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Liberal Democrat Conference review

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Jane Dodds: Leader addresses conference

THE WELSH L​IBERAL DEMOCRATS gathered at The Village Hotel, Cardiff over the weekend, vowing to foster ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’ and to campaign to bring about a Ratification Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.

While the party has had a punishing time in the most recent round of elections, retaining only a single AM in the 2016 National Assembly Election and losing their final Welsh MP in Theresa May’s snap General Election, the prevailing mood at this weekend’s conference was upbeat.

A PARTY ON THE WAY BACK?

There was an appeal for traditional, Welsh Liberal values by Party President, Cllr William Powell, Mid and West Wales AM between 2011 – 16. Cllr Powell also paid an emotional tribute to his friend, party stalwart and former Preseli Parliamentary Candidate Nick Tregoning, leading to a short silence and round of applause. The former Swansea Council Cabinet Member and Presiding Officer, who died recently, represented the best in the Welsh Liberal tradition, and ‘thought and fought more for others than for himself.’

A keynote speech by new Welsh Lib Dem leader, Jane Dodds, who was elected in November last year, replacing Mark Williams, former Ceredigion MP, was particularly well received. Not shying away from the party’s recent challenges, Ms Dodds said: “There’s no denying we’ve had a difficult few years. While the wounds of the last few years are still visible, we are still fighting.”

Ms Dodds emphasised that the party’s top priorities must be to battle homelessness and poverty, as ‘The nasty party in Westminster doggedly pursues deeper cuts in public finances, vulnerable people scraping by to survive, without access to public services, with no hope for their future”

Turning to the Party’s signature policy on Brexit, the new leader continued: “We have to be clear in our opposition to the UK government’s disastrous handling of the biggest decision our country has faced in a generation…Whether we like it or not, Wales voted to leave the EU. But – and it’s a big but – it was not on the basis that we would leave under any circumstances.”

Concluding, she said: “We need to make sure we have the ideas in place that address the needs of communities and people living in Wales, and we have to translate these ideas into winning votes. Not power for the sake of power, but power so we can change people’s lives for the better, putting us back at the heart of Welsh politics, where we belong.”

A FREE AND FAIR WALES

Ms Dodds also presented a motion calling for the creation of ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’, emphasising that the party’s mission for the immediate future should be to develop new policies to work towards this goal.

“We need to make sure we have an economy and a society which offers opportunities to all…A Wales of hope and optimism.”

Cardiff Councillor Rhys Taylor was amongst those to speak in favour of the motion, stating: “We know what we stand for, but we’re not always very clear about articulating that. It’s an aspirational vision for Wales and our society.’

Veteran Ynys Mon Councillor and former Cabinet Member, Aled Morris Jones, also spoke in favour of the motion, saying: “Never has there been a time when there has been a greater need for liberalism. We must stand up for moderation because it is under threat, both here and across the world.”

Summating the motion, Party President William Powell said: “It is ambitious, it will need a lot of work and I sense that people in this room and in our local parties are up for that. It is central to rebuilding our party and to our resurgence.”

The motion was supported unanimously.

Party Members and supporters also had the opportunity to quiz Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, and to debate motions on plans to bury radioactive waste off the coast of Wales. There was also a passionate appeal for legal clarity over access to waterways for water sports enthusiasts from Welsh Paralympian and first time conference speaker, Frances Bateman.

BREXIT, SYRIA, EQUALITY DEBATED

The weekend also included an expert panel discussion on Brexit with Ms Dodds, Ms Williams, Liberal Democrat Federal President, Baroness Sal Brinton and former MEP Peter Price, chaired by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire Lib Dem activist and Newbie Hilton Marlton. During the session, members agreed to keep battling Brexit, working across party lines with all Remain supporters, which was confirmed by an explicit #ExitFromBrexit motion on the Sunday morning.

Baroness Sal Brinton also gave a keynote speech, in which she criticised Theresa May for not giving MPs a vote on military action against Syria, saying that to do so was “further diminishing the standing of Britain in the world”. And she was optimistic about the party’s future prospects, saying: “I know the future of the Welsh party is in good hands.’

The second day of the conference also included a motion on the Welsh Government’s new plans to reform local government in Wales. Although the motion agreed with the principle of cutting the number of councils in Wales, it suggested the final number should be 14 or 15 – and emphasised the importance of respecting localism and democratic structures to reflect that.

Members also backed a motion calling for schools in Wales to introduce gender-neutral uniforms. Presenting the motion, Cllr Rhys Taylor of Cardiff said: “We should not dictate to young people what they should wear outside religious codes.” He added more support and training should be offered to teachers in supporting LGBT pupils.

Amy Gaskin of Swansea University’s branch of the party also spoke in support of the motion, saying: “There’s increasing evidence that male and female brains just don’t exist. It’s more of a mosaic”.

“What right do we have to tell kids they should wear trousers or a skirt, or a tie or no tie?” she asked.

Sunday also saw Baroness Christine Humphreys of Llanrwst, North Wales AM from 1999 until 2001, appointed as the party’s new Deputy Leader. She was the only nominee.

Closing the conference, Welsh Party President William Powell said: “We’ve got a rich vein of new talent emerging in the party.”

Saying he felt a sense of “optimism and positivism, Mr Powell called for: “A kinder, gentler and more inclusive values-based politics – that is what Jane (Dodds) and our wider leadership want to introduce.”

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Politics

Ben Lake MP supports campaign to close deadly cancer gap

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Ben Lake MP is backing calls from the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) to end a vicious cycle which has seen survivability stagnate amongst the six deadliest cancers over the last decade.

Ben Lake MP met charity members of the LSCT in the House of Commons on 4 February to coincide with World Cancer Day.

The LSCT represents six ‘less survivable cancers’, lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach, with an average five year survival rate of 14% due to a legacy of neglect and underfunding. The Taskforce aims to double the survivability of these cancers to 28% by 2029.

At the event, Ben Lake met with cancer specialists and patients with first-hand experience of these ‘less survivable cancers’. They learnt about the critical situation for people diagnosed with these cancers and the urgent need for a step change in targeted investment in research in order to make much-needed diagnosis and treatment breakthroughs.

Ben Lake MP attended the event and said: “I am pleased to speak out for the less survivable cancers this World Cancer Day. We have made incredible steps in treatment and prognosis for many cancers and we now need targeted action to close the deadly cancer gap for these less survivable cancers”.

Anna Jewell, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce added:

“We are delighted that Ben Lake MP shares our concerns about the stark inequalities in cancer outcomes.

“There are some cancers which have seen remarkable progress in survivability but others that are just as deadly as they were decades ago. Together, these ‘less survivable cancers’ make up half of all common cancer deaths in the UK.

“Today we are calling on the UK governments to commit to doubling survival rates from 14% to 28% by 2029 and I’d like to thank Ben Lake MP for supporting our campaign to close the deadly cancer gap.”

The LSCT includes Action Against Heartburn, the British Liver Trust, Guts UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, The Brain Tumour Charity and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

Sarah Lindsell, Chief Executive of The Brain Tumour Charity, added:”Every year, thousands of people diagnosed with a less-survivable cancer, including those with brain cancer, are denied even the hope of a cure. Many are told they have only months to live. That has to change.

“We need more research and a committed drive towards improving survival for these cancers, so that fewer lives are cut brutally short and fewer families are left devastated by loss.”

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Politics

Ceredigion councillors to consider 4% increase in council tax

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COUNTY councillors in Ceredigion will be asked to consider a 4% increase in the Council tax rate when they meet on 5 March 2020.

They will consider the rate after Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet recommended the increase to ensure that there are no further cuts to council services in the next financial year.

The proposed increase would mean that an average Band D property in Ceredigion would pay £1,364.82 of council tax annually, an increase of approximately £1 per week.

Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn is the Leader of the Council. She said: “We are proposing to the Council that the Council tax rate is increased at a similar level as our government funding has increased. This means that all Council services would be protected from further cuts during next year. The increase would meet the increased demands placed on social care budgets which we cannot avoid.”

The overall Council tax rate increase will be set by three key components, the County Council’s tax, the precept of Town and Community Councils and the Police precept. Increases set by the Police and Town and Community Councils result in a combined increase yet to be calculated.

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Community

Elin Jones congratulates Ceredigion Talking Paper in National Assembly

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AM marks 50 years of service by local news service for the blind

Elin Jones AM has congratulated the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper in a statement in the National Assembly for Wales, marking 50 years of service to blind people in Ceredigion and beyond.

In her statement on Wednesday the 20th of January, Elin Jones said:

“Fifty years ago, in January 1970, an innovative charity was established in Ceredigion for blind people, offering the first service of its kind in Wales and the United Kingdom – a service that would enable the blind people of Ceredigion to hear the latest local news in the press.

“That innovative scheme was the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper.

“The talking newspaper was set up by Ronald Sturt, a lecturer at the College of Librarianship in Llanbadarn. Initially, the recordings of local voices reading articles from the local press were on tape cassettes and provided to 18 people.

“Nowadays, the recordings are on a USB, and there are over a hundred regular listeners of the talking newspaper and more than 60 volunteers contributing regularly. The recordings are published weekly and the coverage includes the Cambrian News, Golwg and Y Cymro.

“One reader, Eileen Sinnett, has volunteered continuously for fifty years. What a contribution she has made!

“I would like to congratulate the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper for breaking new ground in 1970, for 50 years of service and for bringing the news, in both Welsh and English, to those who cannot see or read it in Ceredigion and beyond.”

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