One rule for them, another rule for ordinary folk!

People are cynical about politicians at the best of times and can you blame them? Take this picture for example, from a quaint street in Rayleigh’s conservation area (the ‘Historic Core’).poster Government advice is that posters over 0.3 metres need Planning Permission. Temporary notices for ‘local events’ should be less than 0.6 metres and displayed for a ‘short period’. The question is: has this ‘whopper’ poster really got planning permission from the local (Conservative run) District Council? When photo’d it was still up many, many months after the election! Maybe it will be quietly taken down soon, let’s hope so.  

Lib Dem Conference report


Chris Bailey was one of several local Lib Dems who went to the 2015 Party Conference in Bournemouth held from 19th to 21st September. This is his report.

Lib Dem members own their Party and the Conference is where members discuss and make policies. This exercise in simple democracy stands in sharp contrast to the Conservative and Labour Parties whose conferences nowadays are just talking shops with no role beyond publicity. We take our members seriously which is why it was great to see so many of them in Bournemouth. Despite the bad general Election result we had a record attendance and meetings were packed to overflowing. Or maybe it is because of the election result – 20,000 supporters have joined the Party since the election, showing their determination to re-build Liberalism in Britain. At this Conference the Lib Dem fight-back has clearly begun.

500 of these new members were at the Conference and a number spoke in the debates. And how well they spoke, especially some of the students and young people who have been flocking to the Party. So after a difficult election, the Party has clearly got a great future.

Policy debates this time covered some areas where Liberals are agreed that there is urgent need for Governments to take action. The need for example, to build more houses that ordinary people can afford, including more houses for rent by Councils, and to stop the Tories crippling Housing Associations by forcing them to sell off their properties at knock-down prices. Other topics included protecting our human rights from the Tories’ plans to tear up international conventions; our campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the European referendum; attacking the Tories’ broken promises on funding social care for the elderly, and the importance of preserving and improving services for young people, also under threat from savage funding cuts.

“There is nothing grubby or unprincipled about wanting to win.”

– Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader.

But a topic on which there was disagreement and a closely argued debate was Trident. Although all Liberals would like to see a world without nuclear weapons, some favour scrapping Trident immediately whereas others favour retaining Trident, albeit scaled down, until further multilateral treaties on nuclear disarmament can be agreed. The multilateralists won, though it is a subject that will probably come back to Conference in a couple of years.

In addition to the formal debates, Conference includes a host of fringe meetings where, in smaller and less formal settings, you can hear and question Lib Dem celebrities such as Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown and Ming Campbell, or hear charities and think-tanks pressing their cases.

There are training sessions on a wide variety of campaigning issues and on a lighter note, a quiz (our team came fourth out of about twenty) and the Glee Club – an exercise in community singing with an emphasis on political and satirical songs which goes on until 2 in the morning for those with sufficient stamina!

There was a moving tribute to former leader Charles Kennedy. Although he had a lower profile in recent years he had been a regular attender and speaker at Party Conference. His thoughtful, principled and down-to-earth approach had always made him a Conference favourite.

But the climax is always the Leader’s Speech at the close of conference. And Tim Farron delivered a cracker which certainly brought tears to my eyes in a way that no Leader’s Speech has done before. I can’t do justice to it in a few words and I recommend that you watch it in full on iPlayer But he reminded us why we are Liberals and why the values that the Party has always stood for matter so much today. I know I made the right choice when I voted for Tim Farron to lead the Liberal Democrats.

To watch Tim’s speech on iPlayer, follow this link and go to coverage of the Conference on 23 09 15   (it begins about 3hours 15 minutes in).


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Conservative welfare cuts ‘unfair, unwise and inhuman’


Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has called Conservative plans to rip £12 billion from the welfare bill ‘unfair, unwise and inhuman’.

Speaking in Parliament, he accused chancellor George Osborne of choosing to attack the poorest families under the guise of economic necessity.

“We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or Labour Party through their silence, unpick our welfare system”.

Tim Farron also accused Labour of giving in to the Conservatives’ narrative and said their position on the bill was ‘shameful’. 184 Labour MPs did not vote against the Conservative welfare cuts.


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Refugee Crisis

Paddy AshdownA tidal wave of public concern forces our government to finally act. But Cameron can only come up with a half baked plan full of holes.

Paddy Ashdown’s tweet just about sums up how ill thought out the government’s attempt at compassion really is:

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 16.22.05

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Vince Cable – After The Storm

Former Coalition Business Secretary Vince Cable has written a book ‘AFTER THE STORM: The World Economy & Britain’s Economic Future’, charting his experience as a Liberal Democrat Minister in the heart of government.


Vince says:

‘What was sadly missing from the election campaign was any kind of long term intelligent discussion of how to make improvements in productivity to raise living standards; how Britain can rebalance its economy and earn its keep in a very uncertain global economy. These are issues I address from the vantage point of having spent five years trying to make these things happen.’


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Promises are promises …

Here is a letter I’ve just emailed to the Hunts Post, in response to our MP’s letter about Scottish devolution and ‘the English problem’ …

Dear Sir,

Most of what Jonathan Djanogly says about English voices being heard is common sense. But his final comment – suggesting that reform of how laws which affect England should take place at the same time as the settlement for Scotland – is disingenuous. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg all promised that more powers would be devolved to Scotland – no ifs, no buts. To alter that promise after the referendum is dishonest, and, quite frankly, rather foolish. Politicians aren’t trusted very much at the moment; to go back on their word now would damage their reputations even further, and might even foment civil unrest north of the border.

The West Lothian question was first raised nearly forty years ago, in the run-up to devolution for Wales and Scotland. The fact that it has not yet been resolved suggests that it is not a simple problem. To tie Scottish devolution to the resolution of the English conundrum is neither fair nor necessary. I’m pleased to note that David Cameron has confirmed that further devolution to Scotland will go ahead without any caveats.

As a life-long Liberal, I can’t help having a quiet smile to myself at the sight of all these Westminster politicians hurling themselves into the federalist cause (for a federation is what the UK is becoming); the only party which promotes European federalism of is, of course, the Liberal Democrats.

Kind regards,

Sid Cumberland

Stirrings in the provinces

This is an email I sent to the BBC PM programme after an item on devolving more power to other parts of the UK in the wake of the Scots’ referendum. A bit long, but I thought it worth re-printing …

Dear PM,

I was very interested in your piece about increasing devolution to other parts of the UK.

Clearly the Scots debate has invigorated political debate, and as one of your contributors said, there’s no getting this genie back into the bottle. With 97% of voters registered, and a high turnout predicted, this will have a big impact regardless of the result. A whole country has been involved in discussing how it should work. That doesn’t happen very often.

I had high hopes for the UK after the 2010 election; the coalition promised a raft of constitutional changes. How we vote, the House of Lords, the number and size of constituencies … but then reality kicked in, the Tories wouldn’t play ball, and we’re back where we started. The status quo is too comfortable for too many people.

But things do change, regardless …

In the elections immediately after the second world war, the two big parties garnered more than 95% of the votes between them (96.8% in 1951, 96.1% in 1955). The growth of other parties has seen that huge percentage fall dramatically – in 2010 Tory and Labour managed 65% between them, and other parties took 35%. There is plainly a point at which this decline becomes unsustainable – and I don’t think we’re far away.

How we vote will have to change; a system which gives minority parties majority voting rights cannot be acceptable in a modern democracy. Though I don’t have much time for UKIP, I do wonder if their getting 10% of the votes and no seats in the next election will be the turning point.

The Scots debate has also sparked off some regional resentment in the rest of the UK – Wales in particular, but also Cornwall and Yorkshire (as you made clear). I wonder why regional devolution was received so apathetically in England ten years ago … In 2004, half the voters turned out to vote down the devolution of political powers to the north east, by nearly 80%. Other plans were dropped.

Would it be different now? I think it might be.

The magnet that is London has become more and more powerful, and many people wonder if it isn’t sucking life out of the rest of the country. It will always have the draw of a massive financial centre (though we would be wise to bear in mind the appalling behaviour that gave us the crash of 2008 and subsequent chaos); but other jewels are constantly added to the crown – I’m thinking of the Millennium Dome, Crossrail, HS1, the 2012 Olympics, airport expansion. Shouldn’t we be thinking about distributing some of these goodies further afield, to bring a bit more life and prosperity to other regions?

We could learn from our European neighbours. They all have capitals, of course; but they also have big cities  and towns which have their own distinctive cultures and vibrant economies. The burdens and benefits of being top dog are shared around more fairly, and I believe that the French, Germans, Italians, Spanish and others feel both happier and more equal as a result.

Well, thank you for reading this far, if you have … interesting times ahead!

Kind regards,

Sid Cumberland

Mr Djanogly on immigration …

I wrote to my MP, Jonathan Djanogly, recently: here is my email and his reply:

Dear Mr Djanogly,

I don’t really need a reply to this message; I just wanted to let you know how appalled I am at your colleague Mark Harper’s antics over immigration this summer.

First the posters, with words that would earn me 24 months in jail if I painted them on the side of my house, then the stop-and-question fiasco (‘Hmm, he looks a bit furtive’) which Mr Harper claims is non-racist (but as you will know if you heard him on Today, racism is a charge he cannot refute effectively).

I don’t usually agree with Mr Farage, but he’s right on this – the posters should have read ‘Don’t vote UKIP, vote Tory’.

Usually I’m proud to be British – but this sort of thing makes me ashamed, to be honest.


Sid Cumberland


And here is his reply:


Dear Mr Cumberland

Thank you for contacting me about the illegal immigrant returns pilot scheme.

I appreciate your concern regarding this issue. However, I do not believe that it is racist to ask people who are here illegally to leave Britain. It is merely telling them to comply with the law. This pilot is about encouraging as many illegal migrants as possible to leave this country voluntarily, allowing them to do so without arrest or detention. Voluntary departures are also far less expensive for the taxpayer. With enforced removals costing up to £15,000 on average, maximising voluntary removals is clearly a sensible thing to do. This pilot builds on the Government’s ongoing work on voluntary returns, which saw more than 28,000 voluntary departures last year.

The Government is making it more difficult for people to live and work in the UK illegally. Every single day our enforcement officers are arresting, detaining and removing people with no right to be in the UK. But there is an alternative to being led away in handcuffs; help and advice can be provided to those who cooperate and return home voluntarily.

This work is just another part of the Government’s reforms to fix the immigration system so that it’s fair to hardworking people who do the right thing and play by the rules. The Government’s measures have cut out abuse and seen net migration drop to its lowest levels in nearly a decade. I therefore also welcome the Immigration Bill being introduced later this year, which will build on this work by restricting illegal migrants’ access to benefits and services, get tough on those using illegal labour and make it easier to deport foreign criminals.

Thank you for contacting me on this issue.

Yours sincerely
Jonathan Djanogly

I’m not sure any comment is necessary; but just for the record I should point out that this is, presumably, a cut-and-paste response as Mr Djanogly ignored some of my points and replied to suggestions I had not made.

It is disingenuous to claim that the nasty ‘Go Home’ campaign is nothing more than telling people to comply with the law; it is also creating a climate of suspicion and unease in the communities where the pilot has been run, and the adverts are being investigated by ASA, the advertising watchdog; they have been condemned by Liberty, Amnesty, Refugee Action and Freedom from Torture.

Mr Djanogly (or whoever wrote his reply) makes the silly mistake of conflating ‘immigration’ and ‘illegal immigration’; this has little to do with ‘net migration’ and ignores the benefits to the UK of having young, enthusiastic immigrants here. As I’ve pointed out before, the OECD found that immigrants have improved the UK’s public finances by contributing more to the state than they take out. We have a long history of tolerance in this country, and generations of immigrants have helped to make the UK great. Reducing immigration does little more than parade our new-found intolerance while reducing the prospect of future prosperity. We have an ageing population. Who will look after us when we are old? Who will staff our NHS? Who will run the businesses which will generate the wealth to pay our pensions?

(Just as a matter of interest, if migration is such a bad thing, when is the government going to stop British citizens going to work in Germany or retiring to live in Spain?)


Dear MEP …

I’ve just completed a questionnaire from our local Conservative MEP team. This is the letter I enclosed:

Dear East of England Conservative MEP team,

I enclose your recent questionnaire, duly completed.

Unfortunately your questions were so slanted and the information you provided so misleadingly simplistic that I was unable to let you know exactly what my views were.


You will, no doubt, be aware of the OECD’s finding that immigrants have improved the UK’s public finances by contributing more to the state than they take out. You will also be aware that the proportion of foreign-born people in the UK is just below the OECD average. We have a long history of tolerance in this country, and generations of immigrants have helped to make the UK great. Reducing immigration does little more than parade our new-found intolerance while reducing the prospect of future prosperity. We have an ageing population. Who will look after us when we are old? Who will staff our NHS? Who will run the businesses which will generate the wealth to pay our pensions?


Most of the sovereignty we have ceded to Europe was given away by Margaret Thatcher (Single European Act) and John Major (Maastricht Treaty). David Cameron has continued our recent policy of standing on the sidelines booing while the rest of the EU cooperate on planning for the future. His foolish use of the veto in 2011 left us isolated and friendless. Did he secure a cut in the EU budget single-handedly? No – he did it by cooperating with other EU countries and building trust and mutual support.


Your questions about the economy focus almost entirely on deficit and debt. We’d be better off if you focused a bit more on wealth creation and growth. We could be building hundreds of thousands of houses (which we need). This (and other infrastructure projects) would benefit all of us. What is the point of paying off our debts if our young people still have nowhere to live and no jobs? (I fear the dead hand of Mrs Thatcher here, again – she persuaded us that running the UK’s economy was a bit like running a household economy, but on a bigger scale. She was wrong.)


Should our leaders listen and do what people want? Or should they do what is right, even though it is unpopular? Well, we live in a representative democracy, where we elect leaders to make difficult choices on our behalf. Our recent enthusiasm for referenda looks rather like MPs taking the money but not being prepared to do the work. This has created a kind of vacuum which will inevitably continue to be filled by the unelected red-top press and occasional maverick political parties like UKIP.


It would be really useful if our politicians (all parties) explained the big issues carefully and accurately so that the whole country could work together for a better future. There will always be disagreements, of course – but surely disagreements based on facts are better than disagreements based on ignorance and prejudice?

Thank you for reading this far (if you have).

Yours sincerely,

Sid Cumberland

What the Liberal Democrats believe …

Thanks to Mark Pack for this handy infographic which gives a flavour of the underlying beliefs of the Liberal Democrats. Being in government has raised our profile – but it has also muddied the waters, as we are (temporarily) tied to policies we don’t believe in. Look at our 2010 priorities, however, and you will see that we are implementing policies we believe will make our society fairer and our economy stronger.