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Liberal Hero of the Week #78: Laura Sandys

October 24, 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

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Laura Sandys

Conservative MP for South Thanet
Reason: for being “a proud extreme moderate”

Let me be clear in my nomination. Saying you’re a moderate, a centrist, is not the same as being a liberal.

But it’s a start.

Why do I say that? Let me pray in aid a quote from Edmund Fawcett’s brilliant new book, Liberalism: The Life of an Idea:

‘Liberal politics aspires to openness and toleration, to settling matters by argument and compromise, to building coalitions rather than creating sects, and to recognizing the inevitable existence of factions and interests without turning them into irreconcilable foes.’

Compare that aspiration with Laura Sandys’ words in The Independent:

Being a moderate is not a value-free zone; neither does it mean that I lack commitment, or ambition for radical change. I am passionate about placing tolerance, even-handedness, evidence-based policy at the centre of my politics, with beliefs that are committed to a One Nation vision. We moderates have one very important task. What was the settled political contract in Britain, balancing liberal capitalism on one hand and social democracy on the other, is failing. We need to renew these values through root and branch reform. As it stands, liberal capitalism had been replaced by crony capitalism, with corporations protecting their own rather than innovating. … Being a passionate moderate with a commitment to bringing people together, rather than gaining from division, takes a lot more guts than always playing the easy polemic political card.

At one time, such a statement might have seemed too obvious to merit further comment; indeed, her article probably wouldn’t have been commissioned or published. But our politics now is more fissiparous. That offers an opportunity to parties which once were on the fringes.

And those who successfully exploit the opportunity, such as Ukip’s Nigel Farage, do so by dividing rather than uniting: immigrants, Europe, other politicians — these others, they are all villains. That allows the party to recruit a small-ish core of resentful voters as passionate zealots. It fails utterly though in “bringing people together”, in “building coalitions”. Unsurprisingly, a YouGov poll for the Economist this week showed a majority of the British public views Ukip as “full of oddballs and extremists”.

Yet the temptation for politicians is to prefer the easy, short-termism of pointing the finger of blame at others to the harder, longer-term solutions that come from openness and toleration, argument and compromise.

For sticking up, passionately, for moderation, Laura Sandys deserves our thanks. Especially as she’s standing down from Parliament in six months’ time — to be replaced by Nigel Farage if the people of South Thanet will it.

* 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 #77: Press Gazette’s “Save Our Sources” campaign

October 24, 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

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Press Gazette’s “Save Our Sources” campaign

British media trade magazine
Reason: for campaigning to stop public authorities spying on journalists’ phone records

Earlier this month, I spoke for the first time from the floor of the Lib Dem conference to back an amendment proposed by Evan Harris to introduce a public interest defence to protect responsible journalism, ensuring greater protection for legally privileged and journalistic material from requests for telephone and other records.

Why? Well, the Press Gazette’s Save Our Sources campaign explains:

Without whistleblowers there is no investigative journalism.

That’s why the news that the Met Police secretly obtained the phone records of Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and of calls to the Sun newsdesk should concern anyone who cares about journalism and high standards in public life.

The Met used the information to track down and sack three police constables accused of leaking information about the ‘Plebgate’ incident of September 2012 in which then Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell swore at a police officer outside 10 Downing Street. This was despite the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that no charges should be brought against the officers because a jury would judge that they acted in the public interest.

Last year public authorities made more than 500,000 requests for telecommunications data under RIPA.

Both the Met Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers have said that they believe it is lawful to target journalists in this way.

But this appears to drive a cart and horses through the overriding public interest which the European Court of Human Rights has placed on the protection of confidential journalistic sources under Article 10 (freedom of expression).

Put simply, if police and other public authorities can secretly obtain journalists’ phone records at will – why would any public sector whistleblower ever contact a journalist by telephone again?

This is seriously bad news for anyone who believes that scandals and corruption are best dealt with by being exposed.

That is bad news. Fortunately, there is also good news. For a start, Evan Harris’s amendment was passed. This week it was reported that the Lib Dems are now encouraging the other parties to consider backing a public interest defence as part of a more wide-ranging review of the sprawling RIPA powers. Let’s hope it happens. As I said a fortnight ago:

The best journalism, acting in the public interest, holding power to account, righting wrongs, preventing injustice: that journalism deserves our whole-hearted support. And so do those who confide in journalists despite the risks. Conference, liberals believe in challenging authority. This amendment gives protection to the underdogs challenging authority.

* 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 #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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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