Skip to content

Liberal Hero of the Week #76: Dominic Grieve

October 3, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero dominic grieve

Dominic Grieve

Conservative MP and former Attorney-General
Reason: for sticking to his principles and standing up for international law and human rights

Imagine, just for a moment, that Russia’s President Putin were to make the following announcement… He, Putin, and his ministers no longer considered themselves bound by international law or their treaty obligations; state-appointed judges would no longer be able to re-interpret laws so they comply with human rights; the conduct of Russian troops abroad would no longer be subject to human rights challenges; and that human rights would no longer apply in what Russia judged to be ‘trivial’ cases.

That, today, is what Chris Grayling, the Tory justice secretary, has announced will be his party’s policy on human rights at the next election. Of course, the UK is not Russia. We know that. The comparison is absurd. To us. But it leaves in tattered shreds our credibility to champion the cause of international human rights abroad when our own ministers give it such short shrift here at home.

And human rights matter here too. As The Guardian notes in a balanced editorial today:

The Human Rights Act is certainly not perfect. It has done an imperfect job of checking the growth of creeping authoritarianism, first under the New Labour government that brought in the act, and now under the often rather more cautious Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. But the arbitrary use of stop and search powers highlighted this week at the Conservative conference took place in Human Rights Act Britain; the court-authorised police access to journalists’ phone records revealed this week in the Chris Huhne case took place here too; and the secret evidence and closed procedures which were at the heart of the collapse of the Moazzam Begg prosecution on Wednesday, have flourished in Human Rights Act Britain as well.

You might expect the lefty Guardian to fret about such issues. You might not expect the strait-laced Conservative MP for Beaconsfield, Dominic “I’m conservative to my fingertips” Grieve QC, Attorney-General from 2010-14, to share their concerns. But he does, and some:

“The principles of conservatism include upholding the rule of law and the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations. If the party of which I’m a member makes an announcement which has the potential to breach the law and those obligations then I will argue against it … It would be very unsatisfactory.”

And on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme he tore into the Tory party’s proposals, highlighting “a number of howlers”, and praising the European Court of Human Rights’ international influence:

“It is right to say that on a daily basis the court is producing decisions of great importance in improving human rights in Europe, which are inevitably ignored here because they tend to concern countries in Eastern Europe.”

In reality, as barrister Carl Gardner blogs in accessible depth here, Grayling’s proposals are more modest than his rhetoric: “I wouldn’t say the plan signifies nothing; but it’s not as significant at it sounds.”

But for sticking to his principles, even though it ended up costing him his government job – and for making the case for human rights and international law from a Conservative perspective – Dominic Grieve is without doubt a Liberal Hero this week.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Villain of the Month: Greg Dyke

September 20, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf villain greg dyke

Greg Dyke

Chairman, Football Association
Reason: for proposing immigration restrictions on non-EU footballers

When in doubt, blame the foreigners. It’s an attitude I expect from some on the unthinking right (and indeed left). But somehow I hoped better of Greg Dyke, a one-time Lib Dem member and donor. Yet he too has now joined the evidence-free clamour for English football clubs to bar footballers from beyond the European Union because immigrants.

“The rules say elite non-European players – the very best – should be allowed to come in and we agree with that. What we are saying is there are a lot that aren’t [the very best], that don’t play that much and do take squad places, and a lot particularly in the Football League disappear after a year or so. The system doesn’t work. What we are saying is, ‘Let the best players come in but give the rest of those squad places to young English kids’.”

Who could be against English clubs bringing on young, home-grown talent? Not me. But his argument is shoddy. Who, after all, decides which non-EU players count as mediocre? Surely that should be up to the clubs themselves, not the FA. And that the restriction can apply only to non-EU nationals will necessarily discriminate against footballers from poorer nations. Besides, what’s to stop the clubs simply topping up their stock of ‘mediocre’ players from the EU if they really want to?

As Len Shackleton has persuasively argued:

Why should interest groups like the FA be allowed to influence immigration policy? The argument that English workers perform better when protected from competition from immigrants, many of whom are ‘mediocre’ anyway, might be used by every occupation if we accepted Mr Dyke’s dubious logic. I’ve known some pretty duff non-EU academics working in UK universities, but I don’t argue that we should keep them from applying for jobs here. We have some pretty duff academics of our own.

Every year about 200,000 Brits go abroad to work, and I think it’s great that they can do so. Most come back here much better for the experience. Why don’t any significant numbers of English footballers do the same? At the same time, about 200,000 come here to work and if they can do jobs as well or better than our natives, good luck to them. They benefit themselves and, to an extent, our economy. The net immigration figures which politicians are so concerned about are largely the consequence of big numbers of incoming students and family reunions: few of our emigrants leave to study or join families. A rational immigration policy would look at the overall picture rather than trying to outguess the market in determining which type of workers (including footballers) to let in.

Nor is there any evidence that the presence of foreign footballers negatively impacts the English game – see, for instance, Ben Southwood’s review here.

I’ll leave the last word to Roberto Martinez, manager of my team Everton:

“I don’t think having quotas is the best way to develop young English footballers, which is something all clubs want to do. The best way to do that is to develop the game at Under-16 to Under-19 level.”

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #75: Jim Murphy

September 20, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero jim murphy

Jim Murphy

Labour MP for East Renfrewshire
Reason: for taking his ‘No Thanks’ message to the people

The Scottish independence referendum campaign is over (at least for a few years), rejected decisively 55%-45%, albeit more narrowly than Westminster’s politicians anticipated when they agreed to it.

The campaign itself has not always been edifying. There was, for instance, the second televised debate which descended into an inaudible shouting match (mostly owing to Alex Salmond’s hectoring). More sinisterly, a YouGov poll found that 46 per cent of No supporters and 24 per cent of Yes supporters felt personally threatened by the opposing side’s campaign during the referendum.

But there have been bright spots too and I’m going to highlight one: Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, whose ‘100 streets in 100 days’ soapbox tour of Scotland was probably the most energetic part of the Better Together campaign. It wasn’t his message that I found especially heroic – I’m an agnostic on Scottish independence – but the manner of his crusade.

““It has been real people from all sides of the debate having passionate discussions. It works best when there is genuine disagreement and heated questioning,” he commented. Though it was disrupted by Yes Scotland heckles and sometimes eggs – forcing Murphy at one point to suspend the tour on police advice – he saw it through. He showed leadership, genuine engagement with the public and not a little bravery. That’s why he’s my choice for this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Read On. Get On. Let’s get all children reading well at age 11 – Chris Thoung

September 9, 2014

Reading is a critical foundational skill but, currently, one in four children in England leave primary school unable to read well. That amounts to some 130,000 children each year. This situation has changed little in the last five years and, without decisive action, it is likely to persist for years to come.

Not being able to read well has dire consequences for social mobility. Children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to leave primary school unable to read well and we know from research that low educational performance earlier in life is directly associated with worse outcomes later on, at secondary school and beyond.

Not being able to read well has helped to create a ‘tail’ of young people that society is leaving behind. The prospects for this tail are poor, in terms of employment, crime and health, and the costs to society are great, and growing. As a society, we are failing these children.

Last year, in The Tail, we put forward a ‘manifesto’ of proposals to address this challenge and CentreForum is delighted to be part of a new coalition that has come together to launch the Read On. Get On. campaign.

Read On. Get On. sets out a bold ambition for all children to be reading well at age 11, by 2025

CentreForum has played a key role in setting this goal with our new analysis that demonstrates just how achievable this goal could be.

Using official data on actual pupil performance in 2013 we have modelled the potential impact three policy interventions would have on increasing the number of children reading well at age 11. The first thing we looked at was the impact of supporting better those children who are making less progress in reading than their classmates.

Our analysis demonstrates that if these children had been able to achieve at least an average level of progress in their reading ability through primary school, more than 90% of all pupils would have left school that year reading well, compared to the 2013 figure of just 75% of pupils. For the children that would still be struggling to read well, our work went on to show how access to effective early years education together with targeted catch-up programmes has the potential to further raise this rate to at least 96%.

Additional interventions and targeted initiatives at early years, in primary schools, and in the homes and the wider community, are all recognised by the Read On. Get On. campaign as key factors in improving reading outcomes, and will ensure that by 2025 all children can be reading well by age 11.

This is not just an aspiration. As we have shown in this new research, published to coincide with the launch of the Read On. Get On. campaign, it is a demonstrably achievable ambition.

Click here for more information about the Read On. Get On. campaign and how you can get involved.

Chris Thoung is an economics researcher at CentreForum and author of ‘Reading well by 11: modelling for the potential for improvement’

Liberal Hero of the Week #74: The Independent front page

September 5, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - indy front page

The Independent front page

UK newspaper
Reason: for reporting a terrorist murder without sensationalising it

You’re a newspaper editor and a big international story breaks: a US journalist is seemingly murdered by a British member of the terrorist organisation, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), and the gruesome video of the crime released.

You know it’s a front page story. Do you (a) splash a still photo of the murder on your front page for impact even though you know it gives his killers the victory they were looking for, or (b) report it without resorting to advertising the terrorists’ crimes for them?

If you answered (a) you’re qualified to run most of the UK’s national newspapers. Only The Independent (along with the Financial Times) had the courage to go with (b). Zach Green put it best:

Kudos, then, to The Independent and its editor Amol Rajan for showing it’s possible to publish a punchy, newsy front page that gives readers the facts without giving the terrorist what they want.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #73: Mary Beard

August 29, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - mary beard

Mary Beard

Professor of classics at the University of Cambridge
Reason: for taking a stand against Twitter ‘trolls’ and then giving them a second chance

This series has taken an unannounced summer break. Partly my inertia, mostly I’ve found myself scratching around these past few weeks searching for Liberal Heroes and drawing a blank amist what has been an unrelentingly depressing summer in international affairs.

That’s a little unfair: Sir John Major, for example, deserves a mention as a Conservative prepared to praise immigrants unambiguously as “people with guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families”. So, too, does another Conservative, Michael Fabricant for his work to lift the restrictions on gay men donating blood: “Against this background of huge social change in the cause of equality, it is still forbidden for a sexually active gay man to donate blood.”

But it was Mary Beard who prompted this column to come out of hibernation. This Guardian article explains why:

The Cambridge University professor, one of the country’s foremost classicists who has fought a very public battle about online etiquette after receiving a torrent of abuse on Twitter, said she has taken to befriending her vilifiers. They include the university student Oliver Rawlings, whom she publicly named and shamed in July last year after he sent her an abusive message. Speaking in an interview with the New Yorker magazine, Beard revealed the pair had remained in touch after he took her to lunch to apologise for sending her a tweet that read: “You filthy old slut” followed by a derogatory comment about her genitalia. Beard retweeted it to her 47,000 followers to out her abuser, but said she had now taken to writing job recommendations for Rawlings so he didn’t suffer in the long term for “one moment of idiocy”.

“He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.” She added: “In general, I am more concerned to be sure that people don’t use the internet in this way (or don’t do so again) than to seek ‘punishment’.” Beard’s tactic of naming-and-shaming also prompted Rawlings to make a public apology on his own Twitter account, writing: “I sincerely apologise for my trolling. I was wrong and very rude. Hope this can be forgotten and forgiven. I feel this had been a good lesson for me. Thanks 4 showing me the error of my ways.”

Not everyone will feel able to take on Professor Beard’s mantle, over-look the rudeness of a misogynist coward hiding behind a Twitter avatar, and attempt to engage him in mature debate; and by no means every ‘troll’ will respond in a way which makes such an attempt worthwhile. But for her willingness to educate (and his in learning) Mary Beard is this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #72: Vince Cable

July 12, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero vince cable

Vince Cable

Lib Dem Business Secretary
Reason: For sticking up for the right of workers to go on strike.

There are many reasons over the couple of years the Liberal Heroes series has been running that Vince Cable could have been nominated – most notably, his battle against Conservative cabinet colleagues’ panicky attempts to cut immigration even at the cost of damaging the British economy.

But he gets the nod this week for a completely different issue, though one on which (coincidentally, I’m sure) he’s also at odds with the Conservative party: defending the right of workers to go on strike.

On Thursday this week, between half-a-million (Government estimate) and more than a million (trade union estimate) public sector workers went on strike in protest against the Coalition’s policies on pay, pensions and spending cuts. This triggered calls by David Cameron to make it harder for the unions to call strikes, perhaps by imposing a minimum turnout threshold in any strike ballot. Vince, rightly, was having none of it:

“We disagree with the Tories’ assertion that a small turnout in strike-action ballots undermines the basic legitimacy of the strike. If they want to look at minimum turnout, this would have major implications for other democratic turnouts and elections. Many MPs have been elected by well under 50% of their electorate, let alone police commissioners or MEPs. Why have a threshold in a ballot but not make our elected politicians or shareholders face the same hurdle?”

He’s quite right. And as Steven Toft (AKA blogger ‘Flip Chart Rick’) pointed out:

There is one other way in which parliamentary, mayoral and council elections are different from strike ballots, though, and it’s a much more important one than the argument about majorities.

Political elections are binding on everyone. Unless you decide to emigrate, you have to abide by the laws the new government makes, regardless of how small its percentage of the vote was.

Strike ballots, on the other hand, are binding on absolutely nobody. If your union votes to strike, you are perfectly free to ignore it, as lots of public sector workers did on Thursday. There is nothing the union or anyone else can do about it. Unions are prevented by law from disciplining members who refuse to go on strike. Yes, there may be some peer pressure but if that extends to intimidation, the perpetrators could find themselves facing criminal charges.

All a strike ballot does is make it legal for those that want to go on strike to do so. That’s all. Everyone else can ignore it.

Putting the threshold up to 50 percent would mean that all abstentions would be counted as no votes. An apathetic majority could therefore stop a committed minority from exercising their right to strike.

Liberals believe in freedom. The free movement of people, freedom of association, and the freedom of workers to withdraw their labour. For sticking up for those freedoms of the individual against the state, Vince Cable is this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,676 other followers