Pentecost Golden Jubilee of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral; Funeral of Edge Hill’s former Vicar, Alan Godson; Arab Hope Maker Award to Cairo’s Mama Maggie; General Election June 8th 2017 – Election Notebook – recalling earlier contests.Parliamentary Questions raised by David Alton.

Pentecost and a Golden Jubilee

The eve of Pentecost was the perfect time to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Cathedral choirs began the wonderful evening of celebration – beautifully organised by the Dean, Canon Anthony O’Brien – with choral vespers.

Guests then left the sanctuary and nave in what is affectionately known in Liverpool as “Paddy’s Wigwam” –designed by  Frederick Gibberd – to join a gala dinner below, in the Pontifical Hall of the Sir Edwin Lutyens crypt.

In 1969, as a newly arrived student in Liverpool – and two years after the cathedral had been completed – I first took in the breath-taking Trinity of light, that floods the interior of the cathedral, – yellow, blue and red stained glass,– and felt I was stepping through a coruscating kaleidoscope of iridescent colours.

Over the years that have followed I have been in the cathedral countless times but, most memorably, in 1982, on another Pentecost, 35 years ago, during the visit of Pope John Paul II. He arrived there, having processed along the city’s Hope Street, which links Liverpool’s two cathedrals. That historic visit sealed the Christian ecumenism that finally replaced bitter sectarianism.

In the cathedral he said:

“The Holy Spirit, who is the source of all unity, provides the Body of Christ with a “variety of gifts” (1 Cor. 12, 3), so that it may be built up and strengthened. As the Holy Spirit granted the Apostles the gift of tongues, so that all gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost might hear and understand the one Gospel of Christ, should we not expect the same Holy Spirit to grant us the gifts we need in order to continue the work of salvation, and to be reunited as one body in Christ? In this we trust and for this we pray, confident in the power which the Spirit gave to the Church at Pentecost.”

He told us that:

 

“There is no sin which cannot be forgiven, if we approach the throne of mercy with humble and contrite hearts. No evil is more powerful than the infinite mercy of God.”

My late mother accompanied me to that amazing Service.

As a girl in the West of Ireland her impoverished family were among countless people who gave a penny each week towards the building of a cathedral in a faraway city – built on the site of a work house where thousands of Irish people, fleeing a famine which claimed one million lives, had died of hunger, cholera and typhoid.

My son Philip, now a doctor in Liverpool and father of two little girls, came with me to last night’s celebrations.

Perhaps he and they will be present when the cathedral celebrates its centenary? As John Henry Newman once said “we are links in a chain.” 

Philip and I looked at the baptistery where one of his brothers and a sister had been baptised; at the sea-eagle lectern, designed by Sean Rice, and placed there in 2007 to mark the death of Fr.Paul Thompson, a priest of the cathedral, who had been Philip’s godfather and one of my closest friends. We looked at the Pentecost mosaic made by Georg Mayer-Marton, a Hungarian Jewish artist who escaped the Nazis, and whose work was carefully reassembled in the cathedral’s Chapel of Unity when, in 1989, Netherton’s Church of the Holy Ghost was demolished; and we passed the tomb of Liverpool’s singular Archbishop, Derek Worlock, buried in the cathedral in 1996. All links in Newman’s chain.

Georg Mayer-Marton's Pentecost mosaic Liverpool cathedral

A highlight of the evening was a poem written in 1967 for the opening of the cathedral by Liverpool’s pre-eminent poet, Roger McGough. He has rewritten it and added some extra stanzas for the Golden Jubilee:

“O Lord, so far so good. No bombs, no conversion into bingo hall or shopping mall. No demolition to make way for Metropolitan Hotel or student high-rise. Unscathed and soldiering on….What are five decades but a drop in the font, a gentle lap around the rosary? Until Iron Men swim down the Mersey and the Liver Birds take wing May your light shine out from Hope Street as we rejoice in Christ the King.”  

A lovely thought, this Pentecost.

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May 20th 2017: The death was  announced of the Reverend Alan Godson, the former Vicar of St.Mary’s Edge Hill. The funeral took place on June 3rd at St.Mary’s Grassendale.

2017 Alan Godson Memorial Service

  He died peacefully, in his sleep. 

For more than three decades Alan was Vicar of St.Mary’s Edge Hill where, in 1972, after working in Manchester’s Catacombs, he took up the living of this inner city parish.  

I can be absolutely certain about the day, the time and the place where I first met Alan. 

It was May 3rd 1972.

 I was a 21-year-old student and fighting my first City Council election campaign in the inner city Low Hill Ward.

 It was the eve of poll and I was in Erskine Street, a street scheduled for demolition.

Someone – no guessing who – had the words “God Lives Here in the Slums” daubed on the gable end.

 Intrigued, and looking for a vote, I knocked on the door, and inevitably ended up being canvassed on behalf of God. 

 Half an hour later, and too late to knock on any more doors, I knew my time had been well spent and knew it wasn’t a coincidence but, rather, what Alan called a “Godincidence”.

  The following day, in May 1972, I was elected to the City Council and not long after, Alan, who had been working in Manchester’s Catacombs, took up the living at St.Mary’s, Edge Hill. At that time, Bishop Tom Williams was a curate in the local Catholic parish and the three of us became friends – and it is great to see him at the celebration of Alan’s life.

 I always thought that his renumbering of the St.Mary’s Vicarage as “JC4U” – while sometimes mystifying the postmen – was the essential clue in understanding Alan.

 It summed up what he most wanted for everyone that he encountered: JC4U.

Alan was an evangelist who never tired in his indefatigable zeal for souls – and I never saw him happier than during Mission England, in 1984, when the football stadium at Anfield was filled to capacity.

 But Alan didn’t need to wait for big events to evangelise you.

 He would pull up alongside a car in a traffic queue and ask the puzzled driver next to him what the letters JLY in his number plate stood for. As the driver scratched his head and Alan pulled away he would tell him “ JLY Jesus Loves You.”

His blue and red church posters told a similar tale. The acronyms of Liverpool’s two football clubs pointed to a much greater story: LFC – Liverpool For Christ; EFC – Everyone for Christ.  

 With one famous poster, he even made the national news. The Soviet Union’s atheistic Communist leader had made public declarations that there was no God.

 When Adropov died Alan ’s poster “Now Andropov Knows” led to complaints from the Soviet Ambassador. 

 Characteristically, Alan stood his ground, and used the opportunity to open people’s minds to the suffering of Christians at the hands of the Soviets.

 Among the many speakers Alan hosted at St.Mary’s was Richard Wurmbarnd, who had dared to say that Communism and Christianity were not compatible – and was imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian Communist regime for saying so.

 Wurmbrand said “Let us be on the side of those who sit in jails and are sentenced to death for their faith. Let us pray for them and help them”.  Alan never hesitated to do both of those things.

 Among Alan’s other great heroes was Corrie ten Boom – the Dutch watchmaker who helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust.

 Her Christian activism led to her imprisonment in a concentration camp.

 As an encouragement, Alan would often give her books to people and would ask her question: Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” and shared her belief that “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” 

Alan saw the suffering and faith of men like Richard Wurmbrand and women like Corrie ten Boom as a rebuke to those of us whose faith is often so tepid, or lukewarm – Gethsemane Christians too often asleep at our posts.  

Alan had no fear of death – seeing it as a homecoming. He handed over what was unknown to a trusted and known God.  

In retirement he and his wife, Lesley, had been living in Aigburth, Liverpool – their home, appropriately, overlooking Liverpool Cricket Club. Having played rugby for his Cambridge College, in the 1970s Alan was one of the founders of Christians in Sport and came to represent, in his whole person, the phrase “muscular Christianity.”   For a birthday present his boys tracked down footage of the Varsity Rugby Match 1960- 1st Half Highlights – YouTube and Alan scoring a famous try for Cambridge: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=w5c42jbFuko

Related image
 

Alan Godson's famous posters at St.Mary's

Right up until the end – and with the aid of an oxygen machine and the loving ministrations of his wonderful wife, Lesley, and the support of his three boys, Andrew, Jonathan and Stephen, Alan was still asking visitors and those who telephoned him “are you reading your Bible?”.  From his new vantage point I daresay – and rather hope – he will continue to give a not so gentle nudge when he sees us falling asleep at our posts. He will be greatly missed.

May he rest in peace.

2017 St.Mary's Edge Hill flag at half mast for Alan Godson

St.Mary’s Edge Hill. Flag at half mast for the Revd.Alan Godson.

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The value of a human is incomparable to any other value…”  Mama Maggie – the Mother of Cairo – On Receiving the Arab Hope Makers Award

Mama Maggie

Great news that Mama Maggie – Maggie Gobran – has been chosen as one of the five Arab Hope Makers. Happy to have been one of her nominators. I have a chapter on the extraordinary work undertaken by “the Mother of Cairo” in my book, Signs of Contradiction. It was deeply inspiring to see  first-hand the phenomenal work of this Coptic woman among the poorest of the poor, especially abandoned children, in Cairo’s Garbage City.

Yesterday’s big celebration, in Dubai, was attended by more than 25000 who gathered in Dubai Studios city with the presence of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum Vice President of United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, to choose and honour the winners of Hope Maker working in Arab countries from 65000 hope makers nominated. Sheihk Mohamed Bin Rashed surprised every one by awarding all 5 winners with the same prize of AED 1 million

Mama Maggie started her word by saying:” The value of a human is incomparable to any other value…”

This is the first initiative for recognition of its kind – for any positive action undertaken on a wide level within the Arab countries. Congratulations to Mother Mama – and to the UAE.

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 1

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 21

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 3

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2017 General Election Notebook. jpg

Elected at Liverpool Edge Hill in 1979

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Parliamentary Questions raised by David Alton over the last month on Overseas Aid, Targeting of Egyptian Copts, Syria, Primodos, North Korea, the Use of Chemical Weapons, IVF, Sudan, Religious Freedom, Burma, Morton Hall Inspection, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Asbestos in Schools, Scottish Devolution, Iraq and IS Genocide, Refugee Children, Assisted Dying.

Spending Aid Wisely and Effectively
April 26 2017

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the things that jeopardises sustainable development is a combination of conflict, where there is the need to bring conflict resolution, and corruption? In the light of the Government’s welcome announcement that they will sustain development programmes and funding for development overseas, will he tell us what priority a new Government are likely to give to combating conflict in situations such as South Sudan, where famine has come as a direct result of it, and dealing with corruption, where aid money can be embezzled and misused?
 
Lord Bates

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We have said that the 0.7% commitment stands, but we are also absolutely resolute that there needs to be reform of the international aid system to ensure that that hard-earned money, provided by British taxpayers and other taxpayers from around the world, gets to where it is most intended. That is why we are behind arguing for global goal 16 on peace and security—because, without peace and security, there can be no development or growth. That is also why we have committed the large sum of money—£100 million—to South Sudan and to the other areas which are touched by famine at present.

 To view the answers to the following Questions Click on the Heading: 

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: North Korea (24 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of North Korean nationals who have entered UK territories in the last five years, other than those accredited as diplomatic staff working for the DPRK Embassy in London.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Developing Countries: Diseases (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, what study the Department for International Development has made of the use of technologies to map neglected tropical diseases using remote sensing technologies and mobile smartphone technologies.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Africa: Snakes (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, how they are responding to Africa’s need for anti-venoms to treat snake bites, following the cessation of production by the major manufacturer.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Developing Countries: Sleeping Sickness (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, what further progress they expect to make in the elimination of sleeping sickness.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Egypt: Christianity (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have offered the government of Egypt to protect Egypt’s Coptic population from ISIS, following reports of targeted attacks, killings, and forced conversions.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of reports of human rights violations committed by the government of North Korea against its exiled citizens, and of some exiled North Koreans having become UK citizens, what is their response to the recommendation by the UNHCR group of independent experts on accountability in their report to the 34th session published on 24 February that UN…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Chongryon (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are aware of (1) members of Chongryon, formerly known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, entering or doing business in the United Kingdom, and (2) whether Chongryon members have had any interactions with diplomats from the DPRK Embassy in London, in the last five years.

Written Answers — Home Office: Asylum: Balkans (18 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the joint report from the International Rescue Committee and 11 other organisations, Out of Sight, Exploited and Alone, concerning unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in the Balkans, and its principal concerns of (1) insufficient and unreliable data or information management on UASC within the region, (2) a lack of…

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: North Korea (18 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, what steps they are taking to ensure that North Korean nationals who enter UK territories are not involved in any unlawful activities.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Hong Kong: Politics and Government (13 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of the People’s Republic of China concerning political developments in Hong Kong; and whether they have called for undertakings in the Basic Law to be honoured.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: British Nationals Abroad (13 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, including through the British Embassy in Pyongyang, to ensure that the government of North Korea does not breach the Vienna Convention; and what advice they are offering to British nationals in, and travelling to, North Korea regarding their safety, in the light of the temporary ban imposed on Malaysian diplomats from leaving…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraph 2.8 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regarding babies born following pronuclear transfer between embryos, what procedures are in place to (1) identify whether a child born following pronuclear transfer is born with (a) a mitochondrial disease,…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether the Expert Working Group on Hormonal Pregnancy Tests will review the reasons why tests on Primodos, which remained on the market until 1978 despite the publication of a study in 1967 indicating a causal relationship between hormonal pregnancy tests and congenital…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraphs 2.8, 2.9 and 3.17 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, regarding the follow-up of children born following pronuclear transfer between embryos, who is responsible for the follow-up programme in NHS England; what health, genetic and epigenetic parameters…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether they will meet with Marie Lyon and representatives of the Primodos victims support group.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether the Expert Working Group on Hormonal Pregnancy Tests will review (1) the terms of reference of (a) the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, and (b) the Metabolic Research Unit, when determining what lessons may be learnt for further improving existing regulatory…

Syria: Chemical Weapons – Private Notice Question (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in welcoming the swift response of Her Majesty’s Government and the reply that the Minister has just given to the Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, perhaps I might press the Government further on the use of chemical weapons. We have now seen chemical weapons used twice in Syria, but they have also been used, allegedly, in Darfur by the regime of President…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Terrorism (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 5 November 2015 (HL 2969) which stated that “the DPRK is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987”, whether they classify as the sponsoring of terrorist acts (1) the plot by a North Korean defector to kill Park Sang-hak in 2012, (2) the plot by two North Korean military…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of a further mass grave in Khafsa, Iraq, what progress is being made in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring to justice supporters of ISIS who are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Electronic Warfare (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) North Korean cyber attacks, and (2) reports that the regime has been responsible for a $81 million bank cyber heist.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Religious Freedom (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what instructions have been given to FCO country desk officers to ensure that freedom of religion or belief is included in their work.

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the award by the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority of a licence to Centre 0017 to carry out pronuclear transfer between embryos to prevent transmission of serious mitochondrial disease, what safeguards Centre 0017 has put in place to ensure that early pronuclear transfer will take place during treatment at…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraph 2.3 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which non-CE marked reagents will be used by Centre 0017 for the purposes of treatment involving pronuclear transfer between embryos to prevent transmission of serious mitochondrial disease; which laboratories will…

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Religious Freedom (4 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why no reference to (1) targeted and persecuted religious minorities, or (2) the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and belief, is made in the goals specified in the Department for International Development policy paper, Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals.

Neglected Tropical Diseases – Question for Short Debate (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support my noble friend Lady Hayman and salute her dogged persistence in raising the issue of rare and neglected tropical diseases. In doing so, I should mention that I am a vice-president of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and have been associated with the school in one way or another for the best part of 40 years. I particularly pay tribute to…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Human Rights (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Interim Report and recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State; and what representations they will make to the government of Burma regarding the implementation of those recommendations.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they supported the appointment of a representative of the government of Sudan as Vice Chairman of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons; and, in making this appointment, what account was taken of the allegations by Amnesty International that chemical weapons have been used against the civilian population of Sudan, and of the…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Chemical Weapons (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have supported the call by Amnesty International to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Sudan against the civilian population of that country; whether the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons is conducting an investigation, or plans to do so; and if not, what action they have taken in response.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Terrorism (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 3 November 2015 (HL2960), what assessment they have made of the terror threat to UK nationals, including those who are North Korean refugees and human rights workers in North Korea, from the government of North Korea and its diplomatic personnel.

Written Answers — Scotland Office: Sovereignty: Scotland (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have held with the Scottish Government concerning the inclusion of a third option, offering further devolution of powers to Scotland, in any future Scottish independence referendum; what assessment they have made of the benefits of including such an option; and whether they have ruled out its inclusion.

Written Answers — Home Office: Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Report on an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published on 21 March.

Written Answers — Home Office: Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the findings of the Report on an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published on 21 March, in particular that (1) too many detainees were held for prolonged periods, (2) the average length of detention was high, (3) children were detained for long periods of time due…

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: EU Nationals (30 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 23 March (HL6077), whether they will prepare and publish a draft bill with a view to its introduction as soon as agreement on the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK has been reached.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Trade Promotion (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why, in a video published by the British Embassy in Khartoum on 19 February, to promote UK business and investment in Sudan, the British Ambassador to Sudan did not refer to human rights and genocide charges brought against the regime.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Trade Promotion (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have imposed a requirement for unhindered humanitarian access and the cessation of hostilities prior to increasing the number of UK trade deals with the Republic of Sudan.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Sky News documentary Primodos: The Secret Drugs Scandal; and whether they will consider establishing a public inquiry into the alleged failure of the regulator at that time to protect public safety.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what funding they are providing to researchers based in (1) Cambridge, and (2) Aberdeen, who are examining the composition of the drug Primodos and its likely effects on the child in the womb.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Congenital Abnormalities (28 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 20 March (HL5811), why they do not maintain a list of foetal anomalies that cannot be identified before 24 weeks gestation.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of a further mass grave in Khafsa, Iraq, what progress is being made in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring to justice supporters of ISIS who are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answers by Earl Howe on 26 October 2010 (HL2589, HL2591, HL2592, and HL2593) concerning the drug Primodos, and to the remarks by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health on 23 October 2014 (HC Deb 1139) concerning oral hormone pregnancy tests, and in the light of the Sky News documentary Primodos: The Secret Drugs…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Assassination (27 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that North Korea has issued orders to assassinate a British businessman who helped to facilitate the defection of North Korea’s then deputy ambassador to London.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (27 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce human rights sanctions against North Korea, in line with those imposed by the United States.

Written Answers — Department for Education: Schools: Asbestos (23 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the responses made by local authorities to freedom of information requests made by Lucie Stephens regarding reported incidents of asbestos exposure in schools; and what guidance they have given, or plan to give, to local authorities about the publication of such reports.

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: EU Nationals (23 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will introduce a bill guaranteeing the right of EU nationals who were legally resident in the UK at the time of the EU referendum to remain in the UK.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Armed Conflict (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reports of fighting last week in Sinjar, between Kurdish forces, Peshmarga and PKK, and of the reported displacement of Yazidi families from Sinjar; and what is known about their whereabouts and well-being.

Written Answers — Home Office: Asylum (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the report by the British Red Cross Can’t Stay, Can’t Go concerning refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: English Language (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the report by Refugee Action Locked out of learning: A snapshot of ESOL provision in England concerning the waiting times to access English language classes faced by refugees.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the briefing note by the Refugee Council, Oxfam UK, the British Red Cross and Amnesty International UK Together again: Reuniting refugee families in safety – what the UK can do.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to UNICEF UK’s examination of the risks facing refugee and migrant children crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy in their report A deadly journey for children: The central…

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the statement by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner published on 22 February, in particular with respect to his call to address the strain on the Dublin III system; and when they intend…

Digital Economy Bill – Report (2nd Day) (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I supports the amendment proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Janke, but also the remarks of my noble friend Lady Howe. I want to ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, about an issue that I raised in your Lordships’ House previously, and that is the issue of suicide sites on the internet. It concerns me that young people can be encouraged to visit those…

Digital Economy Bill – Report (2nd Day) (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support Amendment 25YD in the name of my noble and learned friend, to which she spoke so well earlier on, and the comments of other noble Lords in the debate so far. The problem with coming to this point in legislation, which has proceeded all the way through the other place and is now on Report in your Lordships’ House, on a day when some 174 government amendments have been laid, is…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Religious Freedom (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 1 March (HL5421) stating that it is their policy to promote freedom of religious belief, why there was no mention of freedom of religion or belief in the UK’s opening statement at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Egypt: Christianity (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of Coptic Christian families in Egypt who have been forced to flee North Sinai province following a number of killings in recent weeks by suspected Islamist militants; and what representations they have made to the government of Egypt about those reports.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Diplomatic Relations (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the remarks by David Slinn, the former UK Ambassador to North Korea on 24 January, concerning the difficulties of negotiating with Kim Jong-un.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the European Union and individual EU member states (1) the use of North Korean labour, (2) the use of European bank accounts by North Korean nationals in the EU, and (3) a united response to the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and if so, when those…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Congenital Abnormalities (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what conditions for which there is a high probability that the foetus will die at, during, or shortly after delivery due to serious foetal anomaly are unable to be identified before 24 weeks gestation.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (17 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 28 February (HL Deb, col 714), whether at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council they will support recommendations (1) to establish an ad hoc tribunal, or (2) to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (17 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 February (HL5495), whether, and if so when, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) directly requested any evidence from Dr Valery Zukin or members of his team since publishing its report on 30 November 2016; what assessment it has made of that evidence; whether it has…

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I shall be brief. I enthusiastically support the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has just made, notwithstanding the minor caveat that I entered the Chamber as he was replying to the previous order and note the unnecessary duplication and replication which can cause confusion. I encourage him, and the Government generally, to stay in touch with the local authorities that…

Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) (Amendment) Order 2017 – Motion to Approve (16 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: Just before the Minister leaves that point, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was making the point that as we go forward it will be important to keep under review how the provision actually works out in practice. I fully support the order being laid before your Lordships’ House, and the next one, which deals with Liverpool and the Merseyside area, where there is agreement…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: South Sudan: Armed Conflict (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what new initiatives they are taking to (1) stop the fighting in, (2) curtail the flow of weapons to, and (3) bring about better conditions for humanitarian aid to reach the people of, South Sudan.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: South Sudan: Arms Trade (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), whether they intend to ask the UN Security Council to reconsider imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Rohingya (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the statement by the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on 6 February, that (1) the scale of violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the Burmese security forces against the Rohingya community amounts to “dehumanization”, and (2) the existing government of Burma commission is not a credible option to undertake a…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Rohingya (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the existing government of Burma commission investigations into allegations of sexual violence in Rakhine State are credible and being conducted in line with the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Written Answers — Department for Education: Refugees: Children in Care (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to (1) the correspondence sent by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 20 February on behalf of ECPAT UK concerning missing, trafficked and unaccompanied children, and (2) the findings of the report by ECPAT UK, Heading back to harm, published in November 2016, that (a) a number of local authorities were unable to provide figures on the…

Written Answers — Department for Education: Schools: Asbestos (13 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to protect children and teachers from the dangers of asbestos, in the light of the findings of the Education Funding Agency in their reports published in February, and of the information released in the Freedom of Information request 201607236, of August 2016, that 319 teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980,…

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Children (9 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the statement by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, published on 22 February, concerning the protection of unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Children (9 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the recommendations made by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner on 22 February, on (1) safe refuge for child refugees under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016; (2) safe refuge for child refugees under the Dublin III Regulation; (3) working with partners to improve protections in Europe; and (4) working to address the…

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what humanitarian access is available to NGOs in Unity State; and what is their estimate of the percentage of South Sudan’s population that remains inaccessible to agencies seeking to provide food to those affected by famine.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what progress has been made in ending South Sudan’s civil war; and how many people they estimate (1) have been displaced, or (2) have become refugees, as a consequence of the war and conflicts in the neighbouring areas of the Republic of Sudan.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what is their estimate of the number of children in South Sudan now affected by malnutrition.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), how much new money has been allocated to alleviate famine in South Sudan; to whom it has been (1) allocated, and (2) given; and how it is being used.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), and to the statement by the Secretary of State for International Development on 22 February announcing new packages of life-saving UK aid for South Sudan and Somalia, how much new money is being made available and allocated for use in South Sudan.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), when the new money allocated to help famine victims in South Sudan was signed off; who are the intended recipients of that funding; and whether any of that money has been allocated to (1) the government of South Sudan, (2) NGOs, or (3) UN agencies, and if so, how much.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), who is coordinating international efforts to help the victims of the famine in South Sudan; and what meetings the Minister and Secretary of State have convened with their international counterparts to ensure an effective response to the famine.

Assisted Dying – Question for Short Debate (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness’s Question asks whether legislation in North America on what is called “assisted dying” forms an appropriate basis for such legislation here. I will answer that question in just one word: no. Quite apart from any issues of principle, just look at what is now happening in Oregon. When Oregon’s assisted suicide law was enacted, it was to…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 8 February (HL5121), how many projects are actively collecting evidence against perpetrators of violence, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Iraq, and what are the objectives of each project.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Syria: Islamic State (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 8 February (HL5121), whether they are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made in the collection of evidence by the Independent Mechanism established by UN General Assembly resolution 71/248 regarding war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by members of Daesh.

Charles Kennedy, the perils of Coalition Government – 2010 article reproduced by the Daily Telegraph – and a reflection for Tim Farron.

Charles Kennedy, the perils of Coalition Government –  Dutch Auctions and the Flying Dutchman: 2010 article reproduced by the Daily Telegraph – and a reflection for Tim Farron.

Charles Kennedy death has reminded people of his capability and considerable political acumen. We knew each other for over thirty years – and during my time as Liberal Chief Whip I came to admire Charles’ judgement and his humanity.  When I invited him to Liverpool to deliver a Roscoe Lecture, just a year ago, we discussed why we both believed the decision of the Liberal Democrats to enter a coalition Government with the Conservatives had been such an enormous error – and why, having entered the coalition, many policies were being promoted with which we were both in profound disagreement. (Charles Kennedy’s Roscoe Lecture in Liverpool on Scottish Independence : https://www.ljmu.ac.uk/…/roscoe-lecture-ser…/audio-downloads).

When the Coalition was formed in 2010 I warned the Lib Dems that the story of the Liberal Party – of which I had been a member since the age of 17 –  contained many lessons about the dangers of entering a coalition and argued that supporting a minority government on the basis of “supply and confidence” (voting for Bills and policies on their merits without bring down the Government) but staying out of a coalition would be better for them and for the country.

Before the recent 2015 election I said that the election would reduce their House of Commons representation to around the 11 MPs that the Liberal Party had when I entered the Commons in 1979. The result  proved to be even worse than that.

Tim Farron will have his work cut out but should carefully study what the Liberal Party did from 1979 until 1987 to create the formidable Party which Charles Kennedy went on to lead. 

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Subject: 2010 article reproduced by the Daily Telegraph on the perils of Coalition for the Lib Dems

Former Liberal Chief Whip: coalition will lead to Lib Dem ‘rupture and resignations’

By Damian Thompson ⁠Politics

⁠26 Comments ⁠Comment on this article

Lord (David) Alton of Liverpool, former Liberal Chief Whip and my favourite politician by a mile, has just posted this article on his Facebook page, of all places. It’s a warning to Nick Clegg that his party didn’t enjoy much popular support, needs to show humility, and can expect dissent and resignations from Tory-hating supporters. The Lib Dem leader won’t want to hear this, but he really ought to read Alton’s piece. Even though it’s much longer than the average blog post, I reckon it’s worth carrying in full:

Although I have sat for the past 13 years as an Independent Crossbencher, I was once Liberal Chief Whip in the Commons and, in February 1974, as a 23-year-old, contested my first General Election. It was the last contest which led to a hung Parliament. I have several other reasons for following the unfolding events at Westminster with interest.

As a teenage Liberal activist I became convinced of the merits of the single transferable vote; as a City Councillor, during my time as Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council, I had to make a minority administration function; during 18 years as an MP for a Liverpool constituency I came to value the constituency link between an MP and their constituents; and in the Lords opposed the decision of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to introduce the closed party list system for European elections.

I have always seen merit in trying to find common ground where possible, and served as an MP during the period of the Liberal-SDP Alliance (which polled 25% in the 1983 general Election), but strongly opposed David Steel’s decision to take the Liberal Party into the Lib-Lab Pact of March 1977 – July 1978 – which seemed to be based on political calculation rather than principle. It is still difficult to recall anything that it actually achieved other than putting off the date of a General Election.

What bearing does any of this have on the formation, today, of a coalition government in Britain?

First, the unedifying procrastination of the past few days has risked discrediting the concept of power-sharing. The haggling vividly underlines the importance of going into an election with a clear idea of who will work with whom and on what basis. Much of the electorate who took part in last week’s election will have been left with a bad taste in their mouths – and whatever the merits of today’s agreement it will not have been what millions of people thought that they were voting for last week.

In that election David Cameron’s Conservative Party won the largest share of the vote; he won the largest number of seats; and won many of the arguments. Throughout, he argued for a majoritarian outcome. So did Gordon Brown. By contrast, Nick Clegg argued for a hung parliament and inevitably led the electorate on a merry dance.

It is absolutely clear that morally and constitutionally David Cameron had the right to form a Government and despite the massive economic problems facing Britain he is right to want to grapple with them. Listening to politicians saying they would rather leave it to someone else rather than risk being blamed or tarnished for taking tough decisions reveals quite a lot about their reasons for being in political life. David Cameron may fail – I hope he doesn’t – but at least he has the political courage to try.

Nick Clegg, however, has conveyed the impression or wanting to run with the hares and the hounds – and this has left many voters confused. He has some way to go to convince that the Lib-Con deal is anything but a marriage of convenience.

Clegg is a fluent Dutch speaker and has Dutch antecedents. He will be familiar with the concept of a Dutch Auction, named after its use in the seventeenth-century Dutch Tulip Craze. The Dutch Auction is often regarded as the first speculative bubble, with tulips selling at ten times the annual income of a Dutch craftsman – and is a phrase which describes a rather tacky process in which an asset price deviates significantly from intrinsic value. In a Dutch Auction the auctioneer begins with a high asking price until one of the participants is willing to accept the auctioneer’s price – or a predetermined reserve price – that is, the minimum price acceptable to the salesman – has been reached.

When you have just lost seats and many of your policies enjoy no popular mandate – from support to the Euro to the illiberal imposition of party policy on what were conscience questions, such as abortion – you should show a modicum of humility. Dutch Auctions and double-dealing are a rum way to run a country.

The former Home Secretary, and Clegg’s fellow Sheffield MP, David Blunkett, described the process rather less prosaically, by liking the Liberal Democrats to harlots selling themselves to the highest bidder.

Voters who voted Lib Dem to keep the Conservatives out will feel betrayed as will those who believed their votes would lead to the Lib-Lab Progressive Politics favoured by The Guardian and The Independent leader writers. Failure during the election campaign to lay before the electorate what would be the terms of a Liberal-Conservative or Lib-Lab Coalition left the electorate voting for a question mark. Nick Clegg’s lack of clarity during the campaign also led to a leeching away of votes and has led to a process which appears to have put party advantage to the fore.

Philosophically and ideologically the Lib Dems – since their merger with former Labour Party members – have largely abandoned classical Liberalism and opted for a social democratic paradigm of society. Many have hankered after a Lib-Lab realignment; and, in their London salons have plotted the creation of a voting system – based on the alternative vote (not single transferable votes) which would cast such realignment into stone. Indeed, some have spent their whole political lives devoted to such a project.

The prospect of a Liberal-Conservative axis genuinely never occurred to most of them, which is why it will lead to internal dissent, rupture and resignations. David Cameron has described himself as “a liberal Conservative” and those of us who have always had some sympathy with the one-nation tradition of Conservatism have warmed to his approach – but my erstwhile colleagues in the Liberal Democrats have not been among those to share that enthusiasm.

If the two parties are philosophically unlikely stable mates, the precedents do not auger particularly well either.

In the 1920s disagreements over coalition parties catastrophically ruptured the old Liberal Party.
I remember veterans of those years describing to me how coalition Ministers were shouted down at the party’s National Executive Committee – accused of being traitors. Separate parties and organisations were established. And by the 1930s there were Samuelite Liberals (supporters of Herbert Samuel and representing Asquith’s political heirs), Independent Liberals (mainly Lloyd George’s relatives) and Simonites – National Liberals, supporters of Sir John Simon who worked in coalitions with Ramsay Macdonald’s National Government and the Conservatives, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer – and close ally of the author of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain. The National Liberals were formally absorbed into the Conservative Party in 1968 but National Liberals continued to sit in the Commons, taking the Conservative whip, until 1983. Michael Heseltine’s first electoral contest was under the Conservative and National Liberal label.

In 1931 – after 25 years as a Liberal MP – Sir John Simon had refused to support Lloyd George’s Lib-Lab pact and crossed the floor to form the National Liberals. Commenting on Simon’s memoirs (Retrospect, published in 1952) Roy Jenkins described them as “barren and bloodless” and said they “were of interest primarily because they exposed his fatal capacity to turn even his substantial if partial triumphs into antic-climatic ashes.” The journalist, George Edinger, said of Simon, “Often he would touch with his finger-tips the ivory gates and the golden – and he never got inside.” This is not entirely true as he held most high political offices – Home Secretary, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Lord Chancellor. But, simply gaining a seat at the Cabinet table does not necessarily imply political success or achievement – especially if your advancement breaks your party.

Jenkins, who also held high political office and broke with his party said that Simon “was often the despair of his officials, went before the Cabinet without knowing his own mind, had a solution imposed upon him by others, and, perhaps not unnaturally in the circumstances, defended it only weakly in public.”

Liberal Democrats now embarking on their new electoral dalliance with the Conservatives need to recall these precedents and recognise that expediency -based on deal making alone – rather than a genuine meeting of minds on political principles – will end in division and tears.

If we are to move to move beyond cynical Dutch Auctions and deal making, and enter an era of co-operative politics there need to be clear statements of principle, policy and electoral intent.

As for electoral reform: In 1968, aged 17, one of my first duties as chairman of my town’s branch of young Liberals was to organise a talk by the indefatigable Miss Enid Lakeman of The Electoral Reform Society. She had been sent by the Liberal Leader, Mr Grimond, to tell us why we should support a change in the voting system to single transferable votes (STV) – a proportional system which gives voters greater choice and, unlike some systems of proportional representation, retains a constituency link (albeit in larger seats).

In the Dutch Auction of the past few days a change in the voting system has been caricatured as a deal breaker. By muddling the genuine arguments which can be made for reform with cynical attempts to cobble together self serving electoral arrangements to sustain the hegemony of particular politicians, there is a grave danger that the case for reform will be lost.

David Cameron’s offer of a referendum should be welcomed – so long as a genuine debate can be held about the respective merits of first-past-the-post (FPTP), alternative votes (AV), list systems, and STV. The referendum should not be a take it or leave it question on alternative votes (which would not provide proportionality).

Single transferable votes give voters a choice of different candidates whom they can support within each party-a kind of built-in primary, without the extra expense since each party has more than one candidate, there is wider voter choice and the power to eliminate the least suitable. There is also far more scope under STV to promote candidates from such underrepresented groups as women, ethnic minorities and so on. Paradoxically, AV has the potential to be even less proportional than first past the post and, obviously, in comparison with STV, AV would still allow parties with minority support to have large majorities in the Commons.

But any change – any move to single transferable votes or alternative votes – would need to command widespread support and should not, under any circumstances – unlike the change to party lists for European elections – be steamrollered through as a last-gasp political fix or as part of a political deal. The once smoke-filled rooms of Westminster – now smoke-free but no less calculating – are not the place in which to agree fundamental constitutional change.

Britain’s democratic deficit is about a lot more than the voting system. Parliament is widely held in contempt and our elitist political culture increasingly revolves around party preferment rather than voter engagement and an over-extended belief in campaigning by electronic remote control, rather than by intimate and participatory community politics. This has militated against voter engagement and confidence in our democratic institutions.

Failure to create national consensus about political change could leave us with a worse system than the one we have at present.

So, as David Cameron said on entering Downing Street as Prime Minister, this is not going to be an easy time. Coalitions are fraught with political challenge and danger, and, as Nick Clegg and his colleagues are about to discover, a first-past-the-system is not designed to facilitate or assist the working of coalitions. Will he be able to safely steer his ship to the safer waters of a reformed voting system or be condemned, like the captain of the phantom ship, The Flying Dutchman, to sail a ship that can thereafter never go home – a fate which occurred after playing Dice for his own soul with the Devil? It’s a curse which Nick Clegg would do well to avoid  – Published May 2010