The Real Politics of the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats put a great deal of emphasis on their social justice credentials and on their environmentally friendly stance. However, just how much does this stand up to critical scrutiny? It does appear that much of the “liberal” nature of the party’s traditions have been ditched in favour of Jo Swinson’s obsessive opposition to Jeremy Corbyn at all costs. Even being prepared to accept a “No Deal” Brexit, rather than support The Leader of the Opposition as a short-term head of a government of national unity in order to ensure the UK didn’t crash out of the EU. So, who is Jo Swinson and how has she voted since being elected as an MP? The truth might surprise many.

Jo Swinson was first elected as an MP in 2005; she served in the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Coalition as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Cleg and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. She lost her seat in the backlash against the Liberal Democrats in 2015, regaining it in the snap election in 2017. She was elected Leader in July 2019. All the following information comes from parliamentary voting records (see: They Work For You).

Education Policy

Jo Swinson’s record on education is completely in line with Conservative Party policy and in the key votes she has always supported the Conservatives. This includes support for measures to make further study more difficult for children from disadvantaged backgrounds by raising university tuition fees to £9000, raising the interest rate on student loans to market rates and supporting the abolition of Educational Maintenance Grants.

In addition, the Liberal Democrats supported changes to electoral registration which saw almost a million people, hundreds of thousands of them young people and students, removed from the electoral register. Lisa Nandy wrote in The New Statesman in 2015:

Those cities with the largest student numbers have seen some of the largest falls in registered electors. In Liverpool there are over 20,000 fewer people on the electoral roll. In Nottingham, 13,000 fewer people are registered. In Manchester and Brighton it’s over 12,000 fewer people. In Leeds the figure is over 3,000 and in Sheffield almost 5,000 people fewer people will be registered to vote. In dozens of towns and cities across the country – including in Nick Clegg’s backyard – students are denied the chance to hold this government to account at the ballot box.

Nandy, Lisa (2015)

In school policy, Jo Swinson, and the Liberal Democrat Party, fully supported the gradual privatisation of education by voting to increase the number of Free Schools and academies including voting against restricting new Academy Schools to areas in need of additional capacity.

Welfare Benefits

The Liberal Democrat support for the Conservative “Bedroom Tax” resulted in placing the disabled and disadvantaged right in the firing line of the coalition’s brutal austerity cuts. Liberal Democrats and Jo Swinson in particular not only supported this, but helped to implement it whilst sitting in government alongside the Conservatives.

Whilst in the coalition government, Jo Swinson supported the Conservative 1% cap on public sector pay rises, setting the rate of increase of certain benefits, payments and tax credits at 1% rather than in line with prices at 2.2% for 2014 and 2015. This meant that an average health worker suffered a real-terms pay cut of almost £2,000, while an ambulance worker had their real-term pay slashed by over £5,000. At the same time, she consistently supported reducing benefits and public services for the poor and disabled, capping any increase discretionary working age benefits and tax credits at 1% in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Before losing her seat in 2015, Jo Swinson voted in favour of reducing housing benefit for those deemed to have excess bedrooms – the so called “Bedroom Tax”. She voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices. At the same time, Jo Swinson opposed increasing income tax for those earning over £150,000, and opposed introducing a tax on banker’s bonuses and reducing the rate of corporation tax, protecting those who need it least at the cost of the most vulnerable in society.

Whilst Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats support the 365-day limit on receiving contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance, she opposed making an exception for those with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment. Jo Swinson voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability.

Social and Economic Issues

The 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came into government in the aftermath of the 2008 world financial crash. Rather than introduce measures to curb financial institutions and protect the vulnerable, Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats, stood firmly alongside the Conservatives in favouring those who caused the crash against those who suffered as a result. Whereas taxation could have been used to redress the balance, Jo Swinson voted to increase the rate of VAT, and reduce the rate of corporation tax meaning whilst large corporations paid less tax, those on low incomes paid proportionately more. She opposed increasing the tax rate applied to incomes over £150,000, opposed introducing a 10% rate of income tax paid for by a mansion tax and opposed a tax on bank bonuses to fund guaranteed jobs for young people out of work for over a year. Jo Swinson opposed proposals to reform the banking industry.

One way out of the economic crisis would have been by strengthening the economy through stimulating greater employment opportunities and so producing greater prospects for work especially for young people. All such measures were opposed by Jo Swinson who opposed calling on the government to get more people into work and voted against introducing a compulsory job guarantee for young people and the long term unemployed. The Liberal Democrats generally opposed measures to stimulate economic growth and job creation, in particular, opposing tax breaks for small firms taking on extra workers.

Jo Swinson’s failure to support working people stretched into opposing more progressive economic measures to stimulate the economy. She consistently opposed reducing excessive rail fares and soaring energy costs, failed to stand up for families in the private rented sector. This stretched into opposing placing curbs on payday lenders, an energy price freeze, long term reforms to the energy market, free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year olds, greater regulation of gambling, and if that was not enough, opposed action to boost housing supply. Finally, Jo Swinson supported restricting the scope of legal aid making it more difficult for those on low incomes to access legal support.

The 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto stated “Liberal Democrats will put thousands more police on the beat”. Jo Swinson supported cutting police numbers to their lowest level since September 2001.

Environmental Issues

Whilst the Liberal Democrats make great store of their environmental and green credentials, their voting record shows this appears to be little more than a sound bite. John Fergusson, writing in the Scottish Daily Record, reported that in 2014, Jo Swinson accepted £14,000 in donations from Mark Petterson, a director of Warwick Energy Ltd – a firm with fracking licences across England. Shortly after, in 2015, Jo Swinson voted against a moratorium on fracking permits and against a requirement for an environmental permit being granted for fracking. The Daily Record also showed that Jo Swinson opposed carrying out a review of the impact of fracking on climate change, the environment, the economy, and health and safety. In reality Jo Swinson generally voted against greater regulation of fracking, and against requiring permits for fracking.

More broadly, she voted for selling off state-owned forests and for cutting subsidies for renewable energy. Hardly an environmentally friendly position. Credit where it is due though. She did table a 2007 bill against excessive packaging of Easter Eggs. Admittedly the Liberal Democrats did introduce a 5p charge on plastic bags, but only by agreeing to Conservative proposals to tighten benefit sanctions against the vulnerable.

Whilst in Government, Jo Swinson voted in favour of cutting subsidies for electricity generated via renewable or low-carbon methods, and against targets for the amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases produced per unit of electricity generated. The Daily Record reported she voted against requiring the Green Investment Bank to support the target of reducing carbon emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050. Jo Swinson also refused to support the completion of a cycle path in her constituency of Milngavie after complaints from motorists.

It is not just the Labour Party who can see through Jo Swinson, as indeed Tim Holmes in The Ecologist magazine argues “Jo Swinson has a chequered history in relation to the environment – which is somewhat eclipsed by her dire record on poverty and workers’ rights”.

Party Defections

In the 2017 General Election, the Liberal Democrats gained 12 MPs. Since then 7 more have defected from the Conservative and Change UK parties, meaning almost 40% of their MPs were not actually elected as Liberal Democrat MPs.

  • Heidi Allen (Conservative)
  • Luciana Berger (Change UK)
  • Sam Gyimah (Conservative)
  • Philip Lee (Conservative)
  • Angela Smith (Change UK)
  • Chukka Umunna (Change UK)
  • Sarah Wollaston (Conservative)

Their voting record makes it difficult to see how the Liberals Democrats deserve the name “Liberal”. By welcoming MPs who were not even elected as Liberal Democrats, and who refuse to stand in a by-election, makes it difficult to see how the Liberal Democrats deserve the name “Democrats”. Without being at all liberal and by refusing to be democrats, it is difficult to see what is left of the Liberal Democrats.


Fergusson, John (2019) “Jo Swinson branded a ‘hypocrite’ for taking fracker’s cash as Lib Dem leadership hopeful comes under fire”, The Daily Record, 9th June 2019.

Foster, Dawn (2019) “The Galling Hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats”, Jacobin, 17th July 2919.

Holmes, Tim (2019) “Jo Swinson, fracking and social justice”, The Ecologist, 29th July 2019.

Low, Jo (2019) “Jo Swinson criticised over donor links to fossil fuels and tax avoidance”, The Ferret, 30th July 2019. (Paywalled)

Mason, Rowena (2015) “How much of the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 election manifesto was implemented?” The Guardian, 15th April 2015.

McKinstry, Leo (2013) “Lib Dems are the party of arrogant leftist hypocrites”, Daily Express, 16th September 2013.

Nandy, Lisa (2015) “We won’t let the Lib Dems run away from their record“, New Statesman, 18th January 2015.

Stando, Olaf (2019) “Jo Swinson: here’s what you need to know about the new Lib Dem leader”, Scottish National Party, 22nd July 2019.

They Work for You (nd) Jo Swinson’s voting in Parliament.

Worrall Patrick (2015) “What have the Liberal democrats ever done for us?”, Channel 4, 23rd March 2015.

Walking the Thames 6

Today’s final leg of this first stage of the Thames Path was 14 miles from The Rose Revived at Newbridge to Oxford Railway Station. It starts with the isolation and wide open spaces of the Oxfordshire countryside and finishes with the hustle and bustle of Oxford itself.

The weather was – yet again – glorious. It was signalled by a mist rolling down the Thames as I got up.

Looking downstream
Looking upstream
Looking back to The Rose Revived
As the sun rises…..

The path today hugged the river – apart from a 2 mile diversion around Babcock Hythe seemingly to avoid a caravan park. This made the stretch after the diversion in particular quite convoluted, as the river wound back and forth. It was possible to take some short cuts avoiding the bends, but this defeated the object for me.

The stretch was characterised by open meadows, bridges and locks. Indeed just after setting off you encounter a huge field managed by Natural England in order to encourage ground nesting birds. It is in this field that one of the Thames strange “right of way” bridges appears; there are several between Lechlade and Oxford.

Hart’s Weir footbridge

The first today was Hart’s Weir footbridge. Like all the others this was built in order to preserve ancient river crossings when many of the flood weirs were removed in this area.

This stretch also has five locks managed by the Environment Agency, and yet again are all beautifully looked after. Northmoor, Pinkhill, Eynesham, Kings and Godstow Locks. Each have their own automatic weir to control the water flow along the Thames.

Northmoor Lock
Pinkhill Lock
Pinkhill Lock
Eynesham Lock With Swinford Toll Bridge in distance

About three miles from Newbridge you come to Babcock Hythe and its pub The Ferryman.

You might be forgiven for asking where the ferry is. There is no ferry, and so no ferryman. Whilst the Romans’ built a ford, and there was a ferry for 1000 year, it is no more.

Just before Eynsham Lock is Swinford Bridge, one of two local private toll bridges, with its own Act of Parliament. This was built by the Earl of Abingdon in 1770, and while pedestrian can cross for free, the traffic backs up as drivers search frantically for that 5p piece to pay the toll.

The next three miles and things begin to change as Eynsford Lock give way to Wytham Great Wood. This is a 600 acre woodland given to Oxford University in the 1940s. The wood comes right down to the waters edge and is a delight especially after so many miles of meadow.

Wytham Great Wood

After leaving the wood you are placed again in pastoral beauty as you pass the River Evenlode, one of the tributaries of the Thames. and work your way to the penultimate lock on this section – King’s Lock.

Two swans a flying…
King’s Lock

Half a mile further on and we reach 50 miles from the source and a further bridge – this time the A34 Oxford Bypass,

The Oxford Bypass

At this point it is tempting to think you are nearly there, but you are still three miles from Osney Bridge. Just beyond the flyover is the final lock on this stage – Godstow lock, and just beyond, the ruins of Godstow Abbey. (See here). This was apparently built around 1100 but was dissolved by Henry VIII.

From Britain Expess: “The abbey itself was given to Henry VIII’s physician, George Owen. Owen tore down the abbey church and built a mansion called Godstow House from the abbey ruins. In 1645 Godstow House was badly damaged in the Civil War, and stone from the site was robbed for local buildings. The site passed to the Earl of Abingdon in 1702, and stayed in part of the Abingdon estates until 1902. In 1924 it was given to Oxford University in trust for the nation.”

Godstow Lock

Passing Godstow Abbey the far bank becomes a wide open meadow – Port Meadow. This common grazing land was given to the people of Oxford by William the Conqueror for their help in defending against marauding Danes. It has remained untouched since.

As Port Meadow comes to an end, the path enters Bossoms Boatyard and crosses the Rainbow Bridge also called Medley Bridge.

Medley (Rainbow) Bridge
Going over the Rainbow Bridge

This takes us onto Fiddlers Island, a delightful strip of land with the Thames on the right and an area of wetland on the left, at the end of which is a small bridge over the Oxford Canal. This final part leads along a row of cottages, and eventually onto the Osney Bridge.

Bridge over the Oxford canal
Osney Bridge

As you step off Osney Bridge, you enter now a different world. Having spent four days in peace and virtual isolation, you became surrounded by … people and traffic.

Walking the Thames 4

Today’s leg of the journey was a leisurely 11 miles from Cricklade to Lechlade, where the river is fortified by several other tributaries – The Churn, The Key and The Ray, and becomes deep enough to be navigable. Great breakfast in the Red Lion – vegetarian full English, cereals, fruit juice, fruit, yogurt and coffee. They made me a packed lunch, dealt with my bag – which was already in my room at Lechlade when I arrived at 14:30.

Set off at 9:30. From Cricklade, the first four miles follows the Thames past Eysey, and Water Eaton until you reach Castle Eaton. There is some beautiful scenery here and I got the feeling the river was striving to make itself recognised. At this point, it was still nothing spectacular, just a stream winding it’s way through the countryside.

Castle Eaton is a sleepy village with a church and a pub, the Red Lion which has been closed for some time. Though now it is under new management (Rhiannon and Mark) and is being refurbished.

From Castle Eaton the path diverges away from the river for four miles and it is only in sight briefly at Blackford Farm. These four miles take you through farmland with corn “as high as an elephants eye”.

At 2o miles From source, just before Upper Inglesham, the path has been rerouted away from the A361, and now follows the Thames into Lechlade. At Upper Inglesham, the first boat appears, and by Lechlade the river has widened to become Navigable.

At Lechlade, we have a river worthy of the name. Wide, deep, freely flowing string of boats pepper the north bank up to the Ha’penny Bridge.

The Ha’Penny Bridge
The Ha’penny Bridge
The Thames from The Riverside Inn, upstream from Lechlade

I chose to stay in The Old Swan Inn which has very comfortable rooms, but the Riverside is much better positioned actually on the river.

Walking the Thames 3

The first leg of the Thames Path from the source to Cricklade is some 12 miles long. It took me around 6 hours, including stops for lunch at Ashton Keynes, and some exploring.

After a very comfortable night’s sleep and good breakfast in the Thames Head, I left my suitcase and set off at 9:15. I had arranged for my bag to be moved by a company called …appropriately “Move My Bags”. (Cost £134 for four pick ups and drop offs between Kemble and Oxford).

Just 15 minutes from the Thames Head Inn, I reached the source….I am not sure what I was expecting. I had read that there was likely to be no water, which there wasn’t, but I was not expecting the total human isolation. There was no one around, just a herd of cattle, who didn’t seem in the slightest bit interested at the significance of the location.

The Source of the Thames

Looking away from the source, along the path that leads to the Thames Barrier in a mere 184 miles, one can be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about, and just where the river might have flowed.

The Thames is here somewhere….

Indeed for the first 2 miles of the path there was no water in sight. After half a mile or so, the path of a once-river appeared, and the first bridge over the non-existent Thames as it went under the A433.

The first bridge over the Thames
The dry Thames

About half a mile further on at Parker’s Bridge, some water appeared – a poor excuse for a river but enough to give the impression that something was happening.

Parker’s Bridge

By Ewen, some water had appeared, at times trickling along, at other times a little bit more forceful, but stroll not yet the flowing Isis.

But there is something quite spiritual following a river bed that will become significant in a day’s time at Lechlade. It may be insignificant now, but carries with it the future aspirations of a mighty waterway.

By Somerford Keynes, the water is freely flowing, reflecting the sunlight, now too wide to step over. But having walked for five miles looking for water, the path crosses the B4696 just south of Somerford Keynes and one is faced with shock. A huge expanse of open water that is Neigh Bridge Country Park, part of the Cotswolds Water Park which around Ashton Keynes covers an area of some 20 square miles incorporating 150 lakes.

As you approach Ashton Keynes the River Thames feels strangely isolated; nothing more than a small stream. But it cuts through a huge expanse of water with lakes either side. But at Ashton Keynes, the flow is funnelled into a neat channel that runs through the village, splitting in two as it reaches the main road.

The infant Thames enters Ashford Keynes

Yet it is here the walk becomes rather dispiriting, as the path veers away from the Thames and you don’t meet it again for another 3 miles until you hit North Meadow just outside Cricklade. Yet even this is dispiriting, as you lose it again after a mile, until you begin to leave Cricklade.

North Meadow is enormous space. A site of National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), it is 24.6 Ha and has been managed in the same controlled way for hundreds of years. Coming out of the meadow you leave the Thames and circle Cricklade in order to enter it at the north east top of the Main Street.

Here the path passes the Red Lion, where I stayed for the night. When I arrived, my bag was waiting in my room.

Room 3, The Red Lion

Cricklade is one of those rural towns with a main street of shops and services, bounded by rows of cars. It has two churches (both closed when I arrived). St Sampson’s with an unusual four pointed spire, and St Mary’s, now the Catholic church.

St Sampson’s Church
St Mary’s Church on the main street
Jenners Hall

Jenners Hall was a school in 1650, became a workhouse in 1720 for a century then reverted to a school until 1959.

Built around 1490
Cricklade’s functioning telephone box

Feeling a bit stiff tonight, but dinner was lovely, bed really comfortable. Breakfast vegetarian full english Now off on the second leg.

Walking the Thames 2

And it’s off. Catch the 11.07 Nottingham-Gloucester, then 13.33 to Kemble. A somewhat overcast day. Train quite empty in spite of nearly every seat being reserved. Plenty of time to ponder what walking up to 16 miles a day will be like and whether I will have time to explore the surrounding landmarks, churches, bridges and pubs.

Arrive at Gloucester 12:24 on time and find myself amongst several others with disarmingly large rucksacks. Maybe this won’t be the solitary journey I had expected! As it happens, none get off at Kemble.

As we pull into Stroud, I am reminded of Laurie Lee who “walked out one midsummer morning” from Stroud and carried on to Andalusia. From here on the scenery changes. Instead of fields stretching off in the distance, or industrial sites, there are now hills to the east. We pass through Chalford which looks a beautiful village, yellow stone small houses around a river.

Train pulls into Kemble spot on time. There’s a taxi waiting, “Is it Peter?” Lee, the driver, came to this area from Scunthorpe for a three month job as a chef and stayed 30 years. He became a forester and a builder, now loves driving around the Cotswolds countryside.

I am staying at The Thames Head Inn which is a lovely place

The dog friendly Thames Head Inn
My room – Room 3. TV, ensuite, wifi, coffee

The barman sounds just like Henning Wehn, “But I was here first” he tells me. But having been here working 35 years, he and his wife now have to register to stay. What sort of country have we allowed racism to make us into.

The pub is on the busy A433 and is the closest Inn to the source of the Thames, being about 1 Km away. Out of the pub, turn left for two minutes, and just before the railway bridge go left then over a stile.

But that’s tomorrows challenge.

Walking the Thames 1

The Thames Path follows the River Thames from its source in rural Gloucestershire to beyond the Thames barrier – almost 200 miles in all. My plan is to do it all in 4-5 stages. The first stage, from Kemble to Oxford is around 50 miles and I start that on Tuesday 17th September. hopefully getting to Oxford on Friday 20th. I shall be staying in Kemble, Cricklade, Lechlade, Newbridge and Oxford. There is more information in a blog by Keith Palling, who walked the path in 2007.

Kemble is a small town in Gloucestershire, and is the nearest settlement to the source of the Thames at Thames Head. Trains go to Kemble station, from Nottingham, change at Gloucester, takes about 3 hours. I am staying at the Thames Head Inn, and they helped me book a taxi from the station with A-B Taxi (01285 655 651).

The Abusive World of the Followers of Rachel Riley…

On 29th March, I stood up for Jackie Walker against Rachel Riley’s abuse on Twitter. I find it unconscionable that anyone can attack a black, Jewish lifelong anti-racist campaigner in such a viscous way. I considered the attacks racist, and were attacking Jackie in an attempt to undermine her Jewish heritage. I have no idea of Rachel Riley’s heritage, though her Wikipedia entry claims “Riley describes herself as a “non-religious Jew“. Whether she is Jewish or not, I have no idea. My comment was short and to the point.


The next day, 30th March, someone bought this to my attention:


Now, Wikipedia tells us

On 22 January 2019, Riley made a speech at a Westminster reception for the Holocaust Educational Trust and addressed what she described as the “hideous abuse” she had received.”

This is interesting given what happened next, because within hours there were nearly 300 posts on Riley’s feed, and several direct messages to me personally, accusing me of all sorts of things from paedophilia, anti-Semitism, mental retardation, and worst of all, baldness. A large number thought my vegetarianism was typical of someone of my stupidity, but even that apparently didn’t make me as bad as a vegan in the eyes of these people. Many questioned my suitability for being a teacher and a father to two girls. Most of these people had between 2 -150 followers, many were American; I would estimate they were 95% white male. I looked up a number of profiles finding football and Conservatism were their most prominent interests. Not one I could see had any serious political engagement. I can only conjecture what it is that makes Riley so attractive to young white male right wing football fanatics. It certainly isn’t politics or the struggles of the Jewish community.

I started receiving personal messages via twitter of which these three were typical:



As soon as I saw Riley’s tweet, I protected my Twitter account. Several rather unusual people then requested to follow me on Twitter, strange names and no interests in common.

As a member of the website I get notified when someone searches for me on Google. Usually about 1 or 2 a week from around the world. Suddenly I was receiving numerous notifications that people had searched for me on Google – I looked at my hits and found this:


Within 6 hours around 30 people from around the UK had searched for me



One even searched out my work email address and sent me this. I have no idea who this is, and he clearly doesn’t know I retired a year ago!


Then on Sunday @GodberLennie added me to a #SocialistSunday and I began receiving follower requests from many on the left.


I also had a lovely message from @LabLeftVoice


I have never been one to be very bothered about getting such on-line abuse. I protected my Tweets for several days, blocked over 100 of the worst bone-heads and carried on with my life.

Then on Tuesday I came across this:


You can see Tom’s blog at:

In it he says:

‘They called me a “twat“, they called me “pathetic“, told me I was “blind“, “crass“, “snide“, “pretentious“, a “bullshitter” and that I was “belittling the fight against antisemitism” by talking about my family history.’

This clearly is disgraceful, and the racist and fascist timbre of many of those who follow Riley is alarming. What it does highlight is the insincerity Riley shows towards any fight for justice or diversity when she appears not only to countenance such vile abuse in her name, but to actively encourage it. Quite why a run of the mill TV presenter feels it appropriate to mobilise the abusive, racist and fulminating right in the fight against anti-Semitism might raise questions about her sincerity.

All this as a result of one tweet, to which Riley could have posted an argument as to why she was neither racist nor anti-Semitic. She chose not to, preferring to mobilize abuse. To me this is sad and sickening, but requires little more than a shrug of the shoulders. It makes me wonder though just what level of abuse people such as Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson, and of course Jeremy Corbyn, have to put up with.