9 min read
Layla Moran has strongly criticised the recent leadership of the Liberal Democrats for presiding over a decade of decline — and implicated her rival Sir Ed Davey in the party losing the trust of voters.
The party hopeful makes her pitch to offer a “clean break” with the past an interview with PoliticsHome, as she declares: “By voting for things like the bedroom tax, by voting for tuition fees, there is a perception among the electorate that we lost our principles.”
And she sets out her stall to Lib Dem members for the final time as the leadership contest draws to a close, saying that she is the candidate to get young people back on board.
“I’ve got the credibility to be able to do that, on behalf of the Lib Dems, in a way that I don’t think leaders in the last five, 10 years have been able to because of things like tuition fees,” Moran says.
The 37-year-old ex-science teacher has been battling with former Cabinet minister Sir Ed (pictured below) to take over permanently from Jo Swinson, who stood down in the wake of the 2019 general election — the third in a row where the party returned just a handful of MPs.
But the contest has been heavily disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, delayed, then postponed until next year, before being rearranged to finish at the end of August.
Campaigning has also been different to previous contests with town halls over Zoom and remote hustings, but Ms Moran believes the new reality might have helped her to speak to even more people than usual, as well as improving accessibility.
“I have really been enjoying it actually, and I’ve been really heart-warmed by the number of people who have come on board the campaign. We’ve created a real buzz,” she says.
“I think there’s a lot of momentum with the campaign right now, especially among our younger members and our newer members which is fantastic.
“And I think the reason for that is that we are offering something new, offering change for the party.
“We’ve seen now 10 years of decline, the latest poll I think had us on 5 or 6% depending on which one you’re looking at at the moment.
“And I think people can really see that need for change, which is what I represent so I’m really excited for it to be over next week, it has seemed like it’s taken forever.”
Asked why members should choose her over Sir Ed, who was energy secretary in David Cameron’s coalition government, the Oxford West and Abingdon MP says: “At the next election the key thing that we have to achieve is to stop Boris Johnson from getting back in to Number 10.
“That has to be the top strategy. But we aren’t going to do that unless we regain our strength.
“And what I am, is, I represent that fresh start. I wasn’t a part of when that decline started, which was during Coalition.
“I am now looking forward to how we can reconnect with voters, I think we’ve had a really clear message from voters over the last 10 years about them not thinking that we’re on their side, them not thinking that we’re competent, they don’t trust us.
“And it’s unfair in the eyes of many Lib Dem voters and members, but we also have to appreciate that unless we listen again, we aren’t going to reverse that decline.
“Electing me is a clear signal that we have listened that we are listening, and that we are serious about rebuilding the policy.”
The shadow of the Coalition has hung over those Lib Dems who were involved in it in recent years, with Swinson having to repeatedly defend her time as a junior minister during last year’s election campaign.
It is something Moran is keen for the party to move past.
“[The Coalition is] always thrown back at you. You always end up taking a defensive stance”
She tells PoliticsHome: “What Jo faced was every time she wanted to make a progressive argument, a liberal argument where she talked about a key part of our party’s philosophy, protecting the most vulnerable, making sure that we’re protecting the disabled communities, making sure that we are protecting carers.
“If you’re talking about things like that then how do you square that with having voted for the bedroom tax and cutting Carers’ allowance?”
Moran adds: “It’s always thrown back at you. You always end up taking a defensive stance, and it may not be fair because of the context of Coalition, and there are difficult decisions that needed to be made.
“But unless we are indicating to people that we’ve understood that by voting for things like the bedroom tax, by voting for tuition fees, there is a perception among the electorate that we lost our principles. And they, as a result, don’t trust us.
“It’s not fair, but that is the perception, and they’ve been trying to tell us that for a long time, By electing me it is a clean break, it is a fresh start, and that is what we now need.
“Because unless we rebuild some of that credibility and some of that trust, then we are going to find that that decline we’re seeing in our poll rating is unfortunately I think just going to continue.”
Moran also wants to change the perception the party is only interested in niche issues, saying: “I think we all need to recognise that there are lots of people who think that we are a party that only cares about London and the southeast, the Metropolitan elite, you can only really vote for us if you’ve got two degrees, and we only care about the social issues.
“And actually this is exactly the perception that I want to challenge – because yes all of that, actually standing up for minorities and standing up to underrepresented groups is an important part of being liberal.”
The Lib Dem leadership hopeful is keen to tie liberalism to the fight against inequality, saying the “best way you can do that is to talk about education, is to talk about the environment, is to talk about the economy”.
“And so in this campaign that actually has been my focus – let’s get back to the bread and butter issues that people really care about, that’s how we’re going to win back the majority of voters that would consider voting for the Liberal Democrats,” she said.
She is also hinting at a shift in direction for the party, floating a new ‘Lib-Lab pact’ with Labour, loosely based on the planned agreement between then-leaders Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 election.
“Labour need to take a cold, hard look at the UK electoral map”
She says: “I think Ashdown-Blair is a really good example, because a lot of that was very behind the scenes.
“It wasn’t any kind of an official pact, but it was a pragmatic understanding that under first-past-the-post, if you are going to get rid of Boris Johnson and this shambolic Conservative government – which is a big motivator I’m sure for a lot of people out there – then the best thing that you can do is to vote for the most likely candidate to do that.”
And she adds: “Now the Lib Dems are a second in dozens of seats where we can do that where Labour doesn’t feature.
“And I think that actually having an understanding between the parties, very grassroots, very bottom-up…these are the kinds of local movements that we need to create so that, seat by seat by seat, where it works on the ground, we can take the seats off the Tories.
“But the other dynamic I think it’s worth highlighting is the Scottish dynamic, because the reason why this is so important to Labour is that their relative weakness in Scotland means that frankly, they need to take a cold, hard look at the UK electoral map and realise that it’s in their interests for us to do this.”
Moran would like to see “some kind of signalling from me, and from Keir Starmer that actually our common enemy right now is Boris Johnson”, but she is adamant the Lib Dems should not be seen as “the little sister” to Labour.
“I don’t want to be the little sister to any party, actually what I want to do is to create a Liberal Democrat party brand that actually is what it used to be,” she adds.
“It plays its own part as a moderating force in British politics, it stands up for ordinary people. It empowers them to have the security to lead the life that they choose. And it’s a brand frankly that hasn’t been heard for a very long time.”
‘A LOT OF ANGER’
Whatever form this pact takes it won’t be put into action for a while, with the next election not due for another four years.
But Moran is keen to show she is in it for the long haul after a quick succession of leaders for the party since the bruising 2015 election.
“I don’t want to be a short-term leader,” she says.
“I recognise the position that I and the Liberal Democrats are in; we are the fourth party in Parliament”
“We’ve had too much turnover now, I think if I’m elected I’m going to be the fifth leader in as many years, we have to stop this. I want to be a leader looking towards what the next decade and beyond.”
In the short-term though, Moran hopes to build on the cross-party alliances formed in setting up the coronavirus all-party parliamentary group – which she chairs – to work with Tory MPs once Parliament is back up and running and influence the direction of a Government which, despite its 80-strong majority, has been forced into a number of major climbdowns.
She tells PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a lot of anger we’re seeing over education, we’re seeing over test, trace, isolate.
“And I think actually the dynamic in this Parliament is going to be less about winning and losing votes, it’s actually going to be about influencing backbench MPs to make the cases to the whips to avoid those votes happening, and actually influencing policy in the first place.
“That’s exactly what I want to do. And it’s worth saying, I recognise the position that I and the Liberal Democrats are in; we are the fourth party in Parliament.
“The only way that we’re going to affect real change is by working with other people and that’s not just Labour MPs and SNP MPs and Plaid MPs and Green MPs, it’s also Conservative MPs.”
India’s Ranjitsinh Disale wins 2020 Global Teacher Prize and splits it with runners-up
Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher at Zilla Parishad Primary School, in the village of Paritewadi in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, was chosen as winner from more than 12,000 nominations and applications, from over 140 countries around the world.
The award recognized his efforts to promote girls’ education at the school, whose pupils are mostly from tribal communities.
The Global Teacher Prize said he learned the local language of the village in order to translate class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue.
He also created unique QR codes on the textbooks to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments, greatly improving school attendance. His QR technology is now being rolled out more widely across India.
Rather than keeping all his winnings, Disale told Fry in an interview that he would share the prize with the other nine finalists, giving them $55,000 each — the first time anyone has done so in the award’s six-year history.
He told Fry: “I believe that if I share this prize money with nine teachers it means I can scale up their work. Their incredible work is still worthy… If I share the prize money with the rest of the teachers they will get a chance to continue their work… and we can reach out and lighten the lives of as many students as we can.”
“Educating young children, especially from poor and needy backgrounds is perhaps the best way to help them as individuals, and actively contributes to creating a better world,” he said.
The award’s nine runners-up are teachers working in the United States, Britain, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil.
Pelosi eyes combining Covid aid with mammoth spending deal
Pelosi said the $908 billion proposal released this week by a centrist group of Senate and House members helped restart the stimulus talks, which fell apart just before the election after months of dragging on with little real movement.
“There is momentum — there is momentum with the action that the senators and House members in a bipartisan way have taken,” Pelosi said Friday, in the latest sign that negotiators are closing in on a deal. “The tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.”
President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he’s “encouraged” by the $908 billion proposal, framing it as the type of bipartisan work that he hopes to foster as president. He cautioned that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not going to be enough overall.”
But hurdles remain. Government funding runs out in just one week, and there are still a sizable number of issues impeding an agreement on a massive spending package that would increase agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year.
The sheer number of outstanding items at such a late stage makes it increasingly likely that congressional negotiators will require a brief stopgap spending bill to complete their work before leaving for the holidays. Such a decision could be made early next week if lawmakers fail to make significant progress over the weekend.
Pelosi demurred when asked about the possibility of a short-term stopgap to buy more time for talks, and dismissed the need for a longer term continuing resolution that would extend current government funding into early next year.
“We will take the time that we need,” Pelosi said, while acknowledging that a number of issues remain, including some outside of appropriators’ jurisdiction.
“Don’t worry about a date,” she added.
While appropriators in both chambers remain optimistic that they’ll finish their work before the holidays, Republicans and Democrats are still swapping offers and arguing over details, kicking some of the most difficult items up to congressional leaders.
For example, a House Democratic aide close to the talks said Republicans want to scrub any mentions of Covid-19 from the omnibus package entirely. Earlier this year, House Democrats added coronavirus relief to their slate of fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, while Senate Republicans have insisted that pandemic aid remain totally separate from annual appropriations measures.
Republicans are also objecting to funding for research on reducing racial and ethnic inequalities in the justice system, in addition to language that would require the Capitol Police to report on policies and procedures on eliminating unconscious bias and racial profiling during training, the Democratic aide said.
Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of holding up omnibus talks by insisting on the removal of two Interior-Environment policy riders that have been included in annual spending bills for years. The provisions involve protections for the greater sage-grouse, in addition to a provision related to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.
“Dredging these up right now is beyond counterproductive,” a GOP aide familiar with the talks said Thursday night.
Funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall also remains a perennial sticking point — Senate Republicans have proposed $2 billion for fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1. House Democrats have proposed no extra cash.
Lawmakers have also disagreed on detention beds for detained migrants in recent days, although Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — the top Senate Democrat who oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security — said Thursday that issue may get solved without the help of leadership.
Also in question is whether the White House will ultimately support a package that classifies billions of dollars in veterans’ health care spending as “emergency” spending outside of strict budget limits. Both House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby are moving forward with their negotiations assuming that’s the case, since the White House has previously signed off on such an arrangement.
Pelosi on Friday also said that whatever coronavirus relief they include in the government funding bill will not be the last time Congress addresses the ongoing pandemic, which continues to devastate the U.S., killing more than 275,000 Americans and causing a sharp downturn in the economy. The U.S. saw the deadliest day ever on Thursday, with Covid-19 fatalities exceeding 2,700.
“President-elect Biden has said that this package would be, just at best, just a start. And that’s how we see it as well,” Pelosi said.
The speaker also defended her decision to hold out for months, demanding a larger deal in the ballpark of $2 trillion or more, only to agree to negotiate this smaller package now. McConnell, similarly, refused to come off his much smaller baseline over the summer — pushing a $500 billion package — resulting in a standoff between congressional leaders.
“That was not a mistake, it was a decision,” Pelosi told reporters, saying the dynamics have significantly shifted since the election of Biden and the quicker than expected vaccine development. “That is a total game changer — a new president and a vaccine.”
With cautious optimism about the prospect of passing some fiscal stimulus to buoy the American economy during a bleak pandemic winter, lawmakers remain hopeful that Congress will pull it together before leaving Washington, despite lingering omnibus headaches.
“You know this place — turns on a dime,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who was elected by the Democratic caucus on Thursday as the next Appropriations chair.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.
Gavin Williamson Claims The UK Approved A Coronavirus Vaccine First Because It Is A “Much Better Country”
2 min read
Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK’s speedy approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was due to it being a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US.
The UK become the first country in the world to approve a clinical vaccine for coronavirus on Wednesday after the medicines regulator, the MHRA, gave the green light for the jab to be rolled out from next week.
The Education Secretary said this is because the UK has the “best medical regulators”, dodging questions about the impact of Brexit on the approval process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Speaking after the approval announcement on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “because of Brexit” the UK regulator had been able to approve the vaccine without having to wait for the European Medicines Agency to do so.
But his claims were later contradicted by both No10 and senior figures within the regulator, with a spokesperson for Boris Johnson insisting the approval was “thanks to the hard work of the MHRA”.
Meanwhile, Dr June Raine, head of the regulatory agency said the green light to roll out the vaccine from next week was made “using provisions under European law which exist until January 1”.
But pressed on the impact of Brexit on the approval process, Mr Williamson instead suggested the approval was down to the UK having “much better” medical regulators than France, Belgium and America.
“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators,” he told LBC
“Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country that every single one of them, aren’t we.”
He added: “Just being able to get on with things, deliver it and with brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.”
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