building up momentum.

But to those outside the Westminster bubble this is all too clever by half. What the outside world sees is rats fighting in a sack, or porters rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship, or snout in the trough politicians worried about losing their seats, whichever tired cliché works really.

The timing is good for a coup attempt – it is simply terrible for public perception for one simple reason. This looks like MPs seeing bad results and trying to save their own skins from a wipe out that is not likely but is desired by many of detractors and it’s the last thing the party will get credit for.

Divided Parties don’t win elections, and Parties too indulgent to fight each other instead of for their supporters, talking to themselves not about their actions, won’t win votes.

Finally, there’s the wildcard elements at play. I’ve heard from more than one Journo and a well-placed Tory that if Clegg goes, so does the Coalition.

The fixed terms Parliament act sets in stone the date of the next general election but it does have a wrecking ball clause. If a motion of no confidence in the Government is passed in the Commons, or two – thirds of MPs resolve to dissolve Parliament, an election is scheduled for 25 days times.

I’m told that if the Tories can’t have plan A, seeing the Coalition out until the economic recovery is confirmed and firmly in voters’ minds, they quite like plan B. A snap general election.

The reasoning is simple. Miliband is weak, Labour are not trusted on the economy. A snap poll would shock UKIP and swing voters into either maintaining the economic recovery with the Tories or taking a gamble on Labour. If the Lib Dems are rudderless and in the throes of a leadership battle and can’t put up much of a fight under untested leadership, all the better for finishing us off.

Its what Gordon Brown should have done.

I’ve admired my party throughout this parliament. The situation is not fair. Coalition to rescue the UK from dire economic circumstance was the only credible option. We were never going to be able to implement all of our manifesto, 57 Lib Dem MP’s coming to compromise agreements with 306 Tories was always going to be called betrayal. We were never going to get everything right having spent generations out of government and we were always going to get disproportionate blame for what the government either has to do, or has got wrong and an equal amount of pain because of it.

But because of Liberal Democrats in Government we’ve provided stable government, avoided an economic crash, we’ve increased funding for schools, we’ve abolished ID cards, we’ve ended Child detention of Asylum Seekers, we’ve lowered Crime, we’ve established an economic recovery, we’ve cut the deficit, we’ve kept borrowing costs low, we’ve taken 3 million of the lowest paid out of income tax, we’ve set up a green investment bank, legislated for High Speed rail, invested in renewable clean energy, we’ve linked pensions to earnings, given young people help with hundreds of thousands of new apprenticeships and created 1.3 million Jobs.

But most importantly we’ve done what we came into politics to do. To enact our priorities in Government and leave the country in better shape at the end of this parliament than we found it in.

All of that narrative, all of that good work, all of the credit we should hope to claim for doing the right thing by the country and growing the economy could now be lost in the din of a leadership battle.

If we spend the limited time available to us between now and May 2015 fighting a civil war, not the battle to explain our record and win people back, we frankly deserve wipe out.

The dead lay no blame

Or, an essay on why 2014 should be a year of Remembrance, not scoring points

How best to teach of the Great War?

I am a graduate of history, not to say that my perspective on the terrible events of 1914 to 1918 hold more or less merit than another’s, but if you were to ask me how best to teach how an assassination of an Arch Duke in Sarajevo led to a war which tore the world order apart, unleashed the forces of Communism and Fascism in some countries and propelled the march of Democracy in others, led to class struggle and establishment resistance, drove the acceleration of technology, rewrote maps and the book on the conduct of nations, encouraged civil and human rights and led to Great Nations embarking on the folly of total war, I would suggest that you look at it from every perspective you could without dismissal of those opposed to your own.

Germany was no Evil Empire

The causes which led to the war are many, varied, interwoven and complicated.

It has been claimed by some that Britain waged war for freedom, and that Germany was not only to blame for the war, but was barbaric and autocratic in a way which offended Britain’s world view at the time as much as today.

The truth is marred by the black propaganda of the time and rose tinted insight into Britain’s supposed, superior, past. Some have claimed for instance, that the German Kaiser was all but a dictator, that Germany lacked a Parliament, that the German people and leader were barbaric and desired only to annex its neighbours.

It depresses me that the Germany of 1914 and 1939 are so confused, or seen in the same prism. The German Reichstag had free and fair elections, last held before the war in 1914. Suffrage in Germany was universal for men over the age of 25 – the widest and most progressive franchise in Europe at the time. Trade unions operated freely and a multi party system existed.

The Bundesrat – upper house – whose members were elected as part of the Reichstag had the power to restrict the Kaiser’s ability to declare war – not that it was used, but it stands against the powers of the parliament of the UK at the time, or even today, which cannot prevent the executive from making war and did not vote to declare war.

By contrast the UK House of Commons had only just achieved supremacy over the Unelected Lords in 1911, only 60% or so of men in the UK could vote and only if they owned property, land or paid a land rent, to say nothing of the lack of female suffrage or a representative political establishment.

Freedom, and democracy in Britain, let alone her colonial possessions, was embryonic compared to what it would later become. Whilst Germany was far from perfect, to discount it as uncivilised or lacking the freedoms of other European Countries is to buy into the anti German Sentiment of the time and discredit a nation more comparable to Britain in 1914 than most are willing to consider. The Germans were as proud of their society and civilization as the British and enjoyed comparable freedom and democracy.

To say that the Germans were in some way barbaric or morally inferior to the British is to pander to the cheap racism of the time, to say their tactics or honour was lacking is to employ a double standard.

For every use of German chemical weapons, it is forgotten that the French deployed them first and the British used them as well, for anecdotes of German Brutality there are examples of British, the sinking and summary execution of the crew of U-27 was hushed up, for example. German unrestricted Submarine Warfare was itself a response to the British blockade of Germany which caused as many as 500,000 German civilian deaths through starvation.

It is a common thought that the Germany army was particularly harsh, but little thought is given to the British Army’s attitude toward the 306 British Personal executed by their commanders, some as young as 16, for crimes such as sheltering outside of the trenches or who suffered from ‘cowardice’ in the face of shell shock. The brutal reality is that all sides have questions to answer.

Nor is it fair to suggest that Germany’s militarism or desire for Great Power status or territory was unique or even remarkable. Germany sought to obtain the same status, through the same means as any of her rivals in Europe and the Pre War years were marked by the Scramble for Africa, the Dreadnought Battleship Arms race and a half dozen crises  around the world which could have led to war.

It is quite something for the descendants of the British Empire, which had the greatest Navy by far, standing armies on five continents, the greatest extent of territory of any power, the greatest number of people under one banner and territorial ambitions from the Sudan to Afghanistan and China to point at Germany and call it out for its militarism, desire for territory or imperial pretensions.

France desired the return of Alsace-Lorraine, Austria-Hungary desired the Balkans, Russia desired expansion to the Mediterranean. Britain sought in its foreign policy to contain Germany and ensure the status quo in order that her own power was maintained.

Had it not been for the invasion of neutral Belgium, Britain would still have intervened to ensure France did not fall. Asquith, in his statement to the Commons on the 6th August spent as much time outlining the threat to France and her colonies and the fear of German domination of Europe for Britain’s position as he did the violation of Belgian Territory, war would still have come and it was in Britain’s self interest to fight it.

All of these competing interests were reasons the war came about as important as Germany’s motivations, which stemmed as much from fear of the other powers as her desires to extend her own power.

Moreover, to suggest that a German Infantryman and a British Infantryman were fundamentally different is fundamentally wrong. Men on the front lines had families, jobs and the same motivating desires, to fight for Flag, King and Country, nationalism and pride. The absence of competing political ideology as a driver for war is what sets the First World War apart from the Second.

A German soldiers’ desire to fight, in defence of their country and their way of life, was no different from a British or French Soldiers’ motivation and no less keenly felt, The Germans fought for ‘freedom’ too. These were people, and I place an emphasis on ‘people’ who, in the first Christmas of the war, put down their rifles and played football in no man’s land. The Germans were no more or less evil, barbaric or civilised than anyone else who fought.

‘Necessity’ and Realpolitiks

This is not to say there is moral equivalence between all acts by all sides of the war. The Invasion of Belgium at the outbreak of hostilities by Germany violated all international norms for the respect of neutrality – something the German Chanceller, Bethman-Hollweg, told the Reichstag at the time – and gave a just casus belli for Britain to enter the war – but at the same time his government saw it as a necessary evil to avoid Germany’s defeat in a two fronted war.

The Schlieffen Plan, which had origins ten years before the war, was not a plan for conquest and territorial expansion, as most claim it to be, but a desperate and flawed defensive contingency on the basis that offense is the best defence and that conflict was now inevitable.

This confusion between defensive contingency and expansionist design in contemporary British views of Germany’s offensive leads politicians like Boris Johnson to ask “Why was it necessary to follow up some rumpus in Sarajevo by invading France?”

I find it hard to understand Boris’s seeming inability to comprehend what led up to that decision, something most learn during their GCSE’s. By August 1914 Germany faced a war on two fronts between Russia and France on account of Germany’s alliance with Austria-Hungary, Russia’s decision to mobilise against Austria following Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia and France’s assumed and promised military support for Russia in the event of war with Germany.

Germany faced a choice, to take the initiative to avoid a war on two fronts which might meet some success, or delay, and succumb to a defensive war against two or three powers it could not possibly win.

You can disagree that the means justified Germany’s ends, and I do, but I’m not sure Britain could say that, in the same situation, it wouldn’t have prioritised expedience over defeat.

Indeed, as Field Marshall, Sir Douglas Haig put it, explaining why the British ‘Attacked Whenever Possible’ at the wars conclusion:

“the object of all war is victory, and a purely defensive attitude can never bring about a successful decision, either in a battle or in a campaign. The idea that a war can be won by standing on the defensive and waiting for the enemy to attack is a dangerous fallacy, which owes its inception to the desire to evade the price of victory”

For the Germans, knocking out one of her two enemies early and avoiding defeat was a matter of survival not of design, the common myth is that Germany thought a war against France would be ‘easy’ If that were true Germany would not have considered the need for an elaborate pincher movement to defeat France early on, and if it was a matter of design, you’d have to believe that the most professional and best trained Army in Europe would go against 2000 years of military wisdom and deliberately plan a war on two fronts they knew they would lose.

This idea Germany wanted a war of conquest further disregards the Kaiser’s appeal to Russia to demobilise which was eventually ignored, his appeal to France to abandon its alliance with Russia which was rebuffed, his well know views that he was outplayed by his cousins, the Tsar of Russia and King of Britain, his fear for Germany’s survival, German Frustration that Austria-Hungary overplayed her hand, and her campaign aims to militarily defeat France, not occupy her (the Schlieffen Plan specifically forbade the taking of Paris, for instance) and then defend herself against a Slow to mobilise Russia.

For those who think Germany ‘war mongered’ by standing by and giving her full support to her Ally, Austria–Hungary over Serbia after the assassination of a member of the Austrian Heir, even in the face of war with Russia, might reflect what Business was the Balkans of Russia, what role France’s commitment to her treaty partner in Russia and motivation to regain territory lost in 1871 had on escalating tensions, or why the only possible response to a violation of Belgium’s neutrality by Germany for the British was war?

That is not to say that Germany’s Belgian folly, borne of the desperation to avoid the encirclement and slow death on two fronts she eventually suffered should be disregarded or downplayed, but it is to appeal for thought on the whole circumstances of a war fought across an entire continent, not just on the Western Front.

All must share some blame

To lay the blame solely and squarely at Germany’s door for the folly of a 6 strong great power conflict, to pretend that German Militarism, Imperialism or desire for expansion and great power status was exceptional or unique in the company of the Great, Military, Colonial and Imperial powers of Russia, France, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary and yes, the leading Naval power of the day, the largest Empire of all time and the originator of modern imperialism itself, Great Britain, her empire and dominions, is to ignore both the context of the period and to continue the great folly of Versailles, that there were good empires and bad ones.

France wished to settle accounts over Alsace-Lorraine, Britain had been motivated for decades to maintain her power and contain Germany as her rival, Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity to extend her influence in the Balkans and failed to show restraint, Serbia failed to show some contrition and Russia wished to expand her own influence in the Balkans and deny it to others.

The circumstances of the outbreak of the First World War are complicated and must be understood through the power plays of all its protagonists. Germany, as Much as France and Britain found herself entangled in a web of their own making perched on a brink no one would back away from.

The general feeling in London, Paris and Berlin was some relief that war was underway and would be over soon and in the main, a great desire for war and for a decision on the battlefield.

From Germany’s point of view, there was no alternative. Her decisions and presumptions, led by a fear of the consequence of delay which would lose her her advantage, inflamed the situation, but Germany did not cause a war which, by the time the first German troops marched into Luxembourg on the morning of the 2nd August 1914 was already underway in the east and inevitable in the west.

To seek to blame just one country for the outbreak of war is to avoid scrutinising the shortcomings of others, a general failure to draw back, the circumstances which led to the assumptions which led so disastrously to war and to display not just an anglo-centric view of events, but a partial one at that.

It is to peddle the great myth, that there is an easy answer to a very complex and complicated question.

The truth is, all must share some blame, to some degree or other, for the outbreak of World War in August 2014, be it through paranoid assumption, reckless desire, nationalistic fervour, or a desire to settle scores of blood repaid.

And that terrible price was paid, in blood, by men the world over, by men from Lancashire, and Baden, Burgundy and Galicia, Delhi, Gondar, Wellington, Darwin, Moscow, Turkey, Iowa and Belgrade and a thousand other places, nations, towns and villages. All blood ran red.

You can pontificate about who was to blame the most, whose generals were quickest or careless to grasp the terrible tempo of modern warfare and the Orchestra of new weapons available, who suffered the most, and pivot about for party political or national pride if you wish but it will never change the fact that those men who fought for King and Country, or mere Survival, are united in death and mud thanks to the follies of leaders the world over.

It would be to our political class’s credit if they were to mark the centenary of the Bloodiest Conflict the world had yet seen with dispassionate sober reflection, and not chest thumping pride. The men who fought on Flanders field, who died in trenches east and west, who landed on Gallipolis’s shore and fought on sea and in air are all but gone, their memory deserves better than a blame game.

And we are skipping the key point. That we should make sure it never ever happens again. This centenary is not about national pride, but humanity itself squandered for the sake of national pride. There is an important difference.

A forced Caesarean? Concerns still linger

The story of an Italian mother who was sectioned under the mental health act, forced to undergo a Caesarean Section and who had her child taken from her to be put into care and then put up for adoption is a harrowing one.

I will say from the outset that I do not assert  that Childrens Services applied for the Court order granting an enforced Caesarean under general anesthetic and with force, as per the Judgment by Justice Mostyn

Paradoxically, considering my blogs title, I rarely do diary write ups on stuff I’ve been working on but, declaring my employment interests, neither does John Hemming make the above assertion, His initial write up  asserts that the story starts with:

“a pregnant mother visiting the UK for a training course lasting only two weeks’ and ends with ‘her baby being taken through a forcible caesarean and then placed for adoption for the usual spurious reasons that are used”

Nor is it fair, to say John has an axe to grind against Childrens Services. Most care and social workers do extraordinary work in very trying  circumstances, but it is quite right to criticise where there is failure, especially in gathering evidence to inform decision making as heart breaking, long lasting and grave of consequence as adoption or invasive surgery.

I quite agree when the current head of the Family Court, Sir James Munby states that “since the abolition of the death penalty the family courts hold the most drastic powers of any tribunal – the power to take a baby away from a mother for life” 

Mr Hemming is primarily concerned that the law is followed, that those arguing that a Judge should authorise drastic powers provide evidence of the highest standard and that Justice is seen to be done, family law and the court of protection has to be subject to scrutiny and transparency.

And it is not as though Local Authorities are without their faults - this case from 2012 is an appeal Judgement in the case of two Slovakian Children who had been put up for adoption in the UK. Mr Hemming, myself and Julie Haines, who acts as a Lay Advisor for Mr Hemmings advocacy group Justice for Families assisted the Maternal Grandmother and the Slovak Government in appealing the adoption order and having the Children placed with the Maternal Grandmother.

As you can read, the local authority in this case comes in for a lot of flak in terms of failing to follow the directions of the Appeal Court and general intransigence.

The performance of the local authority since seems to me, albeit without the fullest investigation, lamentable. We have not had any evidence from officers of the county council, which might of course explain or justify what on the correspondence seems to have been almost a conscious endeavour to defy the direction and pace for transition clearly set out in the judgment of the majority on 16 November”

Its worth noting that the Slovak Authorities in this case were not properly informed or consulted on the future of their citizens and that it was found that the Grandmother had been unduly discarded as an option for custody of the Children.

The children are now under Grandmothers custody in Slovakia instead of adopted in the UK. These points are both important in the case of Ms Pacchieri and I’ll come to that later.

Nor should we absolve the Local Authoritiey of their attitude toward this case, they may not have been party to the Mostyn ruling authorising the Casearean, but they were, according to Queens Counsel, planning to have the baby removed using police powers, against the advice of Doctors that the child and mother should be together in a mother and baby unit,

In fact the order states: “I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989.”

Whilst I would personally hesitate to use language to suggest that Childrens Services ‘snatch’ Babies for Adoption, one does have to wonder where the Local Authority was coming from and, in the absence of the transcript or Judgement for an interim care order I can only speculate about their intentions, which I shall avoid doing.

The Mostyn Judgement does, however raise a number of concerns – also raised by Birthrights and Dr Nell Munro of Mental Health and Capacity law blog, regarding the accuracy of the evidence presented to the Judge, whether the test for Mental Incapacity met both section 2 and section 3 of the Mental Health Act and the absence of Ms Pacchieri’s views from the case, both that she wished for a natural birth before she lost capacity in the legal sense, and her desire to be with the baby as well as a lack of consideration as to whether the doctors advice regarding risk justified the procedure.

Both the blogs I cite raise grave concerns on all those points better than I could. Chiefly as regards to whether it was properly tested as to whether Ms Pacchieri did or did not have capacity and whether or not Ms Pacchieri was consulted, at all, let alone sufficiently.

As Dr Nell Munro discuss’ in his thoughts on whether Ms Pacchieri did meet the section 3 test of the Mental Health Act, to quote:

“the judgment does not tell us why she met the further requirements of being unable to make a decision under s.3 MCA. To be unable to make a decision a person must be unable to understand, retain, use or weigh or communicate their decision even after all necessary practical assistance has been provided to them. The judgement contains no discussion of what efforts have been made to discuss birth planning with AA, nor of whether she understands the consequences of refusing a caesarean section

This does not mean AA had capacity at the time. Only that the judgement does not communicate that she did not.”

The application was very last minute and rushed needlessly when there had been up to as many as 10 weeks (June 13th – August 23rd) to prepare, it is also evident from the transcript that no one was well briefed – Counsel for the NHS mention a rush leading to one document being printed with missing alternate pages, the QC instructed for the mother, appears to have neither spoken with nor met her and is given documents to read at the hearing itself.

The nature of the late in the day application meant that any delay might increase the risk to the mother and child and would, in my opinion, put undue pressure on a Judge to rush a judgement.

If a birth plan had been initiated before hand and an order sought earlier this could have been handled in such a better way. They had 10 weeks to plan a better course of action and ended up traumatizing the very person they considered so vulnerable, to say nothing of the mental health implications of someone not being told they are about to give birth through an invasive surgery waking up in an unfamiliar place after surgery.

It is also my concern that the NHS diagnosed and were treating Ms Pacchieri for the wrong condition whilst she was in the UK and this may have contributed to her lengthy period, 10 weeks, of illness.

Some have suggested this is based on ‘under-informed speculation’ but it is not. It is based on a reading of both the transcript of the hearing of the 23rd August 2013 and the Judgement of the hearing of the 1st February under Judge Newton regarding adoption.

In Justice Mostyn’s hearing Counsel for the Applicant, Mid-Essex NHS Trust, Miss Burnham, stated:

“My Lord, it is said that she suffers from a schizophrenic disorder, which is psychotic in nature and she is currently under section 3. My Lord, that is as detailed as the identification of the disorder goes. It is in the report of Dr. Adimulam, which is at your clip 4. It is the second document entitled “private and confidential”

Dr Adimulam is the treating consultant psychiatrist in the UK who produced two reports on Ms Pacchieri in August 2012.

It is, however, well established that Ms Pacchieri suffers from a Bipolar Disorder, and, in Judge Newton’s Judgement of 1st February 2013 – with the benefit of 6 months further consideration as well as the fact that Ms Pacchieri has recovered following treatment in Italy – he states 3 times that she suffers from Bipolar and has done so since 2007 and been treated for it since 2008.

Newton does not mention schizophrenia or psychosis and if the medical evidence supported that Ms Pacchieri suffers from this condition, he would have mentioned it.

I am happy to admit I am not a medical expert, but Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia are not the same condition. Don’t take my word for it Bipolar UK stressed in a press release on mental health awareness in the workplace that “mental health advocates need to be more specific about different conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder”

They are definitely two separate disorders which differ enough to warrant the NHS giving different sets of treatment advice for Schizophrenia  and Bipolar so it is of some concern that the NHS told the Judge Ms Pacchieri suffered (and presumably was treated for) a different disorder from the one Judge Newton states she has had since 2007.

It would also explain why Ms Pacchieri was so Ill whilst under treatment in the UK for 5 months between June and November, but made a rapid recovery between November and February 1st, in time for the Adoption hearing after returning to Italy.

Leaving for Italy may have damaged her case in Judge Newtons eyes, but staying in the UK wasn’t helping her either.

Moreover If Ms Pacchieri was being treated for the wrong condition for the 10 weeks leading up to the Birth, and the Judge relied on an inaccurate diagnosis of “a schizophrenic disorder, which is psychotic in nature” in order to be satisfied that she lacked capacity, then there is the potential she did have capacity or that had she been correctly treated she would have had capacity returned.

I also suspect that this diagnosis would have affected the thinking of the Local Authority when it came to requesting a police presence to remove the child, or when they proceeded to an interim care order and in deciding if the mother was fit to care for the child with help from the family.

There is also the concern that the Italian Authorities, both the Consulate General in London and the Central Authority in Rome (Our equivalent of the Official Solicitor) is entirely absent from consideration in both of the published Judgements.

Ms Pacchieri is an Italian Citizen, habitually resident in Italy and was only here for a two week training course at Stansted with Ryanair. She had either completed or was close to completion of that course and planned to leave the UK shortly.

One has to wonder at what point between June and August it might have occurred to the NHS trust or the Local Authority that it would have been in the mothers best interests if she was repatriated to Italy to give birth, surrounded by her family, friends and doctors and social workers who were familiar with her condition and would have been caring for her during her pregnancy before she arrived in the UK.

One also has to wonder what implications for Human Rights violations under European Treaties this throws up.

Here Essex County Council come in for some flak, their timeline of events includes a comment that “Mother applied to Italian Courts for order to return the child to Italy in May 2013. Those courts ruled that child should remain in England”

In actual fact Essex have omitted the fact that the lower court in Florence, to which that refers, found itself incapable of making a judgement and passed the case to a Tribunal in Rome, which ruled, either in September or October, we are still having the full Judgement translated into English and I will endeavor to link to it, but it appeared in the Italian press some days ago (I will not link to that report because it names the child)  “that it cannot recognise the ruling of the English court because it is contrary to Italian and international norms of public order”

I can understand spin, but leaving out that the Italian Courts consider this case against international law, and leaving the impression that the Italian Courts think that the child should ‘remain in England’ serves only to give a false impression, whether that is intended or not.

Ms Pacchieri had rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to have consular support. This Convention allows someone detained by another country to have access rights to Consular support. The Courts in England also had a responsibility under Brussels II BIS Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 to consider “Transfer to a court better placed to hear the case” under article 15, Under Article 55 UK Central Authorities and Courts are required to co-operate with other Central Authorities and Under Article 56

“Where a court having jurisdiction under Articles 8 to 15 contemplates the placement of a child in institutional care or with a foster family and where such placement is to take place in another Member State, it shall first consult the central authority or other authority having jurisdiction in the latter State where public authority intervention in that Member State is required for domestic cases of child placement.”

There is some confusion as to when the UK Local Authorities contacted the Italian Consulate General or the Italian Central Authority, we have had contact with the Italian Central Authority (and that is not the same as the Court in Florence) this week who were not aware of the case, and given there is no record of the Italian Consulate General visiting or attempting to intervene in the case from June 2012 until she returned to Italy in October or November under guard there is a real concern as to whether international law has been respected.

I have been in touch with the Italian Consulate and made an FOI request to Esssex County Council to establish the facts, but, going back to the Slovakian case I highlighted above, one of the reasons that appeal was won was due to a lack of contact between Surrey County Council and the Slovakian Central Authority, which led to the Slovakian Government intervening in the case.

It is also probable that this, together with the Rome Tribunal Judgement, is why the Italian Government has been reported as having hired solicitors with the intention of intervening in this case.

Like the Slovakian example, we could see another European Country go to court over UK adoptions policy and the actions of Social Services.

To add to the concern on this point is a 2011 FOI response from Essex County Council regarding non UK children in care  (Ref ECC-015030-11) I’ll add the questions and response to Essex’s policy toward notifying countries of non UK national children in care verbatim but the essential answer is We do not have any contact with High Commissions or Embassies

1. What is the Local Authorities policy for notifying High Commissions and Embassies (their Consular Welfare Sections) regarding non-UK national children that are? 
A. Taken in to Care 
B. Being Adopted

2. What is the Local Authorities policy for enabling High Commissions and Embassies Consular Welfare access visits to non-UK children in its care and prior to adoption?

3. Has the Local Authority sought any legal or other advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office regarding High Commissions and/or Embassies Consular Welfare visits to non UK children in its care?

4. Has the Local Authority refused any High Commission or Embassy Consular Welfare visits to non UK children in it’s care and if so how many?

We do not have any contact with High Commissions or Embassies.

6. How many High Commissions and Embassies Consular Welfare Sections 

in these cases as in 5. A. & B. above were:
A. Notified
B. Were not notified To High Commissions and Embassies Consular
Welfare Sections

We do not have any contact with High Commissions or Embassies.”

These are non UK national Children being put into care and adopted in England. As far back as 2011 Essex has not been notifying those countries High Commissions or Embassies of what they are doing to non UK national Children.

This case is, on a human level, tragic, terrifying and worrying. It also draws up concerns on a procedural and legal level. It is also, worryingly, not a one off.

Was it right to publish? Regardless of the accuracy of the initial reports about who obtained the initial order allowing the Caesarean this case throws up a multitude of issues, from how we treat people Judged without capacity to how court hearings held in secret operate, to the rights and wrongs of a care and adoption system which needs to treat the people involved with the utmost sensitivity.

This story is not about press accuracy, its about how we treat our fellow human beings.

Justice should be seen to be done, and it should be open to scrutiny, yet the Court of Protection and the family courts often operate in the dark. Another recent example is the case of Wanda Maddicks in the court of protection, imprisoned for contempt of court without a public judgement or even her name being published, quite wrong to jail someone in secret, one might consider.

The evidence presented to Justice Mostyn urging a Caesarean and authorising force was presented last minute, hours before the Caesarean was due to take place, despite there being 10 weeks to consider what course of action was best for the mother or child, leaving no time to properly consider what must be considered an extremely grave and harrowing decision.

Asking Mostyn to Judge the day before the operation, allowing no time for scrutiny, looks like the UK institutions trying to bounce a decision. The NHS and Childrens services had June till August to get it right.

This would appear to be evidence of the ““recurrent inadequacy” and “sloppy practice” Justice Munby, the current head of the family division said in September this year, is all to common in the family courts and court of protection.

“We have real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments.” - Munby

This is not a one off. Judge’s make these decisions of utmost consequence all the time, I’ve been involved in a handful of them personally and seen Local Authorities introduce evidence at the last minute, refuse to co-operate with orders, mangle the facts and, in the Slovakian case, the Local Authority even confused a family friend acting as a translator, of being the mother in the case when asserting that she had broken a court order regarding contact.

These are decisions of a matter akin to life and death, publishing the Judgements, anonymised, in this case was important to allow public discussion of the rights and wrongs of our Social and Adoption systems, and how we treat those with mental health problems judged unable to decide for themselves.

In broad policy and human terms this case has worried me greatly since I learnt of it last week. It is, perhaps, time to open up the system and take a good look at whats going wrong.

*This article is my personal view and does not necessarily reflect the view of my employer

It’s all Nick Clegg’s Fault

Responsible for all the Worlds Ills

Responsible for all the Worlds ills

Nick Clegg has never heard of Owen Jones

Oh for such a life of pure, unadulterated bliss.

Mr Jones, however, has heard of Nick Clegg, which is reassuring for Liberal Democrats everywhere that the party is no longer being ignored by the media.

Owen is of the opinion that Clegg is guilty of “unforgivable Tory collaboration”  like he was a Nazi guard at a concentration camp or something.

Owen is pretty annoyed that Nick Clegg might question why Economic Immigrants should automatically get benefits, which Ed Miliband questioned back in January.

Mr Miliband said immigrants’ rights to benefits in the UK “should be looked at” in the future.

“Yes, that is an issue that should be looked at,” Mr Miliband said. “Of course that’s an issue that should be looked at, the length of entitlement to benefits and how quickly people can get them.

“All of these issues would be on the table as we seek to manage our relationship with the European Union, and as we seek to manage migration. I actually think that diversity helps our country. But it can’t just work for some and not for all.”

I suppose that makes Ed Miliband guilty of “unforgivable Tory collaboration” as well then, for shame

That said, given that the party Owen Jones wants in government locked up children of those claiming Asylum and Nick Clegg ended that he can shut the hell up about who scapegoats immigrants as far as I’m concerned.

Still, according to his mate, Rufus Hound, whom Owen has RT’d, Clegg’s list of unforgivable transgressions includes U-turns on Education, Trident and Iraq

Wait, Iraq? We’re blaming Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems for u-turning on Iraq now? Well I say we, I mean Labour voting leftie luvviees with about as much political memory as a 5 year old Goldfish.

Its popular for Labour types to have a pop at Nick Clegg. He broke his promise on Fees, Labour never ceases to remind people. 

As if Labour didn’t promise not to introduce fees in 1997, and break that promise, as if Labour didn’t promise not to introduce top-up fees in 2001, and break that promise

And as if the Browne review was not introduced by Labour Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and as if, had Gordon Brown somehow managed to remain in power in 2010,  Labour would have ignored the recommendations of their own review, which called for unlimited fees, and cut tuition fees. 

Of course, in Owen Jones’ world the left have never, ever, broken a promise or done anything remotely wrong.

They didn’t trial the under occupation pilot ‘hated’ bedroom tax in 2001, they definitely built enough houses to prevent a housing crisis between 1997 and 2010 (Building 130 council houses in 2004 did met supply) regulation of the city was brilliant, the government did not run a deficit ever year from 2004 onwards, youth unemployment did not go up to a million, there was no debt crisis.

Labour estimates for immigration were always 100% accurate, they did not call for the NHS budget to be cut in 2010, they did not trial NHS privatisation, they didn’t rack up huge Private Finance Initiative debt, they scrapped Trident, they didn’t overspend on IT projects or Military Procurement, Armed Forces Personnel always had the best equipment.

Labour were always the Party of civil Liberties, they campaigned against ID Cards, they fought against 90 days detention without charge, they didn’t try to deport gay and Lesbian people like Pegah Emambakhsh, to Iran facing the death penalty, they didn’t lock up child asylum seekers and they would never extraordinary rendition anyone to a country where they could be tortured.

And they definitely, did not, would never have taken part in an Invasion of Iraq which cost at least 100,000 lives

And if any of that did happen, its Nick Cleggs Fault.

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