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The Independent
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A paper with low readership, the Independent considers itself "classically liberal".

1997 election endorsement: Labour, but more Liberal Democrat MPs

2002 election endorsement: Labour, but tactically vote Liberal Democrat against the Conservatives.
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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Ignorant on Foreign Aid; Ignorant on Human Suffering.
By David Bryer, Oxfam Chief Executive. 

The establishment of a specific Department for International Development is one of John Smith’s finest legacies. It is clear that this Labour Government aims to continue his work, with a significant increase to the foreign aid budget worth £700 million.

This means that the UK can continue to articulate a moral vision of foreign policy that places the poorest at its heart. Britain has an important role to play in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. With important but ambitious targets on income, maternal health, and HIV and aids, there needs to be a sustained investment programme in developing countries: much of that money will come from overseas development assistance, especially from Britain.

We are, however, concerned that this argument about the role of Britain in tackling poverty,  supporting better healthcare, and ensuring every child is educated does not reach across the aisles in the House of Commons. The foundations of our moral leadership are being weakened.  Let us consider two recent quotes:

“Strong and clear leadership is required for it to reach successful results and for Britain to have an eloquent, powerful voice which is heard when raised.” Aid helps, not hinders.

“It is about time Britain has real leadership in control of foreign policy to secure the best interests of the country, to strengthen and expand our influence abroad, to ensure the safety of the nation”. Aid is vital, not a barrier.

Yet, despite the promises of the Shadow Foreign Secretary, his commitments do not stand up to scrutiny. For all his promises, the Conservative Party chose instead to gut foreign aid, which would enfeeble Britain’s ability to defend the poorest around the world, as well as the British people. No one can honestly believe the best way to improve the effectiveness of foreign aid is by subjecting it to an unnecessary, counter-productive character assassination. Yet that is what the Shadow Foreign Secretary has embarked on.

While some may see foreign aid as spending on foreign parts of the world we know little about, or effective subsidies for dictators in Africa, let us not forget the role Britain played in the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo, ensuring the rapid provision of supplies to assist the 800,000 Kosovars who were driven from their homes. Once the conflict had ended, further British assistance was provided to assist resettlement.

Examples like these exist around the world: campaigns against HIV and aids in China, responses to the devastating floods in Mozambique, and increasing access to
cost-effective health services by the poor in Bangladesh. British taxpayers are helping the world to be a little safer, a little freer, a little more prosperous for all. It is something to be proud of.

If the Conservative Party implemented their devastation of the foreign aid budget, the British people won’t be better off. You don’t become richer when a mother dies because she can’t get healthcare during birth, when a slum dweller in India sees his home destroyed due to extreme weather, or a child is infected with a treatable disease: all because we refused to spend a tiny proportion of our national wealth to help others.  A basic tenant of a civilised society is that we are all better off when the poorest are better off. But this idea doesn’t stop at the border; it extends to everyone around the world.

It is time the Conservative Party stop propagating unhelpful myths which stand in the way of a better world for all. If they are serious about Britain leading, being safe, and reducing human suffering, they’ll support the aid budget.
Liberal Democrat Adviser

Admin for Foreign & Defence, Health & Social Security, and Local Government, Regions and Devolution. 

“If socialism is a matter of total abstinence and a good filing cabinet, some of us will fall by the wayside.” - Anthony Crosland.
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BMA Resolution Gives Government a Thumbs Up

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The British Medical Association (BMA), the association and Trade Union for doctors, have given the government its passionate approval in a recent resolution passed during its Annual Representative Meeting (ARM). The drafted motion praised the government's recent budget, which invested significantly in the NHS, as well as the Chancellor's proposed review to look at funding needs for the NHS over the next decade. It was then voted for and approved by BMA's key representatives.

Ian Bogle, the BMA's Chair of Council, said of the resolution: "It is clear that after decades of neglect the BMA's membership feels like government have shown they are willing to take the tough choices the NHS needs, and can find ways to invest sustainably in it not just today but over the coming decade. The pay rises for doctors they have committed to are also welcome. We find this a stark contrast to the Conservatives, who seem like they're making their plans up on a whim and have a leader who is showing an extremely concerning tendency to want to chip away vital services like our ambulance service. The BMA believes that only this government can provide the best route for the NHS." 

This, combined with the motion's condemnation of the Sir Harold Saxon's statements regarding the NHS - particularly on the issue of outsourcing ambulance services - provides a blow to the Opposition's attempts to outmanoeuvre the government on the issue of health funding.

(Note: This is Labour's reward). 
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Real democracy is on its way to the United Kingdom. In its recent Queen's Speech, the Labour government has promised to rid the country of the outdated House of Lords, replacing it with an elected senate. We applaud the Finch government for tackling the difficult issue of constitutional change, and commend the Labour government for taking concrete steps to improve the democratic system.

The argument from those opposed to this move will be that the government does not have a mandate. But the reality is that every government has a responsibility to ensure the constitutional conventions and institutions that serve the people work in the best way possible. A chamber of unelected elites, accountable to nobody is not beneficial to democracy. Change is long overdue, and Callum Finch has recognised this. We know that Labour cannot do this alone. For the good of the country, parties that support democratic reform must rally around this proposal. Yes, there are other issues that also need addressing -- including reforming how we elect the House of Commons -- but it's clear that for the first time in its history, the United Kingdom has a government that is committed to the tough issues of democratic and constitutional reform.

Sir Harold Saxon and his backwards thinking Tories will rally against this needed change. The right-wing press will screech to high heaven about the evils of tinkering with centuries-old traditions. But we know that an elected upper chamber can work, and we know that issues of mandate often don't happen. Australia has elected its senate for years, and good government still prevails. The same can be the case for the United Kingdom.

This is a long needed change. We call on all parties to support this initiative and ensure the democratic deficit in the United Kingdom is ended.
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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The Perfect Political Storm

The Queen's Speech is a crucial affair, but often an uneventful one. This year, though, it seems like Her Majesty has read out the spark to a perfect political wildfire, and if the government does not respond properly it's going to be the Labour Party that gets burned: its policies have been put under intense scrutiny, some of its high ranking Ministers' darkest secrets have been exposed and the party's divisions have been laid bare for all to see. 

The policy issues may be the most difficult in the long run. Though most of them seem relatively uncontroversial, there are two big issues that have gotten the opposition - and potentially the public - angry. The commitment the government has to an elected Senate to replace the House of Lords it a bold one, and constitutional reform with a mandate, if done badly, can end a government, so cabinet members are probably anxious to see what this rush to reform has in store for them. The seemingly rushed decision could, unless the government politicks effectively, be one that leaves a lasting sore spot on them. 

The second was the decision to join the euro - or at least, despite very obvious attempted wording to do otherwise, it seems like the government is determined to. The wording of the Queen's Speech wasn't as politically strategic as it could've been: pressure and criticism against the government's ambiguity has been ramping up, and it seems those criticisms can still continue and hurt the government. But now the government has got anti euro MPs frothing at the mouths.

Both of these policies have exposed deeper issues for the government, though. The first is the division issue: The Queen's Speech led to one resignation, Harriet Roth, over the previous aforementioned issues and rumours later surfaced that government Minister Solomon Trevitt would follow. 

If you think that couldn't get even more dramatic, it led to a big Deputy Leader issue - Belinda MacDonald has for a while provoked some mild criticism for not being active within the party or the government, but she was quickly challenged by Harriet Roth. Roth may not have had the MPs to mount a challenge, but the damage was done. Furthermore, the fact MacDonald had engaged in a long term and seedy affair with a Tory MP and ex Shadow Minister has further damaged her reputation potentially beyond repair. Whether the affair stings the government is yet to be seen.

It's true that Harold Saxon has everything to gain from this Queen's Speech, with two policy goals he can easily score. But it isn't necessarily all doom and gloom for the government - any criticisms that they are lacking in vision, whatever you think of that vision, go clearly out of the window. In fact, the government have made it clear that they have an ambitious and reforming agenda coming forward into the election.

Another positive is that the short term damage from Roth's departure and attempted challenge may be quickly be countenanced by Roth's failure: yes, backbenchers and even Ministers may grumble and moan, but Finch is the boss and it's very likely to stay that way.

The Tories, coming forward, also must remember their two primary issues: yes, some policy own goals, scandals and divisions from the government are likely going to benefit them - but a lead in the polls shouldn't make them think the next election is in the bag. They still have two major issues they're going to need to resolve if they want even a remote chance of winning the next election: 

First, to strengthen Harold Saxon's personal image, which is likely still stung from the controversy he had related to the President of the United States amongst other antics. This is going to need to be a well thought out PR effort, and Saxon should make sure that when criticising the Queen's Speech he retains a statesmanlike demeanour.

Secondly the Conservatives have to convince the electorate they'll do a better job with the economy than Labour. They've done a relatively decent job with this, with their budget warmly received. But the problem is Labour's seems to still be more popular, and however dissatisfied people are with the government, they've reached record satisfaction with the economy. Harold Saxon and perhaps more importantly Ralph McKowen must outline stronger economic criticisms and detail a stronger vision should they want to make Downing Street their home. 
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Gay men can be Foreign Secretary now - it's time we started treating them with respect

After Labour has had a pretty rough month, with Belinda MacDonald's extramarital affair with Tory backbencher and previous education Secretary Francis Finch-Holt exposed for the world to see and Solomon Trevitt's breaching of the Ministerial Code, it seems like it's the Tories' time in the scandal spotlight.

These 'scandals' we're referring to being the Shadow Foreign Secretary's unfair outing as a gay man on Newsnight by Times columnist Matthew Parris and information obtained by The Daily Star that found that staunch pro life Tory backbencher Isaac MacNeis enjoyed engaging in some 'interesting' activities with other men.

Some people will likely be wondering: so what? But the problem is that not enough people are wondering the same thing. Just as Belinda MacDonald's scandal and the disproportionate backlash she got in comparison to her Conservative counterpart highlight society's problem with women, the scandals MacNeis and Burman face highlight the unjust attitudes all too many of us have towards gay men.

The attitudes and notion that there is something inherently wrong with homosexuality or that it is inherently incompatible with family values is widespread - even worse, it is stigmatising and continues to harm gay individuals across the country. The extent of homophobia in society, and its harmful effects, can be no better symbolised than Sir Harold Saxon and the Conservative Party's support for section 28.

Section 28 has always been a disgusting bill that shouldn't have had an ounce of support from our elected representatives. We all know the horror stories of gay teens putting themselves at risk because they have no access to information on safe sex practices. We all know it stigmatises homosexuality as an 'other', as something inherently shameful and incompatible to family. And yet it still has the support of the Conservative leader.

It's doubtful Sir Harold actually supports it: he may not act like it at times, but he does hail from the moderate and more socially liberal wing of the Conservative Party. On Newsnight, while actively defending section 28, he said he personally did not think homosexuality was wrong. He has worked for a leader who engaged in homosexual activities, believes a homosexual man is fit to be Foreign Secretary and has homosexual backbenchers.

And its his backbenchers that are the problem. But Sir Harold has a mandate and currently leads in the polls - he is in a strong position to tell his backbenchers that he calls the shots and to drag the Conservative Party kicking and screaming into the modern age instead of being subservient to it. It's not only the right thing, it's what a strong leader would do. And men like Samuel Burman should be pushing him to do so.

Samuel Burman may have espoused some of the Conservative Party's more problematic and reactionary instincts, but in his first speech he signalled that he a leading light for them and could perhaps make a fine foreign secretary. We have no doubt his leader agrees with us on this. So it leads to the inevitable conclusion - if we think gay men can be foreign secretaries, it's nigh time we started treating them with respect. 
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Westminster Should've Gone to Specsavers

The major parties need to learn that unless they come up with a strong vision, they're both set to lose out in the long term.

We often hear about qualities that make a good Prime Minister: strength, the ability to create consensus and statesmanship often being commonly cited as qualities people look for in our leaders. 

But it's all too common for people to underestimate the power a visionary, pioneer or storyteller can have: in fact, these qualities are integral for anybody who is currently or wants to be Prime Minister. They need to tell a compelling tale of Britain's history, how it's led to Britain's present situation (and the problems and opportunities within in) and what they want for Britain's future.

Think about all of Britain's great leadership success stories - whether it's Clement Attlee and his New Jerusalem, Harold Macmillan's declaration that Britain never had it so good, Harold Wilson's 'White Heat' vision, Thatcher's tearing apart of the Keynesian consensus or John Smith's reinvention of the Labour Party so that it could work with, or even take advantage of, the new economic model for purposes of social justice. 

Do we see that in any of our leaders at the moment? I can't associate a single memorable quote or vision to either Sir Harold Saxon or Callum Finch. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sean Manning, seemed to craft some semblance of this and have some vision of his own. It served Labour well and still serves them well to this day. But the vision he presented was in its infancy and we need to see that same drive for vision in our Prime Minister. Or, should he fail, in the Leader of the Opposition so we have a vision to go for.

Our leaders may bicker over the euro, the ERRF, All Women's Shortlists or fuel protests - news events of the very present day without reflecting on a bigger picture or the longer term - and they may bicker passionately, but when it comes to their values what do they disagree on? How do they assess the past, the present and what Britain could be in future? What do they think Britain's greatest challenges and hopes are? 

As the election looms, both men will have the opportunity to actually craft out a wider vision they can offer the British people. They must start immediately to flesh something out for the British people to compare and to ultimately buy. If they don't, it's clear the winner of the election will be one in name only: in the long term, if the two major parties can't offer a vision, you can bet someone else will. We should all just hope it won't be an insidious one.
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Stonewall Makes Clear Statement: Vote LABOUR.

The gay rights charity, Stonewall, today released a statement where it strongly encouraged 'the LGBT community and its allies' to vote Labour as the election looms ever closer.

Chief Executive Angela Mason made a statement, saying: "As many know we wrote a letter to Members of Parliament making a list of very clear demands: the repeal of section 28, allowing gay couples to enter civil unions, giving them the right to adopt and giving LGBT individuals employment protections. 

We were pleasantly surprised to have seen the Home Secretary invite some of our representatives to talk about these issues. She showed to us that she was unreservedly a good ally and a good listener who had a strong grasp of the issues that face the community, and made a commitment to us that she would deliver these rights and expand on them even further. This ambition and empathy is exactly the kind of force for good the LGBT community needs. 

With the Conservatives being the party of Section 28, they have shown no desire to change. Sir Harold Saxon has expressed his own personal support for the disastrous Section 28 during his Newsnight interview over a year ago. 

We understand there are those in our diverse LGBT community who may disagree with the Labour Party on a variety of issues. But there is no issue as sacrosanct and sacred as our intrinsic rights, and that is what is at stake in the coming election: a Labour Party that will push for those rights, or a Conservative Party that will claw and scream to deny us those rights. 

This will not just be a vote for a government that is undoubtedly an ally for LGBT people, but it will send a clear message to the Conservative Party that they must change - their Shadow Foreign Secretary and others are part of the community we tirelessly fight for. LGBT acceptance should not be a partisan political issue."

(Note: This is a Labour reward).
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Joseph Rowntree Foundation Endorses Labour:

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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the British social policy research and development charity on poverty reduction, released a statement today endorsing Labour's manifesto as "a bold step forward in reducing poverty in Britain."

Richard Best, the Director of the Foundation, said: "We find it enthusing that after being virtually neglected as an issue in the last election, reducing poverty and expanding opportunity has become a key issue that all of the major parties are discussing. However, it is clear that Labour offer the best plan for doing this.

Offering significant tax cuts to the vast majority, and targeting those cuts to those on the lowest income, is a great policy development from the Labour Party. But we know it's not enough: that is why we are enthused Labour has promised to defend and strengthen the welfare state as a true means of tackling poverty.

However, truly radical action is needed to tackle poverty permanently in the long term. That is why it is nigh time we start to have a conversation about the distribution of assets as well as income, and of asset based welfare. This is the kind of thinking the Joseph Rowntree Foundation endorses - and Labour seem to be comprehending it with their apparent plans to start a 'child trust fund' for every child. We hope we see this plan not just implemented, but vastly expanded in future."
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Think again, Flair

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Guest editorial from Lord Paddy Ashdown, former Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I was disappointed when I read the transcript of the speech delivered by my party leader at the Electoral Reform Society. For almost a century the Liberal Democrats have been the party at the forefront of the modernisation of our nation’s constitution. We have been the vanguard in the fight for a fairer, more democratic electoral system for the House of Commons but that fight has been forgotten by Rebecca Flair with her unilateral decision to abandon our party’s longstanding policy for true electoral reform to the House of Commons, not the poor man’s electoral reform of Alternative Vote.

In her speech, Rebecca Flair in one fell swoop abandoned decades of work and campaigning. Her proposed Alternative Vote will never deliver the democratic and electoral reform British politics needs. It will only push safe seats to an even safer state and entrench two-party politics in Britain for decades to come. That is not the reform the Liberal Democrats fight for, that is not the reform we want, it is simply a sticking plaster over the wound that is politics in this country. The Liberal Democrats fight for an electoral system that is truly democratic: where every vote counts, where every person can be represented by someone they choose not just the lesser of two evils, where our Parliament represents the true voting intentions of the British electorate not just where Labour and the Conservatives can spend the most money in a couple of marginal seats.

What Rebecca Flair needs to remember is that the Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, our policies are decided by its members not the Leader. She can not unilaterally decide to change our party’s policy on electoral reform. Liberal Democrats will not forgive her if she seeks to tie our hands behind our backs on this issue. She has the makings of a great leader of our party and she should take heed of the members and supporters of this party on this issue. It’s time to think again, Rebecca.
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