Sunday, 11 March 2018

Thoughts on the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2018

The stringency of the austerity measures....Brexit.......The Housing Crisis.....issues that are discussed by people on a daily basis at the moment, whether explicitly or implicitly. Half the time it can feel like the structural problems connected with our society: inequality of opportunity, wage stagnation, low productivity, a growing demand for public services can seem insurmountable. Disengagement with politics remains an issue, particularly for Millennials and Generation Z (16-35). Hope for a brighter, more equal future flickers rather than burns brightly, which is why it's more important than ever to be engaging with voters and non-voters through the dissemination of an inclusive, ambitious and progressive vision for the country that will try to address our structural challenges head-on. I believe the party that can best articulate such a vision at a grassroots local and national level will have a real chance of winning a majority at the next General Election. The question is, whether there is a party out there who can listen to the electorate AND non-electorate, build political engagement and articulate a vision, in the shadow of disruptive Brexit negotiations.

This Mothering Sunday afternoon I decided to tune into Sir Vince Cable's (the leader of the Liberal Democrats) closing speech to Spring Conference delegates in Southport, which was streamed live via Periscope and also simultaneously disseminated via YouTube and Facebook live. I was probably only one of a couple thousand viewers who made such a decision but I didn't feel it was an entirely wasted activity. Cable came across as clearly passionate about campaigning for an #ExitFromBrexit (i.e. a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal with an option to Remain in the EU) and well-informed about current domestic issues and the need for pragmatic, wide-ranging solutions. Yet I did wonder whether he was already preaching to the converted, although it is important to empower them to go out campaigning in constituencies across the UK in all kinds of places (including care homes, Mr Cable!!) I also thought his comments RE Leave voters were a little hap-hazard: trying to reduce the reasons why older voters backed Brexit down to one reason: nostalgia for a less diverse Britain isn't founded entirely on evidence- a minority of voters may have done so but they are exactly that, a minority. Hmm...Anyways onto the policy announcements...


The Lib Dems certainly have a number of policies that I believe would appeal to the electorate at large: protecting per pupil funding in real terms for all pupils including in Further Education, protecting the Pupil Premium, increasing the Early Years Pupil Premium by £700 to £1000 a year, requiring teachers in state schools to have QTS (Qualified Teaching Status) or working towards it and providing at least 50 hours of Continuing Professional Development per year for teachers. In addition to these, the Lib Dems are proposing quite radical changes: abolishing Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs with moderated teacher assessments and a standardisation test, abolishing Regional Schools Commissioners, making local authorities responsible for planning, exclusions and admissions and replacing Ofsted with a new inspection system, looking at emotional wellbeing of teachers and students in addition to test scores. I'm also glad to see SEND pupils' needs mentioned, with a desire to reduce the number of SEND pupils being excluded from mainstream school, and to see the proposal for a named person (a pastoral team lead preferably) who is responsible for craft whole school policies and approaches towards mental health.

I agree with the idea behind “Every Child Empowered”, ensuring that children and young people in constituencies across the country, including in deprived wards and rural villages and hamlets get access to the skills they need to prepare them fully for adult life: who can argue against providing First Aid training in schools and colleges if it means it reduces the amount of unnecessary GP appointments, A&E admissions and calls to NHS helplines? Who can argue with introducing comprehensive LGBTQIA+ Relationships and Sex Education if it helps to reduce instances of sexual assault, abuse, under-age pregnancies or misinformation about gender identities? Who can argue against teaching children about budgeting and debt management if it allows them to make informed decisions about borrowing and reduces the number of people resorting to loan sharks? Financial literacy, First Aid and RSE should all be on the National Curriculum, as part of the PSHE and Citizenship programmes of study and there should be funding given by Government directly to schools to allow for external providers to deliver sessions, taking the pressure off teachers who may not have the time to be researching such topics in depth with students. Such a broad curriculum, a “Curriculum for Life” should be required to be taught in academy and free schools and public schools should be encouraged to reform their curriculum offer.

There's also talk of introducing Personal Education Accounts, one for 16-18 year olds and one specifically for adult learners to help pay for training and skills courses delivered online, at local FE colleges and in community centres and libraries will help people access quality courses and aid their career development. Cable announced in his speech that a Commission on Life Long Learning will be set up to explore this policy idea further.

There's a lot of detailed recommendations and I'd refer those interested in finding out more to check out the policy document here:

NHS, Social Care and Mental Health:

Our NHS remains greatly under-pressure and little practical action has been taken by the Tory Government to try and alleviate such pressures. The Tories may claim that health spending is at record levels but it has not been enough given the rise in demand for services. They and previous governments have failed to prepare adequately for the ageing of our population. A&E waiting times are now the highest they have ever been: only 85% of patients in England were seen under 4 hours. The United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust missed its waiting time target by 25% and has missed every target for A&E and cancer care for every year since 2014. For Lincolnshire residents, this is extremely concerning. The Lib Dems F18: The NHS at 70 motion recognises the pressure that NHS Trusts are under and are calling on the Tory Government to provide £4bn that the NHS will need for 2018/19 financial year, with an addition £2bn of funding given to local authorities to fund social care. Additionally, the Lib Dems want to see the introduction of a special NHS passport to allow 59,000 NHS professionals from the EU an automatic guaranteed right to remain following Brexit and for bursaries for student nurses to be reintroducted to encourage more British people to decide to train to be a nurse and thereby reduce the nursing shortage in hospitals and care homes across the country.

Mental Health care has not improved satisfactory under this Tory Government. Waiting times for referral remain far too long, demand for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services has increased, with 1 in 5 children who have been referred to local CAMHS services being rejected for treatment :that's a total of 39,652 children ( This is concerning given that 1 in 10 children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 suffer from a mental health condition and up to 20% of children will experience a mental health condition in any given year. NHS CAMHS are currently only funded to meet 25% of cases but that is expected to increase to 33% by 2021. The Government has committed to recruiting 1,700 more therapists and supervisors and to ensure that an extra 70,000 children and young people are able to access CAMHS but it is unclear whether such targets will be achieved.

Norman Lamb has been a passionate campaigner for better Mental Health service provision and thus I'm not surprised to see some concrete policy suggestions being offered in F18: the earmarked £1.3bn of spending being brought forward to improve mental health service provision, ending out-of-area placements, very important for people living in rural areas such as Metheringham and the protection and promotion of community pharmacies. Perhaps the most radical suggestion, and one that has been made by Lamb for years, is the creation of a cross-party committee to look at funding the NHS and Social Care system long term. Raising the level of income tax by 1p in the £1 to fund social care short-term would help alleviate funding pressures but there has to be a sustainable long-term solution found and it's in the political interests of all parties concerned to find such a solution. Let's see if that happens anytime soon. I'm not holding my breath.


Britain needs a housing revolution in order to ensure that every person has a suitable and safe roof over their head regardless of their socio-economic circumstances. It's ridiculous to think that the peak of house building in the UK was 1968 and that in 2018 we face a situation where 125,000 children are classed as homeless and rough sleepers are dying out on our streets, despite the best efforts of compassionate individuals and organisations such as The Nomad Trust, LEAP and Lincolnshire YMCA to help them. Access to decent housing should be viewed as a human right. A house should be a place to call home, not an investment to feel obligated to upkeep with no families living in it to bring the place to life. Yet the Government (when in coalition with the Lib Dems between 2010 and 2015 and afterwards) more than halved the state housing development budget for local councils and housing associations from £11bn in 2010 to £5.3bn last year. The Local Government Association revealed that local councils and their communities had granted nearly twice as many planning permissions (321,000) as the number of new homes that had been completed (183,000) last year. The issue is not with planning permission being granted, it's with housebuilders not building enough homes once they have planning permission granted.

It's good to see the Lib Dems reaffirm their commitment to building 300,000 houses a year in England by 2022 and to scrapping the draconian housing borrowing cap. I agree with the Lib Dems that local authorities must be able to access loans to build and invest in quality affordable and social housing, including “borrowing from the Public Works Loan board to buy land for housing and build affordable and social housing on the same terms they are currently borrowing to purchase commercial property” ( I also believe local authorities should be given the right to scrap Right To Buy in their area, when assessments of local need have been carried out. Any proceeds from the sale of council houses by local authorities should be used to find new social housing for homeless families and I'd argue also to acquire adapted social housing for disabled residents who have been on the council house waiting list for more than 2 years. Councils should also have powers to monitor housing developments, to ensure that “poor door” practices are abandoned. Redevelopment of housing estates must not lead to a decrease in social housing: one of the best ways to prevent this from happening would be to introduce a (I believe legal) “right of return for all residents on the same terms as their pre-regeneration tenancy” ( Such policies would benefit residents first and foremost and help to ensure community cohesion is maintained post the end of regeneration projects. I'd only add that PM May's suggestion of changing the use of empty retail properties in inner city areas would be beneficial to adopt and that the EDMO legislation strengthening should allow local authorities the opportunity to compulsory purchase empty retail property for the expressed purpose of creating social housing for the homeless and low income families with children. Landbanking is also an issue that needs to be resolved: it's not right that developers can be allowed to purchase land for the specific purpose of building new homes and then not start to build them within a 2 year period. Perhaps there needs to be compulsory purchases made if landbanking continued beyond a 2 year slot.

Rural Affairs:

I have spoken to numerous rural voters who do feel the issues that they raise are being ignored by the current Conservative government. In Lincolnshire, we have had streetlights turned off in villages and hamlets across the county and it has made some residents feel too scared to walk to the pub or to visit their friends at night for fear of being mugged, assaulted or worse. The safety of our county's residents has to trump ideologically driven efficiency savings but our Conservative controlled County Council has failed to listen to concerns and reverse the policy in full. I've spoken to rural residents in the Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency worried about the continued closure of Grantham A&E at night and wondering whether it will eventually be downgraded or closed through the implementation of Lincolnshire's Sustainability and Transformation Plans, forcing them to travel for an hour just to get medical attention at Lincoln County Hospital's already under-pressure A&E. I'm pleased to see the adoption of motion F8: A Rural Future: Time To Act by conference delegates, which includes a specific commitment to “increasing the availability of affordable housing” through the reduction of second home ownership (allowing local authorities to increase tax on second homes through a stamp duty surcharge or an increase in council tax rate). The installation of Superfast broadband which is defined as being “over 30 Mbps download speeds and 6 Mbps upload speeds” should continue to be a priority, so businesses and households in Chapel St Leonards have an ability to access the internet at the same speed as those based in Lincoln.

I would like to see the introduction of a Young Person's Bus Discount Card, for all young people aged 16-21 living in rural areas which provides then with 2/3 discount on bus fares. This will allow young people to be able to afford to travel across Lincolnshire, visiting friends, joining community youth clubs and attending training sessions, which will help reduce their sense of rural isolation. I agree with the notion of creating more community centre hubs providing a multitude of services to residents but would like to see investment come from central Government in order to facilitate such creation. Local authorities are overstretched and do not have the financial resources spare to shoulder the majority of the financial burden for these projects.

I agree with proposals to increase Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to help maintain woodlands and forests, reduce soil erosion and uphold animal rights. Investment in flood prevention in rural constituencies and launching a National Fund for Coastal Change are also sentient policy ideas which clearly demonstrate eco-friendly credentials.

Voter Engagement and Equality and Diversity:

Cable talked of the need to improve diversity within the Lib Dem party in his speech, a comment which I respect him for making and one which I hope will be taken on board. The Lib Dems are doing well in local council by-elections across the country at the country at the moment, with residents listening to key policy ideas and buying into their vision for an open, tolerant and inclusive society. Credit for this success has to go to local campaigners, councillors and candidates who engage with voters and current non-voters on the doorstep, listening to their concerns and not immediately judging them their Brexit vote. This work needs to continue to grow in order to increase the number of MPs at the next General Election. Increasing awareness of the policy platform is half the battle. I'd argue that Lib Dems should set up more central meetings, held at village halls and community centres, liaising with local third sector organisations and allowing people to be honest, open and frank about their views. Organising meetings in care homes would be innovative and demonstrate that the party cares about all voters: after all, Brexit may lead to a reduction in sustainability staffing levels which will then affect them directly.

It was great to see a renewed commitment to advocating for electoral reform, making the case for the introduction of a right to vote for 16 and 17 year olds and supporting the private members bill put forward by Labour MP Peter Kyle. There's also a campaign being run to raise awareness that EU citizens can vote in local elections. More campaigning should be done on the need for House of Lords reform to build support for the creation of an elected House of Lords (or change of name...e.g. to a Senate or something similar). Supporting devolution of powers to local authorities (including those on housing proposed under F4) should be a priority too and may win over more skeptical voters.

It was amazing to see via Twitter and by watching some of the Spring Conference via YouTube the wealth of speakers who had been invited to talk about their personal experiences and ideas for the future. A motion put forward by Jess Insall, a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems on gender neutral school uniforms, arguing that schools should present uniform options that can be worn by pupils of all genders was praised and passed by delegates for being inclusive and feminist. There was no mainstream platforming of transphobic views masquerading as real feminism by trans exclusionary radical feminists. The party can build on their record for inclusion through further engagement with working class rural people, especially in constituencies such as Sleaford and North Hykeham, Gainsborough, Grantham and Stamford, Boston and Skegness and Louth and Horncastle. Engagement with habitual Conservative voters through promotion of rural policies and building up a reputation for economic credibility will also prove fruitful, as will engagement with suburban voters particularly with a number of young, passionate and thoughtful candidates standing in this year's local elections.

Back Away from the Brexit:

Of all the policy suggestions and motions passed at this year's Spring Conference, perhaps the one which will garner the most attention from ordinary people and the mainstream leader is the Lib Dem's commitment to an Exit From Brexit. I've spoken to voters and non-voters across Lincolnshire over the past few months about their views towards Brexit and it's clear there is still a lot of passion emanating from Remain and Leave voters, with no overall consensus as to the best way forward. Non- referendum voters feel that the debate hasn't moved on since June 2016 and a number are concerned about the potential economic and cultural effects Brexit may have on Lincoln and Lincolnshire. Even the most ardent of Leave voters I have spoken to have occasionally expressed their concerns. I remember talking to a very forthright retired plasterer, who believed in the need to take back control of sovereignty from Brussels but worried about whether his pension contributions could decrease if the Tory government did not secure “ more beneficial” free trade agreements with the US Trump administration or Commonwealth member states. A young lady, who works at a care home in Lincoln and voted Leave in 2016 told me that she was worried her workload may increase if the home couldn't replace the carers who had decided to leave the UK or were thinking of leaving the UK once Brexit happens afters March 2019. A young guy who is a very committed Conservative didn't like the fact that food prices may rise following a No-Deal situation, where the UK will have to rely on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in order to keep our economy alive. For certain elements of the mainstream media and Tory Brexiteers to deny such levels of anxiety about the potential consequences of Brexit exist, even in Leave voting areas such as Lincoln, is to deny the reality of the situation. It is inevitable that some voters will decide to change their mind, and would vote Remain in another referendum. More importantly though it is vital that the main political parties have strategic plans in place that will help mitigate any potential negative economic and cultural effects of Brexit. The Tories never talk of such plans, only making passing references to their Impact War Chest and hoping that a deal can be secured that allows them to maintain a veneer of economic competence. The Lib Dems have spelled out some policies but I personally feel more work needs to be done to craft policies that can be enacted in the event Brexit does happen. Better to be prepared and hope that Brexit doesn't happen in a No Deal form or even better, doesn't happen, than to fail to prepare for the No Deal Brexit. Perhaps such policies will be formulated and announced once a draft trade deal has been secured by Double D et al. But don't hold your breath that they can secure a trade deal, let alone a good one.

Whichever way Brexit is spun, whether it's a “take back control” or a “jobs first” type, it looks like it is going to lead to a contraction of the economy and potentially further cuts to our public services. As Mr Cable made clear in his speech, such measures would hurt the most vulnerable in our society who rely on effective public service provision for support. Jeremy Corbyn has pretty much committed the Labour Party to leaving the Single Market, remains very cagey about what a Customs Union that's not the current EU Customs Union would look like and has dismissed out of hand calls for a referendum on the Brexit deal. I don't know whether the Labour position will evolve as we get closer to the day of Brexit but one positive advantage for the Lib Dems is that they have a very clear Brexit position and are not afraid to stick to it.


The Lib Dems have a lot of work to do if they are to regain seats at the next General Election. The Survation poll currently puts them at 9%, whilst Labour have seen a surge in support, placing them at 44% ( Such poll numbers may be optimistic in both cases and may change upwards or downwards as the nature of the Brexit deal becomes clear. The motions passed at the Lib Dem Spring Conference, and the passion for a liberal future expressed by speakers, including Mr Cable may go some way towards changing voters' minds. It'll be interesting to see what new policies are developed in time for the Autumn Conference....unless a General Election happens before then. Who knows in our currently unpredictable political climate?

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Bojo's Valentine's Day “Unity” speech....went down like a lead balloon with Remainer Me

The arch Brexiteers on Twitter have been quite quiet of late. It seems almost as if some of them have accepted that trying to shoehorn Remainers like me into accepting their form of Brexit without trying to put forward persuasive arguments has backfired on them. PM May's credibility level is far from glowing and with the rift between moderate, liberal Bright Blue Tories and Mogglodytes becoming ever more transparent, there's a desperate scramble to try and convince the electorate at large that the Tory form of Brexit will be far removed from a Faragiste one. What do the “nationalists but not UKIP nationalists”decide to do when the chips are down? They wheel out the “liberal” unifier in chief/bumbling buffoon Boris Johnson, the man who is famously prone to using flowery rhetoric to say the most facepalm cringeiest of things.

The speech, delivered at the right-wing Policy Exchange was not exactly packed to the rafters with substance. There was some recognition of the anxiety that Remain voters have felt with regards to Brexit: I have experienced both economic and cultural anxiety and none of the reports released by Brexiteer leaning groups have eased my feelings of anxiety. The recent revelations emanating from the Brexit Impact Assessments makes me even more fearful of what might happen, not less. There was no new information with regards to economic policy or trade negotiations going forward (surprise, surprise) nor were there any new commitments with regards to Irish border arrangements. Bojo talked about the potential for a few giveaways for voters, namely cutting VAT on “domestic fuel and other products” as well as simplifying planning procedures by cutting the number of environmental impact assessments done
(he must have been speaking to his frenemy Gove about that one). Of course there was no mention about getting rid of the tampon tax or reducing VAT on products as a whole, arguments have been advanced by socialist proponents of Brexit. Then again there was no mention of the additional VAT burdens that businesses may face following Brexit, when an estimated 130,000 may be expected to pay VAT upfront for the first time on goods imported from the EU. As Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough remarked last month, the implications of Brexit on the tax system “are yet to be fully explored” (

The “Take Back Control” narrative was trotted out, albeit cloaked in philosophical liberal idealism with what may appear at first vague sentiments about national common sympathies and ensuring that citizens consent to being ruled by the Government that serves them. Bojo has interpreted Mill's words as meaning that only the UK as a nation, can be seen to be “united” amongst ourselves “by common sympathies (feelings) which do not exist” between ourselves and others that can legitimise the work of the state. This ties in with the idea that the Leave vote was a withdrawal of consent to be involved in the making of EU regulations and directives thereby rejecting membership of the Single Market.
John Stuart Mill's concept has been applied in discussions about sovereignty for donkeys years. Mill did believe that nationality primarily comes from political identity and a common national history. The success of the European Union comes, as Simon Glendinning has argued, “from cultural and national diversities across the continent”. Mill's liberal theory has been used to discuss the possibility of a federal Europe: I read an excellent article by Corrado Morricone from Durham University where he argues that “whilst Mill thinks, as a general rule that free institutions are only possible in a country constituted of a single nationality, (Mill) leaves room for the possibility of a sort of multinational state” yet such a state would be very difficult to achieve and may even go against the idea of the EU being diverse and liberal
( It's not an idea that has gained traction in European countries despite what Brexiteers may be stating.

I can understand the desire for self-determination, that some people want to believe that laws should only be passed by MPs (and helped by the Lords, who, are ironically not elected by the UK electorate at large but in my eyes should be). Yet it is pure fallacy to argue that EU regulations and directives would necessarily be any less understandable because they may be drafted in more than one language or that voters would not be able to understand the motives of MEPs who help draft regulations and directives. It's also rather strange that Johnson seems to suggest that EU laws are worse because they are “expressly teleological...there to achieve a political goal”. There are plenty of UK laws that may be interpreted as being in place to achieve a political goal (censorship laws, anyone); it depends on how you define what a “political goal” happens to be.

As for Bojo asking people to name their MEP, I conducted a survey in Lincoln back in 2016 asking people on the High Street to name the MP for Lincoln (who at the time was Leave supporting Karl McCartney) and 60% of the people I asked had no idea who the MP was. That should indicate that increasing political engagement through more community engagement is important for national and European elections (should we have anymore in the future): I'm sure if more voters had understood how the European Parliament worked and had gotten to meet their local MEP candidates, the higher the participation rate in European elections would have been.
Any areas of consensus referred to in the speech were pretty much to be expected: most voters on both sides of the Brexit debate would have expected the Tories to state openly that they will continue to co-operate with our allies in the EU on national security matters and very few voters would disagree with the UK continuing to participate in academic exchange schemes, with the University of Lincoln hopefully working with European counterparts. That being said, Bojo wants to see the UK diverging from EU policy with regards to medical research, stating Britain will require a new “regulatory framework, scrupulous and moral, but not afraid of the new” that embraces new stem cell technology. What that actually means in practice is far from clear.

The comment about Brits continuing to be European “both practically and psychologically” probably didn't go down all that well with UKIPpers but nonetheless it is the truth. There will always be Brits, like myself, with European heritage who will always define themselves as British European. My Twitter handle even points out I am half Irish, half Norwegian-Swedish. Yet Bojo couldn't leave the subject alone. Ever the hypocrite, Johnson follows the comment with some bizzare diatribe about British people living abroad as being akin to God's chosen people in the 21st century, the “points of light scattered across an intermittently darkening globe” (let's not forget Bojo compared Theresa May to Moses in the speech....I'd say she was acting more like Rod Hull trying to look for a pledge of loyalty from Emu). Such an example of Brexiteer arrogance. Then again throughout the speech I couldn't help but raise a smile and think how absolutely up his own arse Bojo and Brits like him must be, thinking they are the best at nearly everything and screw everyone else. I'm prepared to admit us Brits are amazeballs but let's not pretend we're free from fault when being abroad. The recent disturbing Oxfam revelations unfortunately prove otherwise.

It infuriates me to see Bojo claim he's not against immigration per se and yet not only does he boast about rich French people spending money in London when he was Mayor but he chooses only to praise the EU migrants who enter the country who are doctors when he should also be praising EU migrants who come to this country to help care for older and severely disabled people in nursing homes and clean his hotel rooms when he checks out. It reinforces the notion that his form of Brexit and the people he and his lot represent, is going to benefit the richest in our society at the expense of the most vulnerable and most hard-working families of this country. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Bojo boasts that the fortunes of UKIP have “gone into a long deserved eclipse” and yet conveniently forgets the record of certain Conservatives when talking about immigration. Remember PM May's 2015 speech to the Conservative Conference where she told delegates that immigrants could make society “less cohesive” and peddled the myth of immigrants job-stealing, something she was critiqued for by the Institute for Directors: “The myth of the job-stealing immigrant is nonsense. Immigrants do not steal jobs, they help fill vital skill shortages and, in doing so, create demand and more jobs.” ( Then let's not forget that leaked disgusting draft immigration policy document that was being touted as Britain's position post-Brexit the final version of which we will not see until Autumn 2018. Conservative members are determined to see reforms to the system which will limit the amount of so-called “low skilled” workers from coming to the UK which is pretty much the same as what Farage wants to see. Lord Green for example, chairman of MigrantWatch UK, moaned that EU migrants cost the UK taxpayer £4.4bn in 2014/15 ( yet would never dream of openly stating he'd be in favour of cutting the working age benefits of British workers. Remainers liberals like myself who are in favour of maintaining freedom of movement will never be swayed by such banal immigration arguments. Then again Bojo and his brigade must think voters have short memories. Not quite that short, Bojo!

For Brexiteers, the Brexit process is grounded in a politics of hope. Remainers, Leavers, people who couldn't vote and those who didn't want to vote all share a hope for a brighter, more prosperous future, one where there is enough money to pay for appropriate NHS and adult social care. Bojo wants PM May and the Cabinet to present an optimistic vision and believes that “it is the government's duty to advocate and explain the mission on which we are now engaged”. It has to mean more than “going global”....the Government needs to explain how its mission is going to effect our domestic policy, not just our trade policy. Bojo and his “merry” band of Brexiteers defend the Government's record reasonably well. John Redwood, MP for Wokingham has claimed that voters should be cheerful when it comes to the long-term economic outlook for the country. The level of growth has been sluggish: preliminary figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that growth in 2017 was 1.5%, compared with figures released by Eurostat which confirm that the Eurozone grew by 2.7% in 2017 ( The UK's economy is now growing more slowly than the Eurozone economy and yet Brexiteers think leaving the EU will somehow solve our economic woes. LOL. If that doesn't make you grit your teeth, it's important to point out that last month the International Monetary Fund has downgraded the UK's economic growth forecast down to 1.5% for 2019 (down 0.1%), whereas Germany's growth has been upgraded from 1.5% to 2% for 2019 ( These Tory Brexiteers claim their policy platform already allows for the economy to boom, yet the figures do not back that claim up. And yes, talking about the current Tory policy platform matters in discussions on Brexit. The effects of years of austerity on our public services and community cohesion is clear for all of us to see, yet there are voters are prepared to continue to back the party responsible for that austerity because they think Brexit will help reverse some of those austerity measures is quite frankly baffling. They are prepared to trust the same party who has presided over ridiculous cuts to local authority budgets: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism examined the finances of 150 councils and found the average deficit to be £14.7m, with many councils under the greatest financial pressure being under Tory control ( Our public services are being underfunded, our wonderful public service staff are becoming increasingly demoralised and yet it's strange how Brexiteers just want to focus on getting more legislative powers for Parliament and not lift much of a finger to help local authorities, NHS Trusts, Police Forces, Ambulance Trusts and Fire Services, many of whom are struggling to keep themselves afloat.

Bojo may talk about the lack of opportunities for British born young people. Yet it is his party that has failed to invest adequately in growing the number of highly-paid job opportunities, especially in the North East and it is his party that has been far too slow off the mark to encourage businesses to invest in high quality apprenticeships not just for 16-24 year olds but also for those workers who want and need to retrain in order to access a more secure career. Bojo wants international students to be able to come to the UK but they need to be able to do so without fear of being deported within a few months of finishing their course (and we need to take students out of the migration figures too). Bojo talks about wanting to change Britain from “a low wage, low productivity economy to a high wage, high productivity” one yet it was Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had the audacity to blame an increase in the number of disabled workers for low productivity growth in the economy. It's his party who refuses to ban exploitative zero hours contracts, to ban unpaid internships lasting over a month or introduce a living wage that would allow people to afford to pay their rent without breaking into a cold sweat every 5 minutes. Why can't Bojo and his lot talk about social housing or the NHS with the same level of enthusiasm as Brexit?

What's even more baffling is there are still Labour voters who think leaving the EU will somehow reduce the level of austerity. I remember reading in The Guardian back in 2016 Frank Field using the same language as Bojo used in his speech today with regards to immigration, praising highly skilled migrants but failing to acknowledge the hard work done by care staff and housekeepers. Dennis Skinner, the “Beast of Bolsover” considered a hero by socialist Labour party members, attacks the Tories quite rightly on their record in Government, yet fails to realise the dangers posed by deregulation; instead he dreams of the possibility of a socialist state becoming a reality under Corbyn, a dream looking increasingly unlikely given the drop in support in the polls for Labour. At least Skinner has been consistent in his opposition to the EU- he's voted consistently against every treaty, including the Maastricht one. His disagreement with the EU is based on worker exploitation (despite the introduction of worker-friendly policies like the Working Time Directive 1998). Yet I'm surprised Skinner, Field et al don't feel at all nervous about the EU Withdrawal Bill becoming a Tory power grab or them being in the driving seat during this Brexit process but then as long as we're out of the EU I guess he's not particularly that bothered. More fool him and Field and Labour Brexiteers in general I say.

Another issue with the speech was the implicit indication that the Government would be prepared to preside over a “bonfire of regulations”. A consistent narrative used by those who favour a Clean Brexit (i.e. free trade agreement or at worst using World Trade Organisation rules) is one that a deregulated Britain would automatically be a better Britain for businesses. One person who commented on Paul Goodman's Conservative Home article Why our European neighbours think we're a basket case, stated that Brexit shouldn't happen unless there was deregulation ( It didn't take long for business organisations to rebut any assertion implied from Bojo's speech that businesses agree with mass deregulation. John Foster CBI's Director of Campaigns for example, which is trying to encourage members to ditch Remain and Leave labels used his response to make it clear that some businesses value the current regulatory framework they operate in: “our aerospace, automotive and chemical sectors, to name a few, all have highly integrated European supply chains that benefit from consistent regulation” (
Brexiteers are terrified at the prospect of a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal gaining traction with voters. Bojo dismissed the wishes of such Remainers, saying any referendum would be “a disastrous mistake.....bringing another year of wrangling and turmoil and feuding in which the whole country would lose”. Nothing new there then!

This speech was really about Bojo showcasing his leadership credentials in readiness for a potential Tory leadership election. He may have demonstrated his unwavering loyalty towards PM May in public, stating that she is someone who “can do a great Brexit deal” but that's only because she's prepared to stick to the idea of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. Bojo knows he can rock the boat if he wants to and he'd love to be given another chance to become Tory leader and PM in one foul swoop. I'm far from alone in coming to this conclusion. The New York Times ed on Bojo's speech talks about Bojo hankering for another chance to become PM: “Mr Johnson may be sensing another moment of opportunity, as Mrs May struggles to control her cabinet amid calls from some of her own lawmakers for her to step aside”. Of course Bojo faces stiff competition from Mr Victorian, himself, Rees-Mogg and a Tory leadership election would no doubt be absolutely fascinating to watch unfold but the end result of any such election should be that a general election is called: we don't want yet another undemocratic pass with the Tory leader automatically becoming PM without facing the electorate at large.

Valentine's Day may have left plenty of couples feeling the love, but I can hazard a guess Bojo failed in his aim to unite the Remain and Leave camps behind a Tory Brexit vision. I don't think he'll be particularly heartbroken but the whole debacle demonstrates just how difficult it will be for any political leader to articulate a vision for the future that is hopeful and inclusive. The Remain vs Leave debate remains very much alive in constituencies across the UK.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

A Labour Remain Voter's Conundrum

Hello folks! It's been a wee while since I last blogged but I've spent the last month buried deep in thought on a whole host of topics and can't wait to start discussing them further!

What's happened since the start of the year is that there have been a number of reports brought out that make for despairing reading: figures in report after report released by third sector organisations, charities and think-tanks have shown the appalling effect that austerity measures, imposed by a Government far too occupied with sucking up to Donnie Drumpf and his “merry” band of “I want to go back to the 50's when we didn't know about pop music and Oreos” Trumpians and placating our own nostalgia loving elements of the electorate (who will never be satisfied until the gates are firmly shut to anyone who doesn't have “Dr” as a prefix or a few bob in their pockets).

Our NHS has been struggling to cope with this year's flu season, given the addition of the Aussie flu strain into the mix. More than 50,000 non-urgent operations have been postponed on the advice of NHS England this winter ( yet PM Theresa May boasted that the NHS had been prepared for winter, stating “there were 3,000 more beds in use and 2.9m more people using A&E since 2010” at PMQs last Wednesday. As Corbyn pointed out when he retorted her point, “14,000 beds in wards have been lost since 2010 and 100,000 patients have waited longer than 30 minutes for an emergency ambulance”. Let's not forget that 17,000 were left waiting in the back of ambulance to get admitted to A&E in the last week of December ( More nurses are now leaving the NHS than joining it (more than 33,000 nurses walked away in 2017, a rise of 20% since 2012-13), perhaps because the working conditions are stressful, the pay is not enough given the amount of work nurses are being asked to do, EU nurses face xenophobic language being thrown at that and nursing bursaries, which trainees relied on, have been unfairly scrapped. According to Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, “there are 100,000 vacancies in the NHS as of this month” ( Some hospitals are facing an equipment shortage, including a lack of ventilators and oxygen cylinders (

At a more local level, Lincoln's highly rated Walk-In Centre will be shutting its doors at the end of February due to short-sighted decision making by Lincs West Clinical Commissioning Group, leaving Lincolnshire residents and voters feeling concerned about where they can go to be seen for low-level medical conditions without having to wait for hours at an already busy Lincoln County Hospital A&E. 94% of people who responded to the consultation made it clear they did not want the facility to close (I was one of them) and yet Lincs West CCG chose to ignore us but perhaps if the CCG wasn't dealing with the consequences of chronic underfunding from central Government, they wouldn't have had to close it. Our NHS is facing its greatest crisis since the 1990's and it's time the Tories living it up in Westminster faced up to it.

Labour have announced a number of measures that may reduce pressures on the NHS and improve the situation for staff and patients; for example Labour Peer Baroness Chakrabarti stated that Labour would bring “life and death services” like hospital cleaning back into public ownership. Labour would halt the introduction of Sustainability and Transformation Plans “which devolve the national service into local ‘footprints’ with reduced accountability and the potential for marked reductions in healthcare provision, commercial control of both the public estate and the commissioning function” ( Labour have also announced they will provide free car parking for patients, staff and visitors, funded by increasing the private medical premium tax. Labour would also scrap the public sector pay cap on nurses pay, reinstate nursing bursaries and guarantee the rights of EU workers to stay in the UK and continue doing their amazing work. All of which I believe would be broadly welcomed by voters like me.

Another issue that has been discussed in some depth this month has been the increasing number of children living in poverty in English cities. Figures released by the End Child Poverty campaign just this past week state that 4 million children in the UK are now classed as living in poverty, a truly embarrassing and unacceptable statistic when you are reminded of the fact that the UK is the 6th largest economy globally. There are 4 constituencies in the UK where children are now “more likely than not to grow up poor” with over 50% of children living in poverty: Bethnal Green and Bow, Poplar and Limehouse (where the 1950s and 60's themed Call the Midwife is set), Birmingham Ladywood and Birmingham Hodge Hill.

The situation for children in Lincolnshire makes for less glum reading but still there should be pause for thought: 5,907 children are classed as living in poverty in Lincoln (which is defined in the report as a household having an annual income below 60% of the average); this means that 26.7% of children living within the constituency boundary are living in poverty. Louth and Horncastle has the highest percentage of children living in poverty for a Lincolnshire constituency (29%), followed by Boston and Skegness (28.6%). Data from Lincoln electoral wards (Jul-Sept 2017) shows that the percentage of children defined as living in poverty when housing costs are taken into account is highest in Glebe (34.13%) followed by Birchwood (34.12%). Birchwood happens to be the ward I live in (my parents have had a lovely house here since the Eurodance days of 1992) so to hear that 788 children in my ward are living in households where getting adequate food and clothing is disappointing to say the least.

Benefit freezes imposed by the Tory Government since 2016 (and expected to last another 2 years) have done everything to exacerbate the situation. The Child Action Poverty Group have stated recently that universal credit changes will push 1 million more children into poverty and I fear what will happen to Lincoln residents when the changes are brought in from March. The “Poverty Premium”, which is where low-income families pay as much as £1,700 more per year than wealthy families to buy essential goods and services needs to be tackled but there is very little desire from the Tory party to address the gap; instead they reiterate the tired party line that “employment is the best route out of poverty, and they have cited unemployment statistics which show that there are now 600,000 less children in workless households than in 2010. The problem with their assumption is that having a part-time minimum wage is not going to significantly improve a person's living standards, especially considering the cost of renting flats in the private sector in cities across England (how can someone earning £7.50 an hour for 20 hours a week afford a flat costing £400-£500 a month for themselves and their child??) and the potential price rises which may come as a result of the UK leaving the EU (clothing tariffs on items made in Turkey may increase by 12% from zero for example: Doing well at school/university is also no longer a guarantee of future economic stability. Even when a graduate has manged to secure a position or a young person who has left school secures their first job, they may still find themselves living in poverty.

The End Child Poverty figures just add to what we already know about the effect child poverty is having in Lincoln. The number of emergency food parcels (which are designed to last 3 days) delivered by The Trussell Trust funded Lincoln foodback between April 1st 2016 and March 31st 2017 was 2,447, up from 2,233 the year before (an increase of 9.58%). The number of food parcels received by children increased by 17% from 813 to 952 ( Kate Taylor, in her excellent piece for The Lincolnite back in November 2017 highlighted the Institute for Fiscal Studies projections which predicted that “relative child poverty will increase from 30% to 37% by 2021” ( I agree with Ms Taylor that there needs to be less time spent on “crucifying people for not being in work and more time helping them out of abject poverty” and that means focusing on more than just funding employability schemes.

I appreciate the situation in Lincoln could have been much worse, were it not for the Labour-led City of Lincoln Council's Anti-Poverty Strategy, which has been in place since 2014. The Strategy has a number of objectives, including “increasing money management skills and confidence, supporting families to feed and clothe their children and helping those facing poverty due to illness” ( Campaigns that have been run by Lincoln Against Poverty, the organisation overseeing the implementation of the strategy include The Living Wage Campaign (encouraging employers in Lincoln to pay their employees and workers at least the Living Wage, with employers being recognised and recommended by the City Council for doing this) and the Helping Hand Campaign, which is designed to get debt and budgeting information and advice to residents who need it ( Projects delivered by the City Council included running 5 “Survive the School Holiday” sessions which provided adults in wards such as Birchwood and St Giles with information about debt, welfare and jobs and a pilot voucher scheme in Bracebridge Heath helping 119 children from low-income families get access to groceries over the summer holidays (6 weeks) during Summer 2016. Details of 2017/18 projects will be discussed at the next Lincoln Against Poverty Conference, which I'd love to attend later in the year.

Labour are very well placed to devise policies that appeal to swing voters on the issue of reducing Child Poverty. In the last election general manifesto, for example, Labour proposed spending £250m a year on the creation and implementation of a Child Health fund, with funding being made available to support the running of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in schools, boosting the number of school nurses so there are more than 1 visit to a school (as seems to be the norm currently) and creating an Index of Child Health, measuring progress on tackling obesity, poor dental health, poor healthcare for under-5s and poor mental health ( For those asking where the money would have come from, Labour would have sought to half NHS Management consultancy fees by half (estimated to cost £538 a year): I don't think many voters outside of the private sector management consultancy sector would have disapproved of that.

On policies and strategies for the NHS, on policies to reduce homelessness, Labour have the upper hand. Corbyn's most recent announcement of buying 8,000 homes for homeless families as soon as his party wins the next General Election paints him as a compassionate figure in tune with the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society. With the rate of homelessness having increased by a shameful 169% since 2010, the number of rough sleepers up by 15% during 2017 (4,751 people bedded outside) and the number of people in sheltered temporary accommodation rising by 60% between 2011 and 2017, I don't think that the Tories can deny the seriousness of the problem any longer, particularly with regards to street homelessness in our inner cities. The heralded Homelessness Reduction Bill should help to alleviate the situation but if the Government had really wanted to address the issue, they could have provided ring-fenced funding for Local Authorities to prevent families becoming homeless in the first place (by paying outstanding rent arrears). As Zoe Williams so succinctly puts it:“Local government officials are now in a situation so impossible-statutory duty on one side, insufficient resources to meet it on the other-that they have to conceive the homelessness problem as a set of practical tasks to execute, rather than a series of human interactions” ( We have people who are forced to endure night after night sleeping on cold doorsteps, getting little to no treatment for their mental health issues and we have amazing people, who work for organisations such as LEAP and the Nomad Trust who want to do far more but feel their hands are tied by a lack of funding (again a failure of the Tory Government to provide adequate investment for our Outreach services).

With such a bleak picture painted of a Britain struggling under the grip of Austerity loving Tories, it should make sense to a centre-left equal opportunities voter like me to turn to Labour once again and give them a chance to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people. But one aspect of the Labour leadership's view (and I am guessing the ongoing policy platform) is troubling me: that is the approach towards Brexit. When I voted for Labour back in June 2017, I did so with my eyes wide open; I knew that the likelihood of the Brexit vote being quashed entirely was next to zero and I knew at that time that support for a 2nd referendum, or even a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal was insufficient to encourage the leadership to consider altering their mindset towards Brexit. I had read the manifesto section which stated quite clearly that “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU” but I questioned in my mind whether we'd get to the point where we actually left the EU (na├»ve maybe?) What I did think may happen was in any clarification of Labour's position, Mr Corbyn would decide that membership of the Single Market, along EFTA(European Free Trade Association) lines, would be the best possible deal for the UK given the limited amount of options on the table. I'm glad that Labour has, along with the Lib Dems, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party seemingly managed to convince PM May to change tact and agree that a transition deal was needed and had to be one where the UK retained membership of both the Single Market and the Customs Union. But I can't say that I'm not worried about the future of the UK outside the Single Market. I'm disappointed in Corbyn's claim that the EU cannot be reformed (ask the Nordic Greens and ALDE whether EU reforms are impossible and they'd rebuff Corbyn straight out of hand) and I am equally frowning at his blanket dismissal of the possibility of a 2nd referendum or even a referendum on the terms of the deal. That being said, Corbyn favours “some kind of Customs Union” but not the current version. Corbyn also doesn't want to be a member of EFTA either but wants to work with EFTA countries such as Norway ( There's been some references made as to what immigration policy will be like after Brexit but Sir Keir Starmer was the latest to comment, back in December, when he said “the end of free movement doesn't mean no movement. Of course we would want people to come from the EU to work here, we would want people who are here to go to work in the EU” ( Confusing policy remains the order of the day, you betcha!

I guess I should be grateful for any kind of clarity being offered by Corbyn on the party's official position but I do feel that crucial votes may end up being lost as a result of a lukewarm approach towards the EU. Take the most recent poll on Brexit support. The YouGov poll conducted back in December 2017 for The Guardian and Best For Britain campaign found that voters intending to vote Labour at the next election still are unsure as to what Labour's overall Brexit position happens to be: 23% believe Labour is “completely against Brexit” and 10% “didn't know”. The most recent Guardian/ICM poll, with over 5,000 respondents, shows that 39% of Labour leavers are now in favour of a second referendum with 65% of Labour backers overall wanting voters to have the final say on a Brexit deal (only 19% now oppose it). That being said, in the Midlands region (including Lincolnshire), 52% of voters polled would still vote to Leave the EU and that is despite 45% of voters thinking the decision will have a negative effect on the economy ( Students are also increasingly likely to vote for Remain (74%..up 16% since 2016...although the rise comes from those who could not vote in 2016) and women are more likely to vote to Remain in another referendum (53% to 47%). What may give any future Remain campaign a win is the fact that 51% of voters aged 38-64 would now vote to Remain.

Other results from the poll make for interesting reading. For example, when asked what impact Brexit will have on their personal finances, 36% of respondents said negative and that includes 50% of Labour voters. This stands in stark contrast to Tory voters, with only 18% stating that Brexit will have a negative impact on their finances. When it comes to asking about the impact of Brexit on culture, 42% of DE voters (unskilled and unemployed) said that it would be positive, compared to only 34% of AB (managerial and professional) voters. 57% of Labour voters stated that Brexit will have a negative impact on British culture, compared with 20% of Tory voters. There is clearly a sharp divide socially and politically here, although it would also come as no surprise to learn that 54% of voters aged over 75 believe leaving the EU will have a positive impact on the UK whereas only 24% of 18-24 year olds and 29% of 25-34 year olds agreed with them. What these figures reveal is the difficulty every political party has in adopting a unifying approach policy wise; there will be a significant section of the population worried about the social and cultural as well as economic effects of Brexit and they may feel politically homeless if the Labour party decides to align themselves with a harder form of Brexit. Nonetheless, the ruling out of a referendum on the terms of the final deal seems to be a foolish decision by Corbyn, given that 77% of potential Labour voters and 58% of overall respondents want to have that chance. Hmm.

Corbyn is set on gambling on the idea that Brexit voters in the North, in constituencies where Labour lost their seat, such as Mansfield (which went from having a 5,315 majority for Labour to just a 1,057 majority for the Tories) and Stoke-on-Trent South (which went from having a 2,539 majority to Labour to a 663 majority for the Tories) will be so convinced by Corbyn's commitment to Brexit that they will back him and vote Labour at the next election and that their votes would offset any votes lost with liberal pro-EU voters like myself choosing another party to vote for (e.g. Liberal Democrats) in marginal seats. It's certainly an interesting assumption. If you look at the figures from the poll for Northern voters especially, 54% would now vote Remain, 60% want a say on the final deal and 52% of voters think Brexit will have a negative effect on the economy. Who would have predicted that back in June? Anyways time will tell whether Corbyn is right to gamble Brexit policy wise and we shall see the effects at the next election.

Perhaps what is giving Labour the edge in polling at the moment is a desire to enact social change to help improve the lives of the most vulnerable. After years of policies favouring individualism and consumerism, there's a sense that voters are now realising the need to look after our public services after years of lack of proper investment in them. The lowering of taxes may have helped boost the economy but wage growth has stagnated and voters are increasingly fearful of the prospect of being homeless; most of us have next to no savings, which means we are often only one or two paydays away from finding ourselves on the street. That realisation should make us more compassionate towards those who have found themselves in dire straits. We should not be living in a country where more families have to make a choice between heating their home for a week or buying healthy meals for a few days. We should not be asking parents to fork out for expensive bits of clothing just because they have to have the right style of school logo on them. We should not expect single parents and parents who have found themselves with a reduced income as a result of illness or long-term disability to have to routinely deny their children access to leisure activities because they can't afford the bus fare or the petrol to take them. How can the Government continue to justify their approach and squeeze funding for Local Authorities to the point where they cannot afford to fund schemes that could reduce child poverty and empower young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to aspire to be in their dream jobs?

The question now is whether Labour leaning Remain voters put aside their concerns over Corbyn's muddled policy platform and trust in Labour's overall vision or whether they look for a party that showcases the referendum on the final deal as a central policy?