Monday, 12 June 2017

General Election Result 2017: How could it affect LGBTQIA+ Rights in the UK?

It looks like we're going to have a Conservative minority government in place backed up by an openly anti LGBTQIA+ rights party (the Democratic Unionists) for the next few months at least and I for one am wondering what this will mean for LGBTQIA+ people, especially trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer, intersex and asexual people in the UK. As I have mentioned on my blog (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/exploring-ge2017-manifestos-lgbtqia.html) the Conservative manifesto itself was very short on ideas, with the only direct mentions of LGBTQIA+ being a commitment to tackle hate crime on the basis of "transgender identity" (why not gender identity and include non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender people in this promise?) and expanding the UK's global efforts to "tackle the perpetuation of violence against people because of their faith, gender or sexuality."

Prime Minister May was making promises here there and everywhere during her Pink News interview to try and entice LGBTQIA+ voters to back the Tory party at the polls, including supporting a "thorough and independent investigation" to examine human rights abuses against LGBT people in Chechnya (after I suspect being pressured into it by other party leaders and MPs; for example, Sarah Champion, the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities wrote to PM May on 21st April 2017 to call for an urgent UN investigation). It remains to be seen as to whether a Tory minority government held to ransom by an openly anti-LGBTQIA+ rights DUP would push ahead with such calls, let alone look at a comprehensive review of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004. I remain deeply sceptical as to whether any progress will be made at all to improve LGBTQIA+ rights on the two policy elements included in the Tory manifesto, let alone on the pledges that PM May made in the Pink News interview. Can we really trust PM May when she says that a review into the effectiveness of the GRA could lead to the scrapping of the need for medical diagnosis? Conservative MPs in the main rarely show support for such a policy because it doesn't register highly on the list of priorities. Tory activists keep telling us trans and non-binary people that we should be thankful for the progress that's already been made, as if all we cared about was the legalisation of same-sex marriage or the pardoning of LGB people. I voted for a progressive vision for the UK, not one that stands still and wallows in a sea of utra smug complacency. If the vote tells MPs anything, it should be that young people especially do not believe that there is much for the Tory government to be complacent about. Change is required and it needs to take place sharpish.

The DUP is certainly anti-LGBTQIA+ rights and they have never voted for any legislation to improve LGBTQIA+ rights. There are the well-documented comments of Ian Paisley Junior, who said that he was "repulsed by gay and lesbianism" back in 2007 as well as the party's involvement in the despicable "Save Ulster from Sodomy" movement but there are certain aspects of their and there are certain aspects of their policy platform that should alarm LGBTQIA+ people; for example they  have unashamedly backed a "conscience clause"  which would guarantee any religious conservative legal protection from openly discriminating against LGBT people in a public environment, which is completely against the provisions of our own Equality Act (EA) 2010. I will never support any attempt to bring in legislation that will allow employers to discriminate because their conscience tells them to treat applicants differently on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. There's likely to be very little movement  blood donation ban for men who have sex with men either whilst the Conservatives remain dependent on the DUP (they want to retain the blood ban). I want to see the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs conduct a review so that the case can be made to remove the blood ban in its entirety in the near future but I doubt the Conservatives are brave enough to conduct that review. Shame.

Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010:
There's no doubt that the Gender Recognition Act needs urgent reform; in the last Parliamentary term the Conservative government announced that there would be a review into the GRA, with Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities way back in July 2016 stating that she understood that disclosing "traumatic details of past surgery" was distressing and that trans people were being treated "as if they had a mental illness." The review that has been proposed is meant to be looking into ways of moving the GRA process from "medicalised questions" to "self declaration". I've not heard more on this since July 2016 and there's been no progress on other promises that were made by Nicky Morgan before the current Secretary for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening took over. I argue that there must be a firm commitment to at least reviewing the Spousal Veto with a view to removing it; there is no need for it to exist in law and there should be a review of rights so that couples with a trans or non-binary partner have the same access to pension rights and the custody of any children in the event of bereavement as the Lib Dems suggested in their manifesto.

Non-binary and intersex people should not need to prove their status to gain access to neutral gender markers for all appropriate legal documentation, including passports. Legislating for this isn't going to lead to the direct erosion of other people's' gender identities or human rights. So I really do not get why the Tories will not take a progressive stance and implement legislative reform now. I think that unnecessary requests for gender information should also be reduced on official documentation wherever possible.

We also need to see positive action with regards to amending the Equality Act. I can no longer see any logical reason to delay the substitution of the protected characteristic "gender reassignment surgery" for "gender identity", especially given the fact that the Government plans to amend the EA to include protection for those with mental health conditions anyways. I'd also like to see intersex people be specifically protected under the EA with the protected characteristic "intersex" being added to the list. There must be a commitment to banning unnecessary sex assignment surgery on an infant or a young child (i.e. when it is not done for health reasons) and in fact I agree with the Green Party's LGBTQIA+ manifesto suggestion that conducting such surgery should be made a criminal offence. Young intersex people should have the right to determine their own sex and engage in surgery if they have given their explicit consent. There definitely needs to be more training given to NHS professionals to help them support intersex patients and encourage intersex activists to work with healthcare professionals and be part of patient groups to help formulate training materials to help facilitate discussion. Extending legal protection against discrimination to non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and intersex people is essential and reforming the EA will lay the groundwork for this. I hope the Conservatives are brave enough to commit to at least some of the suggestions outlined above.

The Tories did commit to conducting a study to "measure the size of the UK's population" in July 2016 but I wonder what the direct benefits of capturing this data would be; would it convince them that they need to expand gender neutral bathroom and changing room facilities, for example? There's also the question of whether a government obsessed with Brexit will be interested in analysing the results of the study to help them improve their policies. Labour on the other hand may take on board the results of the survey and add policies in as appropriate; if they want to increase their vote share amongst younger voters I'd say that it would benefit them greatly if they bring in more nuanced policies that can deliver equality for trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender people.

NHS: 
I still believe it is essential to boost funding for sexual health services in England, especially to continue fighting HIV stigma. Sexual health clinics (Genito-urinary medicine services) need to receive funding so that specific advice and guidance can continue to be offered to young people embarking on same-sex experiences for the first time. According to an article "What do cuts in sexual health mean for patients?" written by Ruth Robertson from The Kings Fund in April 2017 (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2017/03/what-do-cuts-sexual-health-services-mean-patients), funding for sexual health clinics through the public health grant given to local authorities fell by 6.7% during 2015/16 and cuts have been planned up to 2020/21. However demand has been increasing (new attendance rates increased from 1.6m in 2011 to 2.1m in 2015) and there was a survey conducted by the Kings Fund which found that patients who have symptoms related to a Sexually Transmitted Infection were waiting more than 48 hours to be seen by a professional. The current expectation is that the public health budget ringfence will be removed by 2019/20, meaning that local authorities could face tough choices regarding GUM funding; whilst a comprehensive STI testing and treatment service needs to be in place (thanks to a mandatory law from 1916), other services such as family planning or the provision of free contraceptives may be reduced dramatically.

With regards to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) provision, it appears that there has been no progress in England. Caroline Lucas, Co-Leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion has highlighted the fact that despite NHS England announcing that a PrEP trial would be set up 6 months ago, no such trial has materialised. The Tories have set £10m aside for the trial to take place over the next 3 years and claim that they will wait for the results of the trial before making any decision RE PrEP availability on the NHS but this may not happen until near the end of a full-term Conservative minority government, if at all.

There's been no open discussion about how to improve NHS training for GPs so they have a framework of best practice to help them better support trans patients and there's certainly no plans under a Conservative government to review trans healthcare provision more generally. We need more Gender Identity Clinics to respond to increased demand and help reduce waiting times and we need more specialist sexologists and nurses to staff those new GICs. There's also no plans to review how non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people are treated by NHS staff, which is rather disappointing. There should also be an attempt to safeguard trans patient hospital rights so they can be treated in the ward which corresponds to their acquired gender whenever possible (another great Lib Dem manifesto suggestions).

Finally I believe there has to be a commitment from the Tories to ensure that mental health services are properly funded and accessible to LGBTQIA+ service users. Labour and the Lib Dems both promised in their manifestos to fully fund mental health but the Conservatives haven't made such commitment. We need to recruit more mental health nurses (6,600 have gone since 2010) and I hope the Tory manifesto commitment to recruit 10,000 more NHS mental health professionals by 2020 will be met but a huge reduction in applications from EU nurses of  96% since the Brexit vote and the refusal of the Tories to remove the 1% NHS pay cap isn't going to help increase staffing levels and the removal of training bursaries for UK nursing applicants won't entice students to consider a career in nursing.

Education: 
Sex and Relationships Education will be delivered in schools during this parliamentary term but I wonder how LGBTQIA+ inclusive it will be. The Conservatives agreed with Labour that guidance needs to be issued to schools to help them prepare lesson materials on LGBT+ relationships but there is no indication as to whether there will be any lessons that address intersex or asexual people. When would discussion of trans and non-binary, genderfluid or genderqueer people start? Key Stage 3 or Key Stage 4? Will there be lessons on domestic violence and domestic abuse in addition to consent and  will those lessons include LGBTQIA+ focussed discussions? Will SRE be taught in faith schools? I hope that trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer, agender, intersex and asexual activists will be involved in the creation of materials and be encouraged to go into schools to talk to students about more than just homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying as has been the case in the past. I believe discussions about asexuality is important because no student should ever feel that asexual people are weird because they have no sexual desire or prefer to show affection through hugging rather than through penetrative sex. Humanity is far more interesting than gender and sexuality stereotypes portray and that should be reflected in SRE lessons in an age-appropriate but engaging way.  74% of 11-15 year olds when asked in a YouGov poll conducted by Barnardo's believe that they would feel safer if they were taught about sex and relationships in schools with 94% stating it was important for them to understand the risks and dangers of being online (including accessing gay chatrooms). The Terrence Higgins Trust and National Student Pride survey also found that 72% of students would have had a better first sexual experience if they had received LGBT+ inclusive SRE. These figures demonstrate to me that LGBTQIA+ activists should back the implementation of SRE and get involved with the creation of teaching materials.

We need more LGBTQIA+ teachers and teaching assistants in classrooms to provide positive role-models for our students and I believe there should be a national recruitment campaign designed to encourage more openly LGBTQIA+ graduates to apply for a PGCE course with a range of LGBTQIA+ rights organisations involved, including Stonewall. Ensuring that students are taught about how to be tolerant of people who may have a different gender identity or sexuality is imperative and I've had enough of sticky-plaster policies that tend to only address bullying and harassment after it has occurred. Let's make sure that teachers and headteachers who have pastoral care duties have the knowledge and skills needed to fully support LGBTQIA+ identifying students; building an awareness programme into the PGCE course and into Continuing Professional Development, led by trainers who come from the LGBTQIA+ community will help no end.

LGBTQIA+ asylum rights: 
LGBTQIA+ rights for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK may unfortunately not improve under a Conservative minority government. PM May doesn't have a good track record in this area after all; as Home Secretary she allowed LGBTQIA+ refugees to be humiliated, forcing lesbian, gay and bisexual refugees to have sex to prove that they were LGB...a totally barbaric and anti-human rights approach. The Green Party's LGBTQIA+ manifesto and the Lib Dem's manifesto both convinced me that far needs to be done to protect LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers from discrimination, including ensuring that no LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are deported back to their home country if they are in danger of facing persecution on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact the Green Party has called for a moratorium on the deportation of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers until a review of the asylum process takes place with a view to making the process more efficient and quicker. Border agents do need to have equality and diversity training so they understand that asking sexually-explicit questions is wrong (especially if LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers have been subjected to rape before or during their journey to the UK). I believe that detention limits should be set at 28 days and asylum seekers should be allowed to look for work if they have been waiting for their asylum claim to be processed for more than 6 weeks. Accommodation should be habitable and trans and non-binary asylum seekers should be treated with respect, with professionals using their pronoun preferences wherever possible. Asylum seekers also need to have access to counselling to help them deal with the trauma they have faced whilst being persecuted in their home country. There's no indication at the moment as to whether the Conservatives are bothered to carry out any of these reforms.

Homelessness:
PM May said in her Pink News interview that homeless charities such as The Albert Kennedy Trust should be "encouraged to help end LGBT youth homelessness in the UK". The problem is that the actions taken by the Tory government have as of yet done very little to address the problem. Charities cannot fund young people aged between 18 and 21 who have lost mandatory access to Housing Benefit. Research carried out by The Albert Kennedy Trust found that nearly a 1/4 of LGBT young people are homeless in the UK and their projects rely on Housing Benefit funding to run properly; for example, according to a Financial Times article from March 2017 (https://www.ft.com/content/1414f788-30e8-11e7-9555-23ef563ecf9a) the Purple Door Project run by The Albert Kennedy Trust in London and Newcastle guarantees housing for 6 months but requires residents to pay £105 a week - £95 of which comes from Housing Benefit. The Conservatives need to absolutely guarantee homeless young people aged 18-21, whether LGBTQIA+ or not access to Housing Benefit. That includes those young people who may be currently sofa-surfing. Young people want to build a better life for themselves and a compassionate government should do everything they can to help, especially those who have had a traumatic start to their lives.

Brexit:
Brexit means Brexit, or so the old sage Theresa May's maxim goes. I've always wondered how Brexit will affect LGBTQIA+ people specifically. There is concern about the right of LGBTQIA+ EU nationals to remain in the UK post-Brexit and I think it was a mistake of PM May not to guarantee the right outright before Article 50 was triggered. It sent out the wrong signal to our EU neighbours that the UK may be prepared to openly discriminate against their citizens. EU nationals pay tax into our system to help fund our public services and some even work in the public sector, including in hospitals and GP surgeries. We now have a situation where applications from EU nurses are down 96% since the Brexit vote and we're not training enough UK nurses to fill the demand, so we need to have a change of tone as well as policy from PM May and her Brexit team.

There's been hardly any discussion about how Brexit will improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ people. Will the money that is meant to be saved from the EU budget contributions go partly towards improving trans health services or towards the construction of gender-neutral bathroom facilities? Doesn't sound like it. Will the money fund more training programmes for frontline NHS professionals to help them better support LGBTQIA+ patients? Why aren't the Tories doing that anyways? Will the money be used to help expand GICs? More chance of seeing a pot of leprechaun gold on the front seat of Bojo's personalised imaginary red NHS £350m bus. Will leaving the EU truly lead to more jobs for trans people? Unless we change the attitude of employers, especially small and medium business owners in rural constituencies, we're not going to see more openly trans and non-binary people employed in long-term, sustainable employment. I still contend that Brexit will not make any progressive difference to LGBTQIA+ rights in this country and that's why I still remain opposed to it. Plus I don't want to see the UK leave the European Convention on Human Rights or water down the Human Rights Act 1998, both of which may still happen under a Tory minority government.

Conclusion:
Overall, I am feeling pretty concerned about the possible state of LGBTQIA+ rights under a Tory minority government. Whilst I accept that LGBT Tories want voters like me to feel reassured about the promises elicited by Ruth Davidson, Justine Greening et al that LGBT rights will not be weakened by any DUP "confidence and supply" arrangement, it does probably mean that we will see little to no progress on improving NHS services for LGBTQIA+ service users or any improvement in the rights of intersex and asexual people in the UK. SRE may or may not become LGBT inclusive, let alone LGBTQIA+. I can't see a nervous Tory government asking for a review on the blood donation ban or amend the GRA or EA significantly whilst relying on DUP votes. As for PrEP becoming available on the NHS in England before 2022 (or whenever the next election happens to be), we have more chance of Andrea "I'm a mother" Leadsom becoming PM in the next year. However, that doesn't mean that LGBTQIA+ activists are going to sit back and let this parliamentary term take its course. We need to continue campaigning for truly LGBTQIA+ inclusive SRE and to improve health services for trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and intersex people. We need to encourage PM May to continue to take a firm stance against Chechnya and if possible, allow Chechen LGBTQIA+ people to claim asylum in the UK.  We need to stand up and be counted. If we stay strong, a progressive vision for LGBTQIA+ rights can be achieved. It's just going to take a little bit longer to achieve!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lincoln's Choice GE2017: Why I Will Be Voting For Karen Lee And Labour On Thursday 8th June

Sometimes making a final decision can be surprisingly easy. I was in Lincoln's Primark last Friday shopping with my Mum (she'd not been into town for nearly 2 years and was dead excited to check out the latest styles) and we came across this amazing pair of denim hotpants, which had embroidered detail, paint and slogans all over it. For me, it was love at first sight- I grabbed the Size 20 faster than the Jamaican relay team grasp their batons in an Olympic Final. My Mum took much longer to convince-"oh the fit isn't right.....they're high waisted.....I'm 59 I can't carry off a punk look". 5 minutes later and me and Mum both had a pair in the basket and had moved on to look at a Sex Pistols tee. Although it took a while for my Mum to make her final decision, she made the right decision in the end. Politics wise, that's how I really am feeling at the moment. For weeks I hesitated, I read the manifestos, watched the debates wondering who'd make the best Prime Minister for the UK. There was no danger of me voting for the Tories.....hell no, not after the way they've conducted the Brexit process so far. Who wants to vote for someone whose primary response is to fear our European neighbours, throwing a wobbler over whether Spain will annexe Gibraltar (totally false by the way) and not stand up to the nincompoop President that is Donnie Drumpf when he slandered the Mayor of London by stating that "nobody should be alarmed" when in fact Mr Sadiq Khan was asking London residents to not be alarmed at the increased police presence on the streets and ridiculously pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, an agreement that even Russia remains signed up to. Yet after all the hesitation and analysis, I feel that I have reached the right decision to vote Labour and I'm going discuss why in this blogpost.

Nationally:

At a national level, the main choices for PM seems lacklustre for those amongst us who consider themselves centrists and moderates. Theresa May has got very few leadership qualities of note and her questionable record as Home Secretary is being exposed for all to see. Jeremy Corbyn has been portrayed by the mainstream media as a Marxist, "terrorist apologist" when he can only really be accused of possibly being too much of an ideological dreamer, choosing to pursue expansion of trade union powers and mass renationalisation in what still strikes some as a attempt to bring back 1970's style socialism. Now I certainly have not been a super Corbynista (I have more affinity with the Harriet Harman/ Jess Phillips/ Yvette Cooper side of the Labour party) but I've read the Labour manifesto (evidenced by the number of blogposts I've recently done on manifesto comparisons) and I'd say that the majority of it doesn't strike me as being particularly radical. I may not yet buy into the virtues of mass renationalisation yet (especially with regards to utilities) but even I agree that there is a need to review Sustainability and Transformation Plans and reduce the amount of privatisation in our NHS by repealing the Health and Social Care Act. The NHS was designed to ensure that every person in the UK could receive free treatment at the point of use. As investment hasn't kept up with an increase in population, this aim has been increasingly difficult to achieve. We need more funding, we need more staff and we need to ensure that the NHS is accessible to all and I believe Labour's plans, including pumping in an extra £30bn of investment, scrapping the public sector cap and reinstating the Nurses Training Bursary will help to address issues of under resourcing and help recruit more UK nurses.

Yet the Labour manifesto isn't just strong on the NHS. Some policies that never get any attention on the national news have convinced me to consider voting Labour beyond tactical reasons. For example, Labour have pledged to bring in a Commissioner to ensure that the police, local authorities and organisations adhere to at least a minimum standard to tackle domestic violence and sexual violence. Funding will be made available through central government to help stabilise the budgets of women's refuges and rape crisis centres. Although I'd have liked to have seen a general commitment to helping all survivors of domestic abuse, violence and coercive control, regardless of their gender it is a promising start. This policy has not been discussed in the Sun, The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail but it's one that makes me believe that a Labour government will truly work towards improving the lives of the majority of people in this country and not the few. Plus Corbyn has done extremely well with his campaign, making the effort to meet voters of all ages and talking about the need to foster creativity amongst young people. He has a message of hope that is resonating widely amongst the electorate and we still do not truly know what the effect on the vote will be on June 8th.

Locally:

At a local level, my choice has even more difficult but for positive reasons. We've been fortunate in Lincoln to have had two talented, amazing, progressive women running in this election both of which deserve recognition:
  • Caroline Kenyon, a successful businesswoman (running a food photography business) and who worked as a journalist and magazine editor and PR guru who has worked with homeless charities and food organisations has truly inspired me to think about what more I can do to help fellow residents in my ward. She's organising a Food Summit that aims to look at sustainably providing food for Lincoln residents who find themselves in difficult circumstances that will take place regardless of whether she wins the election or not. Equally Caroline is working with the University of Lincoln to help establish a Primary Schools programme designed to help lift the aspirations of working class children in Lincoln. I know that it's incredibly important to have access to positive role models who can encourage children to think about their future in an age-appropriate way. I was fortunate to have teachers who saw through my Dyspraxia and encouraged me to read widely which fostered a love of books, especially History books that has never left me. Without that early intervention I would not be writing the blogposts like the one I am writing today. And I want other children, especially those with disabilities, to benefit from positive reinforcement technique and having access to role models they can identify with in the educational sector. 
  • Karen Lee has been involved in Lincoln politics ever since 1994, when she became a Labour party member. She was elected as a City Councillor for Carholme Ward in 2004 and has successfully defended her seat at every local election since then. Karen served as Mayor of Lincoln in 2012-13, the 12th woman out of 13 in 811 years. Karen is a nurse and has worked diligently and passionately for Lincoln County Hospital for many years. Karen wants to increase the number of affordable homes in Lincoln by securing additional funding to expand the planned housing programme as well as fully supporting Labour's plans to bring in safe staffing levels in NHS wards and reintroduce Nurses Training Bursaries. Karen is described by the City Council's Labour Leader Ric Metcalfe as a "tireless and passionate local campaigner", which is true given as she was part of the successful campaign to save Lincoln South Fire Station from being downgraded.
Having read the key campaign leaflets (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/parliamentary-party-candidate-leaflet.html) and 
 listened to both the Bishop Grosseteste Hustings (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/thoughts-from-listening-to-bishop.html) and the joint Lincolnite and BBC Radio Lincolnshire Debate I feel that our city and surrounding villages of Skellingthorpe, Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East need a real progressive vision in place to improve the lives of all residents who live within the Lincoln Constituency boundary. What does a progressive vision involve I hear you cry? Well, it starts with an understanding that cross party collaboration is key to helping solve key social issues that affect our communities. It's clear to me that Caroline Kenyon's Food Summit project that she has outlined effectively during her campaign is one that the City of Lincoln Council, Lincolnshire County Council, the District of North Kesteven Council as well as the Lincolnshire Association of Parish Councils should get involved in and I have suggested Caroline gets in touch with my local City Councillor, Rosie Kirk because I believe that she'd be happy to participate. Lincoln's MP, regardless of who gets elected on June 9th should commit to working closely with Caroline and certainly attend the Food Summit when it is held. If they really care about reducing poverty levels in Lincoln and ensure that our foodbanks are stocked with healthy food to help disadvantaged families, signalling an intention to attend would not be a difficult act and I get the sense that Karen would be happier than Karl McCartney, our current MP to collaborate on the Food Summit project. Karen has also signalled a desire to work with the Green candidate, Dr Ben Loryman to scrutinise the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust's Sustainability and Transformation Plan (all STPs are to be halted and reviewed under a Labour manifesto commitment) and examine how best to recruit and retain high quality staff at Lincoln County Hospital. I'd also like to see close collaboration on animal welfare and LGBTQIA+ rights, two areas that have been rather noticeably neglected during Mr McCartney's tenure.

Another key aspect of a progressive vision is a firm commitment to stand up for all constituents, regardless of an MP's own personal views. Now I'm a Lutheran and I believe that my faith should never be used in a negative way to demean people who are members of other Christian denominations or followers of different faiths or who are atheists. Karen on the Lincoln Labour Party website (http://www.lincolnlabourparty.org.uk/karen-lee/) espouses a similar sort of approach to me which was pleasing to see: "I do hold my own views on religion, I was brought up a Catholic and feel that some spiritual belief is a priceless thing, but I think that it is essential to respect the right of individuals to practice their faith in their own way, whatever their religion might be." I get the sense that this means that Karen would be willing to solicit the opinion of Lincoln constituents before voting on an important moral or ethical issue, for example voluntary euthanasia. Unfortunately Mr McCartney used his personal Christian views to denigrate LGBTQIA+ people whilst acting in a professional capacity, stating in a letter to a constituent in 2012 that LGBT people "had exhausted the cause of equal rights" (http://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/lincoln-mp-karl-mccartney-defiant-views-sex/story-15918962-detail/story.html) and he had the audacity to put same-sex marriage on the same level as "bigamy and child marriage". Even though same-sex marriage is now legal, there's no indication that Karl has changed his views towards LGBTQIA+ people. In fact, when asked questions on LGBTQIA+ rights during this 2017 Election cycle on Twitter, he has consistently ignored questioners which is extraordinary rude. LGBTQIA+ people in Lincoln are his constituents and most of them and their friends and family will have the ability to vote on Thursday; I have a sneaking suspicion that he won't garner many of them; serves him right! A progressive MP embraces change and accepts people's right to express themselves openly provided they adhere to the laws of the land. I'm all for "following the dictates of one's conscience" but when in public office, you have the thoughts and views of constituents to consider as well as your own and sometimes you have to put your personal views and opinions aside and vote in the best interests of your constituents. Karl just doesn't have a great record of doing that.

There's a number of policies in the Labour manifesto that could directly benefit Lincoln constituents in a progressive way. There's the obvious pledges of abolishing tuition fees and reintroducing the Educational Maintenance Allowance and university maintenance grants that will help students attending Lincoln College, my old sixth form at the Priory LSST Academy, the University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University but there are less well known policies too; the banning of unpaid internships that last more than a month, the protection of funding for libraries with money available to upgrade computer software that would benefit Lincoln Central Library and my local Birchwood Library amongst others. There's also a promise to look at accommodation standards for those in Armed Forces accommodation as well as extending the Forces Help-to-Buy scheme and insulating the homes of disabled veterans for free. Labour would ensure every school has access to a counselling service to help students deal with exam stress and anxiety and long term mental health conditions and that would help students who attend Lincoln schools.

Karen mentions specific Labour policies in her campaign poster leaflet, including:

  • the proposed rise in Carer's Allowance that would directly  benefit 1,629 carers in Lincoln, giving them more than an extra £500 a year to spend on helping them and their dependent(s) with food, heating and clothing bills. 
  • scrapping the bedroom tax which will help 749 people in Lincoln and insulating homes may help some of the 5,089 homes who are classed as being in fuel poverty. 
  • protecting the Triple Lock because getting rid of it would affect 17,919 pensioners in Lincoln, one of which would probably be my Dad. 
  • reversing cuts to Universal Credit and stopping other tax changes proposed by the Tories so that working families do not need to worry about losing £1,400 a year or have to prove that their third child was conceived as a result of rape through the despicable Child Benefit "rape clause". 
Strangely enough these issues are not mentioned in the Tory leaflet and they haven't been particularly addressed head-on by Karl. Instead, his leaflet focussed on transport infrastructure, apprenticeships and being a part of the "Keeping Sunday Special" campaign, which never really bothers my Mum, who's a care assistant working at least one weekend night a fortnight on her shift pattern and who has colleagues who are more worried about their residency status and wage growth under a future Conservative Government than about whether Sunday is kept special for managers and bankers. It's good that apprenticeships have increased by 6,960 since 2010 but how many of them have gone to those aged 25 and over? How many of them have been available in the creative industries? How many of those places have been filled by LGBTQIA+ Lincolnites? It seems to me that Karl is prepared to only talk about the successes and can't be bothered to put forward a truly coherent progressive plan for the future. What a shame.

An issue that I've heard discussed in the pub and around Lincoln generally is that of funding; funding schools, funding social care, funding recycling services, funding leisure centres and sports facilities, funding libraries and funding Lincoln County Hospital. What has been clear to me over the past few months is that Lincolnshire County Council needs more funding from local government. According to (shock horror) a UKIP leaflet that I received during the Lincs CC elections in May 2017, I found out that Lincs CC is the third lowest funded council in the country. £88 per head (the figure given in the UKIP leaflet is not enough to deliver the services we need as our population begins to age. Council Tax had to go up in Lincs (http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/01/council-tax-rise-proposed-as-lincolnshire-police-face-10m-funding-gap/) to help pay towards policing (1.97%) and the Police and Crime Commissioner's Office (we have a Conservative PCC here, Marc Jones) stated that we'd need to see an increase in funding from central government otherwise we'd have a gap in the budget of £10m between 2018 and 2020. This demonstrates to me that Labour are right to highlight that there is a need to increase policing budgets generally to help pay for equipment and the pledge to fund a police officer increase of 10,000 will probably mean that Lincs will see an increase in frontline staff which would be welcome! Yet another reason to consider voting Labour. The total Council Tax rise for those in Lincoln has also included a 1.91% rise in Council Tax precept for the City of Lincoln Council and 3.95% for the Lincs CC precept, estimated to be an extra £53 a year (http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/03/council-tax-rise-approved-for-lincoln-residents/). Let's hope the increase may go towards turning the streetlights back on our street or providing decent social care for disabled young adults (that's what a Labour controlled CC would have done).  In his time as Lincoln's MP, Karl has been very quick to ask for money to help complete transport infrastructure projects but has been unable to secure more funding for local government services such as for our police force. Instead Karl blames the lack of influence on being a backbencher and because we rejected a devolution deal Lincoln has harmed its chances of receiving more government investment. In his The Linc interview, Karl said:"it (the devolution deal) will not be quickly forgotten in Westminster and I think we'll be forced to the bottom of the pile for it in the future" (http://thelinc.co.uk/2017/06/the-lincoln-candidates-karl-mccartney/). Such a statement comes from a man who says in his leaflet that  Lincoln is "the most loved City and jewel in the crown of the East Midlands". Does Karl think I and other voters and constituents were born yesterday? How are we going to improve local services with an MP with such a defeatist attitude? I want to see an MP who will fight for us and not moan about being a backbencher.

Equally in The Linc interview I can still see that Karl remains as gender stereotypical as ever: "give a boy a solder and iron and he can do anything"...what about if that boy wants a thread and needle? Doesn't look like Karl believes that creative subjects are good enough for men does he? Epic facepalm moment once again for an MP who says that he cares about education but is far too quick to play into gender stereotypes and offers few concrete policies to help disadvantaged boys. I mean he talks about establishing a vocational scheme but would that be in addition to Conservative plans or a part of them? There are schemes out there which can help young boys foster a love of reading and writing; perhaps Karl if he's returned as our MP (somehow) could look into getting more Lincoln fathers to read to their sons like my Dad did with me and my brother. Has has he spoken to The Fatherhood Institute directly about their Fathers Reading Every Day Scheme? I'd like to see Karl promote awareness of it  (see more here: http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/training-and-consultancy/fathers-reading-day-training/). 

I also have something to say about the derogatory comment about parenting Karl has made in the interview because it's an important issue for me. As a dyspraxic person, it took me years to learn how to carry out daily tasks like tying a shoelace or holding a knife and fork. My parents certainly were not guilty of not teaching me how to do it. Sometimes it is the case that school students with learning disabilities need tailored support to help improve their hand-eye coordination skills to the point where they can use a knife and fork properly, hold a pen properly or even tie their shoelaces. I'd even go as far as to suggest that teaching nursery and reception pupils how to hold a knife and fork properly is an inclusive activity and helps students bond with one another. Dentists have also highlighted the fact that teaching pupils how to brush their teeth properly can help to reduce tooth loss and if less children face the prospect of having to wait till their adult teeth to come through to feel confident enough to smile because they've learned how to brush their teeth properly then I'm all for it. Those might seem like "parental issues" to Karl but teachers also care about the welfare of their pupils and they wouldn't have entered the profession if they didn't.  Karl's comments about free school meals in general indicate that he'd like to see them reduced to a bare minimum or even scrapped in the future because he asks the question:"is it the role of the state to feed young people?" Well I'd rather see primary school children have a guaranteed meal whilst at school rather than risk the chance of them not being fed at all whilst at school because their parents cannot afford to provide them with a meal (Karl may say that meals will be there for those that need it but he doesn't seem happy about it) and that's what Labour have pledged to do. Perhaps I'm more of a socialist than I thought and that might not be a bad thing! 

I mean Karl's voting record is embarrassing (voting for the bedroom tax and against same-sex marriage included) but I'd argue that his lack of policy proposals that specialise on helping Lincoln constituents is extremely disappointing and has to be pointed out. Karl's been in office since 2010 and yet he has had very little to say on the Environment, disability rights, renewable energy schemes, Sex and Relationships Education that is LGBTQIA+ inclusive or reducing instances of domestic violence, domestic abuse and coercive control in Lincoln. These are the issues that matter to me as a constituent and will get me to the polling station on Thursday. Yet Karl admits in his The Linc interview that the Conservative manifesto promises (which I've read) wouldn't appeal to a young voter because it's not their "core demographic". Well I'm 28 so I don't think I can be considered particularly young anymore but I believe that once a candidate admits that their manifesto cannot appeal to a particular demographic, they're asking voters in that demographic to vote en masse against them. What a shame that would be! ;) ;)

Whatever happens at a national level when the results are announced on the morning of Friday it is absolutely clear to me that Lincoln deserves a progressive, positive, polite and engaging MP in office; one that will stand up for all constituents regardless of their age, class, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religious or political belief and one who isn't afraid to work cross-party on issues that matter to constituents. I'm putting my trust in a candidate who can do this and so much more who has a proven track record in campaigning and local politics and really cares about our city. I'm voting for someone who isn't afraid to defend Remain voters and understands the importance of preserving EU export jobs in Lincoln. I'm voting for someone who knows their manifesto inside out and will try and ensure Lincoln benefits from as many of manifesto policy pledges as possible. That person is Karen Lee and I will vote for her unashamedly on Thursday. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My Voice, My Vote. Framework for Contemplation Completion

In less than two days, the UK electorate can finally stroll to the polls and cast their vote for the party candidate they want to see represent their constituency going forward from June 9th. It's been quite an intense campaign, marred by the terror attacks in Manchester and recently in London. Jeremy Corbyn seems to have mounted quite an extraordinary offensive, having turned round a huge deficit in the polls to the point now where the Survation poll has Labour 1 point behind the Conservatives and the YouGov poll having Labour 3 points behind albeit on the predication of a large turnout of 18-24 year olds. When the election campaign started I came up with my "Framework for Contemplation" which was designed to help me make my decision as to who to vote for in the Election. I'd already decided I couldn't vote Conservative because of their handling of Brexit but I was having trouble deciding whether to back the Lib Dems or Labour. Here's my completed framework based on research I've carried out (I'll explain my overall decision in an accompanying blogpost):

The Arts: 
  1. Will you match funding currently coming from the EU (including EU Social Fund) for community arts projects? I still don't know whether funding levels would kept exactly as they are but there are commitments to creating Arts Funds which may be used to help fund community arts projects.
  2. Will you commit to re-staffing our public libraries and ensuring every library has free computer access for 0-18 year olds? Labour are committed to protecting libraries and upgrading computer services as well as providing Wi-fi access (which I am guessing would be free) whereas the other parties do not mention library services directly in their manifestos.
  3. Will you increase funding to Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council? Labour would directly increase funding to the Arts Council but no idea as of yet whether funding would be made available to the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Lib Dems and Conservative funding doesn't seem directed towards the Councils.
  4. Will you introduce an Arts premium for primary school children in England? Labour would introduce a £160m Arts Premium; the Lib Dems would not. 
  5. Will you recognise the importance of Dance and Art to the secondary school curriculum and ensure that arts materials are available to every state-maintained school in England? Labour wants to reform the EBacc performance measure to potentially include Arts subjects as an option and the Lib Dems want to protect access to Arts and creative subjects on the current National Curriculum. 
Choice: Labour.

Health and Social Care:

  1. Will you repeal the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012? Labour have promised directly in their manifesto to repeal. 
  2. Will you pledge to stop signing Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and find a way to free the NHS from them (e.g. through a National Investment Bank scheme)? Labour do hint at the prospect of reducing privatisation in the NHS and that means they wouldn't enter into any new PFI contracts. Not sure whether the PFI contracts could be ended. 
  3. Will the Nurses Training Bursary be reinstalled and the £120 registration fee scrapped for new trainee nurses? Both Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to reinstate the Nurses Training Bursary but no mention of the registration fee in the manifestos.
  4. Will you conduct a national review into mental health services in England, including looking at expanding funding streams to allow for the recruitment of more permanent psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists? The Lib Dems would look at reducing waiting times for children and young people so that they don't have to wait more than 6 weeks to treatment for depression or more than 2 weeks for treatment after their first episode of psychosis. The Lib Dems are also looking into introducing a dedicated service for children and young people based on the Australian "headspace model" and end the routine detention of people in police cells. They would ringfence some money from their 1p in the £1 Income Tax increase for the MH budget. Labour would ensure that children no longer need to be treated on adult wards and ensure that every pupil has access to a counselling service. The £30bn NHS spending commitment would include money to recruit more MH professionals and Labour would ringfence the MH budget so it will not be reduced in the course of the next Parliament. 
  5. Will you consider launching a national campaign to fight the stigma of loneliness? Labour talk explicitly about tackling loneliness in their manifesto, stating that they would work with businesses, community groups and civil society to help reduce loneliness. 
  6. Will public health budgets be protected from further budgetary cuts? The Lib Dems would keep public health within the local government remit but reinstate the funding that was cut by the Conservative Government. Labour would create a £250m Children's Health Fund to improve the health of children and young people in the UK which will include increasing the number of health visitors and school nurses in schools.
  7. Will the pay cap on all NHS staff be lifted? Both Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to do this. 
  8. Will the Social Care budget funding be increased beyond the £2bn announced by the Conservatives in the Spring Budget 2017? The Lib Dems believe that the ringfenced revenue gained from implementing that Income Tax rise would be £6bn and part of that would be spent on Social Care; this would allow them to implement a cap on the cost of social care for those who have to pay. Labour will increase the social care budget by £8bn over the next parliamentary term with an additional £1bn provided in the first year. They also admit that an additional £3bn a year every year for the first few years will be needed to create their National Care Service which would be enough to bring in a cap on the cost of care and raise the asset test threshold so that more people can have access to free social care as well as providing free end of life care. Labour would consult with other parties as to how this £3bn extra a year can be raised including the possibility of bringing in a social care levy. 
Choice: Labour.

Young People & Education:
  1. Will you commit to lowering the voting age to 16? Both Labour and the Lib Dems would reduce the voting age to 16. 
  2. Will you at least protect per pupil funding for state maintained schools in England? Labour have stated that they will reverse the £3bn cuts planned for state schools in England, scrap plans to spend £320m on 120 new free schools and to expand grammar school places and have pledged to reverse the Apprenticeship Levy for schools which would save them £150m a year. £160m a year will be spent on an Arts Pupil Premium in primary schools in England. A fairer funding formula would be brought in but no school would be left worse off as a result of the changes. The Lib Dems pledge to spend £7bn on schools, protecting per pupil funding in real terms by reversing cuts, introducing a fairer National Funding System (along the lines of Labour) and protecting the pupil premium. 
  3. Will you introduce LGBTQIA+ age-appropriate Sex and Relationships Education into all schools regardless of faith? Labour has pledged to introduce guidance to make SRE LGBT+ inclusive but haven't pledged to make SRE mandatory in all schools in England (only state maintained ones). The Lib Dems state that SRE will include lessons on LGBT+ issues which seems to me as if that would mean mandatory lessons needing to be planned to be delivered in the first year of SRE rather than relying on guidance alone. 
  4. Will you consider introducing Mental Health awareness training, First Aid training and basic accountancy skills into the National Curriculum? The Lib Dems would introduce all of these subjects into the NC but Labour has only pledged to give schools access to counselling services which would cost £90m a year. 
  5. Will you conduct a review into the feasibility of charitable status for independent schools? Both manifestos do not mention this but Labour is increasing VAT on independent school fees to fund universal Free School Meals for every primary school pupil in England. 
  6. Will you reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-19 year olds? Both parties have pledged to reinstate the EMA for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 
  7. Will you consider reducing the Tuition Fee cap from £9,000 back to £3,000? The Lib Dems would reinstate university maintenance grants and look at the sustainability of tuition fees in the long-term. Labour would abolish all tuition fees for all students starting courses from Autumn 2017 and reinstate university maintenance grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 
  8. Will the 3,000 places offered for PhDs and fellowships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) be available to all students, regardless of nationality? There's no mention of the Lib Dems or Labour offering 3,000 PhDs in STEM but both have recognised the need to allow EU nationals to study in the UK and that means that there would still be access to PhDs and fellowships in STEM for the most talented graduates. 
Choice: Lean Lib Dem (because of scepticism over affordability and sustainability of providing free university and FE tuition). 

Employment and The Welfare System:
  1. Will you increase the National Living Wage to £10 an hour and/or establish NLW parity between 18-24 year olds and those over 25? Labour would raise the NLW to £10 an hour by 2020 for all workers aged 18 or over. The Lib Dems commit to establishing an independent review on how to get a NLW in place for all sectors but would pay the NLW in all central government departments and agencies, encouraging other public sector employers to do the same. 
  2. Will you increase the Apprenticeship Wage? Neither party talks about increasing the Apprenticeship Wage per se but it might be the case that apprentices would get an increase in wages under a Labour Government. 
  3. Will you scrap the 1% pay cap on public sector workers and increase their pay by 4% in October 2017? Labour and the Lib Dems both pledge to scrap the cap. 
  4. Will you ban exploitative unpaid internships that last over 4 weeks? Labour have promised to ban unpaid internships whereas the Lib Dems want to see unpaid internships avoided wherever possible.
  5. Will you ban exploitative zero-hours contracts? Labour have promised to ban zero-hours contracts outright whereas the Lib Dems would "stamp out the abuse of zero-hours contracts" and look into giving employees on zero-hours contracts the right to formally request a fixed contract, with a possible right to make regular shift patterns contractual after an extended period of time. 
  6. Will you increase penalties for businesses who refuse to pay the NLW, who refuse to treat their workers with dignity and respect by falling foul of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or who try to avoid paying the correct amount of tax? The Lib Dems want to encourage best practice in business by introducing a "good employer" kitemark that would include highlighting businesses who pay a living wage or avoid unpaid internships. There's also plans for the independent review into the NLW as mentioned above and larger employers would need to publish data about the number of people being paid below a "genuine" LW in their businesses. The Lib Dems would also mandate large firms to publish data on LGBT+ and BAME employee pay gaps. Labour would encourage trade unions to access workplaces to improve working conditions for employees and enforce all Health and Safety regulations currently in UK Law. Labour would also bring in a civil enforcement system to ensure that there is compliance with gender pay reporting requirements and equalities reps would be given statutory rights so they can spend more time protecting workers from discrimination. 
  7. Will you scrap employment tribunal fees and re-introduce "dual discrimination" claims? Labour have pledged to abolish all employment tribunal fees and re-introduce "dual discrimination" claims. The Lib Dems pledge to scrap the fees. 
  8. Will there be pay ratios in place for private firms who want to secure Government contracts?   Will they be encouraged to take a minimum of 3 Apprentices on who are British BAME, LGBTQIA+ or disabled to help increase their chances of finding long-term employment?Maximum pay ratios of 20:1 would be rolled out in the public sector and with government contractors under a Labour Government. Labour did float the idea of mandating companies to take on a minimum amount of apprentices but this isn't in the official manifesto. The Lib Dems talk about looking at ratios between top and median pay for information purposes but no mandatory pay ratios would be introduced. 
  9. Will you make changes to the late payment system, including making sure all government contractors pay their suppliers within 30 days? Labour have pledged directly to change the late payment system for government contractors in the private sector. 
  10. Will you commit to safeguarding EU-derived employment legislation, including the Working Time Directive 1998 and Agency Worker Regulations 2011? Both parties are committed to safeguarding EU Directives in their entirety. 
  11. Will you maintain the Capital Requirements Directive 2013, which capped the bonuses of some bankers (the bonus can't be more than the yearly salary but can be extended to twice the yearly salary with shareholder approval). There's no mention of the EU Directive in the manifestos which suggests that the Directive would be maintained post-Brexit.
  12. Will you pledge to fully fund nursery places of 30 hours for parents of 3 and 4 year olds in England? If not, will the policy still apply to those working parents earning over £45,000? Labour has pledged that they will fully fund nursery places of 30 hours for 3 and 4 year olds and phase in subsidised provision beyond the entitlement to help those who work longer hours. Labour also wants to extend the 30 hour entitlement to 2 year olds and then make some childcare time available to 1 year olds, with maternity leave extended to 12 months. The Lib Dems would provide 15 hours of free childcare to 2 year olds in England with a view to prioritise 15 hours free childcare for working parents in England with children between 9 months and 2 years. Long term they want to provide 30 hours of free childcare for all parents in England with children between 2 and 4 years old and ensure provision is fully funded and available to parents who work unsociable hours. 
  13. Will you scrap the benefit freeze for out-of-work and in-work benefits including income based Job Seekers Allowance? Labour have no plans in the manifesto to lift the free on JSA but pledge to increase the Employment and Support Allowance for people in the work-related activity group by £30 a week. They have pledged to redesign Universal Credit, including ending the six week waiting time and getting rid of the horrific rape clause so that claimants do not have to prove any of their children were conceived through rape- every child would receive money.  The Lib Dems would reverse cuts to Work Allowances and reverse cuts to the Family Element of UC. They would "uprate working-age benefits at least in line with inflation", abolish the rape clause and increase JSA and UC for 18-24 year olds so they are at the same rate as the minimum wages for the age group. ESA cuts would be reversed for those in the work-related activity group. 
  14. Will you reinstall Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds? Both parties would reinstate HB for 18-21 year olds. 
  15. Will you review the benefit Sanction system to make sure that it is fair? Labour would scrap the system and change how Jobcentre staff are performance-managed so they can spend more time helping their clients to find work. 
  16. Will you reverse the Personal Independence Payment cuts and scrap the bedroom tax? Labour would scrap the bedroom tax and repeal cuts in the Universal Credit limited capacity for work element as well as scrapping the Work Capability and PIP assessments to replace them with a "holistic, personalised assessment process" with every claimant being given a "tailored plan" which will allow them to build on their strengths and address barriers. Labour would also ensure that people with mental health conditions could claim PIP. The Lib Dems would scrap the bedroom tax and the Work Capability assessment with a new system run by local authorities with a "real world test" based on local labour market conditions built into the assessment. 
Choice: Labour.

Law and Order:
  1. Will you commit to increasing funding for rural policing areas such as Lincolnshire to recruit more frontline police officers and police community support officers? Labour has a general promise to recruit 10,000 more police officers but there's no to increasing PCSO numbers but there is a promise to provide police officers, PCSOs and civilian staff with the equipment they need to be effective, including to fight cybercrime. The Lib Dems would increase funding for community policing in England and Wales by £300m in an effort to tackle violent crime. 
  2. Will you commit to creating a national campaign to raise awareness of hate crime, including homophobic and transphobic hate crime?  Labour would make LGBT hate crimes an aggravated offence and would address the rise in Anti-Semitic hate crime by ensuring there are resources in place to tackle it. The Lib Dems would campaign nationally to reduce levels of intolerance to reduce instances of hate crime and speak out against Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia by working with a range of organisations including the Anne Frank Trust UK and Kick It Out. 
  3. Will you review the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to ensure that collaboration between services does not lead to a reduction in effectiveness? There are no plans in either the Labour or Lib Dem manifesto to review the Policing and Crime Act. 
  4. Will you provide direct funding to help keep domestic abuse and violent shelters open in England and scrap the Housing Benefit cap on them? Labour would establish a National Refuge Fund to provide stable funding for "rape crisis centres" but unsure as to whether that only extends to those charities that help female survivors of domestic violence and abuse only or whether funding will be available to all shelters. The Lib Dems won't fund shelters directly but have promised funding for a national rape helpline which will have "increased opening hours and advertisement".
Choice: Labour.
    Environment and Housing:
    1. Will you commit to safeguarding existing EU environmental protection policies, including the Birds Directive, Habitats Directive and Air Quality Framework Directive? Both parties are committed to safeguarding existing EU environmental protections and Labour claims that quality standards can actually be extended- e.g. protecting native bee species by banning neonicotinoids "as soon as our EU relationship allows us to do so".  The Lib Dems would suspend the use of neonicotinoids until they no longer harm bees. The Lib Dems would also pass a Nature Act so that the Nature Capital Committee can set legally binding targets to help improve biodiversity and air quality even as Brexit negotiations continue. 
    2. Will you end the Badger Cull? Labour would end the Badger Cull outright whereas the Lib Dems would look at safe and humane ways of controlling bovine TB (investing in vaccine research) so that badgers do not need to be unnecessarily culled. 
    3. Will you commit to keeping the ban on Fox-Hunting? Both Labour and the Lib Dems are committed to keeping the ban. 
    4. Will you commit to honouring the Paris Agreement on Climate Change? The Lib Dems and Labour both commit to honouring the Paris Agreement and both state that it's important that the UK is a global leader in tackling climate change. 
    5. Will you fund new clean renewable energy projects in Lincolnshire? It's unclear as to whether there would be any specific funding for projects in Lincolnshire but Labour says they are committed to renewable energy projects and the Lib Dems would invest heavily in future research and development. Both parties want to see 60% of electricity in the UK being generated by renewable energy sources by 2030. 
    6. Will you commit to banning fracking? Both the Lib Dems and Labour are 100% committed to banning fracking and shale-gas exploration in the UK.
    7. Will you commit to reviewing the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure that catch allowances can be co-ordinated effectively with our EU and non-EU neighbours? The Lib Dems openly commit to a review of the CFP, acknowledging that it has failed to help fisheries in the UK. They'd make sure fishing rights weren't traded away and encourage everyone to work together to create a sustainable plan for UK fishing. Labour have promised to "reconfigure funds" to support local small fishing fleets and allow EU nationals employed in the fishing industry to remain in the UK and create a Science Innovation Fund to help small fishing fleets adapt to modern trading conditions. 
    8. Will you provide more funding for coastal communities to help promote local tourism inside and outside the UK? There's no specific policies to help promote coastal tourism especially but Labour have promised to reinstate the cross-Whitehall ministerial group on tourism which will help come up with policies. 
    9. Will you commit to building social housing in England? Labour says they will build 100,000 council and housing association homes a year and ensure they are genuinely affordable to rent. The Lib Dems state they will build 300,000 houses a year, including 500,000 affordable highly energy efficient ones by the end of the Parliamentary term. Local Plans would be drawn up by local authorities to help them plan council housing and the borrowing cap would be lifted. The capacity of Housing Associations to borrow would be increased too. 
    10. Will you commit to getting more empty homes in inner city areas back into social housing use, through Compulsory Purchase Orders? This isn't specifically mentioned in the manifestos but both parties in the past have expressed a desire to allow local authorities to issue more CPOs to free up housing stock. 
    11. Will you commit to enforcing minimum private tenancy agreements of 5 years? Labour would make 3 year tenancies in the private sector the norm and would look at giving renters in London "additional security" by working with Sadiq Khan (the Mayor) to come up with viable measures. The Lib Dems are looking into providing government backed tenancy deposits for those under 30 to help them find their first home and would promote tenancies of 3 or more years.
    12. Will you consider looking at private rent caps in areas of high demand? Labour have pledged to bring in an inflation cap on rent rises. The Lib Dems want to ensure that tenancies have an inflation-linked annual rent rise built into a contract so that tenants have peace of mind and don't have to worry about rent hikes during their tenancy. 
    Choice: Lean Lib Dem but a Labour Government would be strong on animal welfare and social housing. 

    LGBTQIA+ Issues:  
    1. Will you protect the Human Rights Act 1998 from being eroded post-Brexit, including the right to freedom of expression? Both Labour and the Lib Dems are committed to protecting the HRA in its entirety. 
    2. Will you commit to a reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (to remove the Spousal Veto, remove the requirement to have a medical diagnosis, remove the requirement for Gender Reporting Panel validation and allow non-binary and intersex people to use X gender markers on legal documentation?) Labour are committed to reforming the GRA but haven't explicitly stated whether there would be changes to legal documentation. The Lib Dems have explicitly stated that they will introduce an X Marker option on passports, "streamline and simplify the GRA" and remove the Spousal Veto. 
    3. Will you commit to a reform of the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that people of all different gender identities and intersex people are specifically protected from discrimination? Labour would amend the EA to change the protected characteristic from "gender reassignment surgery" to "gender identity" and would also remove outdated terminology such as "transsexual" from the EA. The Lib Dems would do the same. There's no mention of intersex people in the manifestos. 
    4. Will you commit to reviewing the situation of trans healthcare in England, including preventing transphobic abuse, educating GPs about trans issues and increasing the number of Gender Identity Clinics and specialist staff? Neither party makes a commitment to review trans healthcare in England other than Labour mentioning that cuts to mental health services can harm LGBT people and that those cuts would be reversed under a Labour Government.
    5. Will you commit to funding PrEP and the HPV vaccine for high risk groups, including men who have sex with men in England? Labour wants to see the PrEP trial concluded ASAP so that it can be provided on the NHS in England to all those who are deemed as having a high risk of contracting HIV. Labour would also improve sexual-health services and tackle the stigma surrounding HIV by promoting the increased availability of HIV testing. The Lib Dems would make PrEP immediately available on the NHS. There's no mention of the HPV vaccine in either manifesto. 
    6. Will you commit to entirely ending the Blood Ban on men who have sex with men? The Lib Dems would ask the Advisory Board on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to review rules around blood donation "periodically". 
    Choice: Both Labour and Lib Dems have good policies.

    Other: 
    1. Will you pledge to protect Lincolnshire farmers' subsidies beyond 2020? Labour argue that the Tories have no sustainable vision for the future of farming after Brexit. They would be ambitious, reconfiguring funds to support local small farmers and those who engage in sustainable practices with farmers being given access to a science and innovation fund to help develop those practices. Labour wants to reinstate the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme and guarantee EU nationals already working in agriculture the right to remain in the UK. The Agricultural Wages Board would also be reintroduced designed to ensure pay standards are maintained in the sector.  Labour would also expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator so that both producers and consumers get a fair deal. The Lib Dems would continue campaigning to reform farmers' subsidies, removing direct subsidies and funding the public goods that come from effective land management such as flood prevention. Local small farmers would be better protected. There would also be a campaign to encourage young people into farming by promoting different types of farm ownership and increase the power of the Groceries Code Adjudicator so that farmers receive the best price for their goods. 
    2. Will you increase local government funding for the people of Lincolnshire (currently third lowest in the country at £88)? Labour state that they will provide investment in housing, transport and broadband in rural areas and recognise that rural councils provide services differently so will consider this when redesigning business rate schemes. 
    3. Will you commit to safeguarding existing EU consumer protection including the Payment Surcharges Regulations 2012 and Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013? Both parties would maintain Consumer protections derived from the EU. 
    4. Will you ensure that money raised from the Tampon Tax does not go towards funding Pro-Life charities? The Lib Dems talk about ending period poverty by ensuring free tampons are provided in every secondary school in England. Labour do not mention period poverty particularly in the manifesto but Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Sarah Champion and Jess Phillips have talked about the need for any proceeds from the tampon tax to go towards funding women's charities and not anti-abortion ones. Both parties are committed to defending a woman's right to have an abortion. 
    5. Will you commit to reviewing immigration policy to ensure that it is fair to non-EU and EU migrants? Labour states that their immigration policy will be fair and "not discriminate between people of different races or creeds." Labour would draft the policy whilst negotiating with the EU and consulting with the Commonwealth and other Non-EU partners. Businesses, trade unions and devolved governments would help to identify skill shortages and controls may be brought in, including employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a mix. The Lib Dems support the freedom of movement principle and believe any immigration restrictions following Brexit must take into account "the vital importance of EU workers to our economy." The Lib Dems believe strict border control is important and we should allow high-skilled immigration. 
    6. Will you review UK Asylum policy so that waiting times for application processing are reduced, LGBTQIA+ people aren't forced back to a country where they cannot be openly themselves and detention facilities are fit-for-purpose with gender-neutral facilities in place for non-binary asylum seekers? The Lib Dems have pledged to end indefinite detentions by introducing a 28-day limit. They want to speed up application processing and offer guaranteed asylum to those who are fleeing persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification when they could be imprisoned, tortured or murdered in their home country. Deportation of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers would be halted. Labour talks about honouring international law and moral obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers but there are no specific policies in place to speed up processing times or protect LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers within the manifesto. 
    7. Will you protect the Foreign Aid budget? Both the Lib Dems and Labour would protect the Foreign Aid budget. 
    8. Will you commit to scrutinising the terms of the EU deal and not be afraid to ask for it to be amended? The Lib Dems argue for a 2nd EU Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal gained from the EU whereas Labour have guaranteed Parliament a free vote (aka a meaningful vote) on the terms of the final Brexit deal and reject "no deal" as a viable option with transitional arrangements negotiated to prevent the UK economy "falling off a cliff edge". 
    9. Will you pledge to look at House of Lords reform, to get rid of Bishops and Hereditary peers and use the freed up spaces to increase the number of Crossbench MPs in the House? The Lib Dems would reform the House of Lords so that it has a "proper democratic mandate", Labour argues too that the House of Lords should be a democratically elected chamber but would end the hereditary principle and reduce the size of the House of Lords in the meantime.

    Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: Energy and Environment

    We've heard a lot of Environmental Issues bashing over the past year. Climate Change deniers have been crawling out the woodwork, intent on trying to derail the brilliant Paris Agreement on Climate Change that would see global temperatures ideally reduce by 2C by 2030. There are right-wing commentators who are lusting after the economic opportunities opened up by fracking (shale gas exploration) without caring about the impact on the rural communities and wildlife that they've probably never bothered to visit. Clean Air isn't seen as much of a priority than it should be. And in the UK we are worried about the potential impact on Brexit on rural communities and wildlife with only vague commitment being shown by the Conservatives to guarantee EU environment directives are kept (intact) in UK legislation post-Brexit. I care deeply about the future of the countryside and our native species and I want to see cleaner air in our cities with green spaces in our cities protected from development. Therefore I read the manifesto promises on the Environment very carefully.

    Labour:
    • Labour have noted that the Conservatives, under David Cameron and Theresa May's leadership have "broken their promise to be the greenest government ever". This is clear from the Government's recent decision to privatise the Green Investment Bank (after it was established under the Coalition Government thanks to Vince Cable) and their Clean Air Strategy, which has been criticised by High Court judges for being too weak on effective policy.
    • Labour would "introduce an immediate emergency price cap" so that average dual-fuel bills remain under £1,000 a year,
    • Labour would bring the enemy system back into public ownership, starting with regaining control of energy supply networks and then support the creation of local energy companies and co-operatives that would be accountable with one in every region of the UK. Publicly owned companies would also be able to purchase regional grid infrastructure and national grid infrastructure would eventually come back into public ownership "over time" (i.e. it'd take more than 1 parliamentary term to enact the policy).
    • Labour would insulate 4 million homes to reduce fuel poverty deaths "as an infrastructure priority".
    • Homeowners would be given the opportunity to take out interest-free loans to improve their property (hope this doesn't mean installing garden features).
    • Labour would improve the Landlord Energy Efficient regulations and re-establish the Landlord Energy Saving Allowance. 
    • Labour would "invest in new state-of -the-art low-carbon gas and renewable energy" with a target of "60% of the UK's energy coming from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030".
    • Labour would ban fracking because we're meant to be moving away from an economy that relies on fossil fuels and we're meant to be reducing the amount of gas extraction after 2030 (according to the Committee on Climate Change).
    • Labour are committed to investing in carbon capture and storage systems.
    • Labour would create a strategy to protect North Sea oil and gas assets and jobs. 
    • Labour would invest in renewable energy projects including tidal lagoons. 
    • Labour would continue to support future nuclear projects (and commit to protect nuclear workers' jobs and pensions) but admit there are opportunities for decommissioning on a national and international level. 
    • Labour would remain a member of Euratom because it allows the UK to "trade fissile material" and allow nuclear firms to collaborate on research. 
    • The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Climate Change Act targets would be fully honoured. 
    • Labour would give financial backing to low carbon sector businesses so they can "secure crucial shares of global export markets".
    • Labour would prioritise tariff-free access to energy sources from Europe post Brexit.
    • Labour would invest in firms who develop and manufacture low-emission vehicles in the hope they "create cleaner modes of transport".
    • Labour would "retrofit 1000s of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to Euro 6 standards"; Euro 6 standards were the latest to be introduced by the EU (in September 2015) and slashes the amount of Nitrogen Oxide emissions from 0.18g/km to 0.08g/km (see more https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/know-how/euro-emissions-standards/). The UK will probably maintain these standards post-Brexit. 
    • Labour would give the Fire & Rescue Services "a statutory duty to co-ordinate and respond to floods" and "fund robust flood resilience". 
    • Labour would guarantee all existing EU directives and look at expanding environmental quality standards. 
    • Labour would introduce a new Clean Air Act. 
    • Labour would safeguard all habitats and species in the "blue belts" of the seas and oceans surrounding the UK.
    • Labour would set targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes.
    • Labour would protect British bee species by prohibiting neonicotinoids "as soon as the EU relationship" allows them to (I wonder why the EU haven't banned them yet?)
    • Labour would work with "farmers and foresters" to plant 1 million native trees to "promote biodiversity" and aid flood management. 
    • Labour would keep all forests in public hands.
    • Labour would establish a "science innovation fund" which would include working with farmers and fisheries and there is a pledge to support small scale fishing fleets (no idea what kind of support that would entail, though).
    • Labour would increase the maximum sentence for people convicted of animal cruelty . The guidance from the Sentencing Council (updated in April 2017) states that under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, people convicted of animal cruelty can face an unlimited fine for the least serious offence (lesser harm, low culpability) to a maximum of 6 months in jail in England and Wales (http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/item/animal-cruelty-revised-2017/2-animal-cruelty-revised-2017/). Battersea Cats and Dogs Home believe that the maximum sentence should be increased to 5 years to bring it in line with Northern Irish sentencing guidelines.
    • Labour would promote "cruelty-free animal free husbandry" and introduce a consultation period on how to better enforce those standards.
    • Labour would prohibit the third-party sale of puppies.
    • Labour would introduce a total ban on the sale of ivory.
    • Labour would support the ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
    • Labour has committed to stopping the badger cull, which they believe spreads bovine TB rather than reduces cases.
    • Labour would maintain the bans on fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing. 
    Lib Dems:
    • The Lib Dems want to establish a "Cabinet Committee on Sustainability" which would be chaired by a cabinet minister and establish an "Office for Environmental Responsibility" to scrutinise a future Lib Dem government's efforts to meet ambitious targets that are set out in their manifesto.
    • The Lib Dems would introduce an Air Quality Plan and pass a Green Transport Act to reduce air pollution which they argue would help prevent 40,000 premature deaths a year. Measures contained within the Air Quality Plan include:
      • a diesel scrappage scheme with a total ban on the sale of diesel cars and small vans by 2025
      • an extension of Ultra-Low Emission Zones to 10 more cities and towns across the UK
      • all private-hire vehicles (such as London Taxis) and diesel buses which are licenced to run in urban areas will have to run on ultra-low emission or zero-emission fuels by 2022.
    • The Lib Dems would reform vehicle taxation so that there are more incentives available to increase sales of electric cars and there would be funding available to increase the number of electric car charging points across the UK.
    • The Lib Dems would pass a Zero Carbon Act which would put in place legally-binding targets to "reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and down to 0% by 2050". 
    • A British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank would be created which would be able to invest in low-carbon sustainable housing and infrastructure. 
    • The Lib Dems would retain the Paris Agreement targets and "play a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change" (I must admit it'd be fun seeing Tim Farron try and take Donald Drumpf to task on his lacklustre knowledge of sustainable green jobs and climate change!)
    • Renewable energy capacity would be expanded under a Lib Dem Government, with a target set of "60% of electricity being generated from renewable energy sources by 2030". The Lib Dems would restore support for installation of solar PV (Photovoltaic) systems and onshore wind farms "in appropriate locations" and build more electricity interconnectors to "underpin this higher reliance on renewables". 
    • The Lib Dems would "support investment in energy storage, smart-grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind and tidal power" and they would fund the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. There would also be more investment for Green Research and Development.
    • The Lib Dems would "support an ambitious carbon capture and storage programme".
    • The Lib Dems still support the building of new nuclear power stations but only when concerns about safety, waste disposal and cost are fully addressed.
    • The Lib Dems would ensure that the UK remains a member of Euratom because they believe collaboration on nuclear research and development is essential and it allows UK nuclear scientists to retain access to research funding.
    • The Lib Dems would bring in a Green Buildings Act which will include an ambition for every home in England reaching Energy rating Band C by 2025.
    • 4 million homes would be made highly energy efficient (Band C) by 2022, with fuel poverty struck households receiving help as a priority.
    • The Zero Carbon Standard for new homes would be reintroduced after the Tories scrapped the Standard with it being extended to non-domestic buildings by 2022.
    • Community energy schemes would be expanded with local authorities being encouraged to create and/or invest in energy saving projects and generating local electricity. 
    • Local authorities would be encouraged to promote demonstration projects such as investing in electric vehicles.
    • The Lib Dems would back new entrants to the energy market to take on the Big 6 Energy firms with 30% of households receiving their energy from competitors of the Big 6 by 2022.
    • The Lib Dems would establish a £2bn flood prevention fund which would provide support to small community and council-led schemes in an effort to "reduce upstream flooding". The Lib Dems would also aim to improve flood defences and introduce higher standards for "flood resilience" for buildings and infrastructure in flood risk areas. This policy could directly help people in areas such as Boston and Hull who want to see better flood prevention schemes in place.
    • The Lib Dems would pass a Nature Act which would finally put the Nature Capital Committee on a statutory footing. 
    • The Lib Dems are committed to "significantly expanding the amount of accessible green space", including the completion of the coastal path and create new National Nature parks to protect up to 1 million acres of accessible green space.
    • The Lib Dems would "protect and restore" all of England's lakes, rivers and wetlands (through introducing higher water efficiency standards) and commit to creating a"marine blue belt".
    • A tree is to be planted for every UK citizen over the next 10 years to help protect the UK's ancient woodlands.
    • Use of neonicotinoids would be suspended "until their use in agriculture does not harm bees or other pollinators" (different stance taken from Labour).
    • Like Labour the Lib Dems would introduce stronger animal cruelty penalties.
    • The Lib Dems would ban caging of hens.
    • Illegal pet imports would be reduced by bringing in "legal identification requirements for online sales".
    • The Lib Dems will fund research into animal experimentation alternatives. 
    • The Lib Dems haven't committed to ending the badger cull; instead they will look into humane ways of controlling bovine TB and provide investment to produce "workable vaccines".
    • The Lib Dems want to pass a Zero Waste Act, with "legally binding targets for reducing net consumption of key resources" and introducing incentives to try and get businesses to invest in resource efficiency. 
    • The Lib Dems would introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups.
    • A statutory recycling target of 70% would be set in England and "separate food waste collection" will happen in at least 90% of homes by 2022.
    • "A coherent tax and regulatory framework for landfill, incineration and waste collection" is to be established under a Lib Dem Government, with them reinstating the Landfill Tax escalator (and extending the escalator to the lower rate). There would be consultation on the introduction of an Incineration Tax too.
    Conservatives:
    • The Conservatives have pledged to ensure the UK has the lowest energy costs in Europe for businesses as well as households. 
    • There would be an industrial energy efficient scheme created for large companies to incentivise them to put in measures to reduce energy use and cut bills.
    • Smart meters would be offered to every home and business by the end of 2020 (but no idea as to how much this would actually cost).
    • Energy provider switching would be made easier with a "safeguard tariff cap" introduced.
    • The Conservatives want to hold a review into the cost of energy production to ensure the costs remain "as low as possible" but ensure there is a reliable energy supply. 
    • The Conservatives commit to meeting the 2050 carbon emission reduction target. 
    • The Conservatives "aim to lead the world in environmental protections" including reaffirming the commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. There would be "greater co-operation within international bodies" which would help to further protect endangered species. There is also a reaffirmed commitment to creating a Marine "Blue Belt" that would include British Overseas Territories; the Conservatives claim that this would create "the largest marine sanctuaries anywhere in the world". 
    • The Conservatives have pledged to "maintain the UK's global leadership in offshore wind" and have also stated that they are open to expanding onshore wind projects in "the remote islands of Scotland" (because they say local communities would benefit directly from the investment with extra job creation) but no such plans are suggested for England (that might raise a few eyebrows).
    • The Conservatives are committed to spending more on energy storage and promoting the smart grid (like the Lib Dems have also promised).
    • The Conservatives fully back fracking (and shale gas exploration) and would make it easier for companies to get planning permission for exploratory wells with "major shale planning decisions" being taken out of local council hands into those of the National Planning Regime. There would be a Shale Environmental regulator who would "provide clear governance" and "allow decisions to be made fairly". Proposals for a Shale Gas Wealth Fund will also change so that local communities receive more from shale gas tax revenues, perhaps with the payments "being made directly to the people themselves". However most of the shale gas tax revenue would be invested nationally. 
    • There is a commitment in the manifesto to help support the oil and gas industry but even the Conservatives have accepted that there will be eventual decommissioning of the North Sea basin. So they see an opportunity to develop a  "world leading decommissioning" sector so that jobs can be created that could be filled by those whose jobs are at risk as a result of decommissioning the North Sea basin in the first place. 
    • The Conservatives want to make the UK the global leader in "electric vehicle technology" and have set a target of "every car and van to be zero-emission by 2050" with a £600m investment made by 2020.
    • The number of low-emission buses would increase.
    • The Conservatives would "deliver on their commitment to improve natural flood management" 
    • Forests and woodland would be kept entirely in public hands and there would be "stronger protections" for ancient woodland.
    • There would be action taken on animal welfare (yet they want to allow MPs to vote on repealing the Hunting Act, meaning that fox hunts may be allowed in the future despite 83% of the public, including 70% of Conservatives being against the reintroduction of fox hunting when they were asked in a 2015 Ipsos MORI poll...http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/opposition-to-fox-hunting-hits-all-time-high-with-even-most-tory-voters-opposed-a6786411.html ). 
    • The Conservatives would make every slaughterhouse install CCTV systems and control the live farm animal slaughter export system soon after the UK leaves the EU.
    • The Conservatives will follow through on their plans to tighten pet sales, with sales of puppies younger than 8 weeks being made illegal and anyone who breeds and sells 3 or more puppy litters a year to have a formal licence with irresponsible breeders facing an unlimited fine or up to 6 months in prison. Anyone who "trades commercially in pets online" will also need a licence (see more here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-plans-to-crack-down-on-backstreet-puppy-breeders).
    • The Conservatives have committed to planting 11 million trees previously and now commit to planting another 1 million trees in towns and cities and ensure that local councils consult with their residents before they cut trees down. 
    • The Conservatives would reduce litter by "supporting comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling, supporting better packaging" and forcing councils to remove roadside litter and prosecute offenders when they are caught littering. 
    • The Conservatives say they will "be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it", with a 25 year Environmental Plan drawn up explaining how environmental protections will strengthen as we leave the EU. However, you have to question whether a party who advocates fracking and fox hunting can really be seen to be environmentally friendly. 
    Overall Thoughts:
    In terms of overall vision and policy provided by the 3 mainstream parties, the Lib Dem manifesto seems to me to be the most thoroughly comprehensive, with practical ideas given on how to reduce carbon emissions as well as detail on legislation that they believe would need to be passed to help improve air quality, provide more green transport and improve waste recycling services. However, the introduction of a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups would not be welcome news to workers who drink their morning coffee "on the go" because of hectic working schedules and there's no commitment to ending the badger cull outright.

    The Conservative manifesto is full of warm words and certain policies would appeal to voters, especially the idea of a Marine Blue Belt that includes British Overseas Territorial waters and ensuring that litter is reduced on UK streets and roads. They have also put forward the idea of creating a 25 year Environmental Plan but the unwavering commitment to fracking/shale gas exploration, the inability to accept the fact that Hunting Act remains extremely popular with UK voters and there's no need for a random free vote promise on fox hunting along with the shambles they've made with putting together a cogent Clear Air Quality Strategy along with the rather lukewarm condemnation of Donald Trump's decision to remove the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement makes me question whether they truly care about strengthening environmental protections in the UK and increasing participation in global conservation projects around the world post Brexit.

    Labour also has very warm words in their manifesto on the environment. I like their commitment to keeping the Hunting Act in place as well as suspending the Badger cull and the fact they will keep the UK free from fracking (as would the Lib Dems) pleases me. However there is a lack of policy detail in places; for example, I have no idea how Labour would "safeguard habitats and marine species in blue belts" other than suggesting that they maintain the current Conservative Government's commitment to having 127 marine protected areas and there's no idea of whether British Overseas Territorial waters will be included in safeguarding plans as the Conservatives have committed to. Also, what would the "science innovation fund" be used for RE farming and fishing? Would it be used to fund research into sustainable farming and fishing methods?

    Energy-policy wise, Labour's policy seems quite ideologically driven with regards to re-nationalisation plans for energy infrastructure. I wonder whether such plans are really that much of a key priority. I like the idea of new energy co-operatives being set up to offer competitive energy prices and the idea of an immediate energy price cap of £1,000 a year will appeal to voters who are worried about prices rising during the Brexit process. I'd have thought it would have been prudent to roll out Smart Meters to households and businesses as the Conservatives will do but perhaps Mr Corbyn believes it would be wasteful.

    Unfortunately it seems that the Lib Dems and Labour remain overtly committed to developing new nuclear power stations but the Conservatives do not mention nuclear power once in their manifesto; perhaps their experience negotiating Hinkley Point C has put them off expanding the industry further or perhaps they unsure as to what effect Brexit will have on the energy industry - e,g. whether they will remain a member of Euratom as the Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to do.

    Decommissioning is discussed in both Labour and the Conservatives' manifestos but focussed on different industries. Labour want to develop decommissioning services in nuclear power whereas the Conservatives will focus on developing decommissioning services in the oil and gas sector. What is clear is that both nuclear and oil and gas are not going to be the energy sources of the future and perhaps it is time to consider starting the decommissioning process for both the nuclear and North Sea oil and gas sectors.

    Both the Lib Dems and Labour have committed to a target of 60% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2030; the Conservatives don't seem to have much confidence in renewable energy and instead go for the expansion of shale gas exploration line; there's no extra funding announced for geothermal energy or tidal energy projects.

    All three parties have thankfully committed to keeping forests and woodland in public hands and there is a general move towards expanding renewable energy sources in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and meet legally binding targets (although the Conservatives haven't committed to providing a Carbon plan which would spell out exactly how CO2 reductions would be delivered over the next 10-15 years...they only provide the UK's 2050 C02 target).

    All three parties also want to develop electric vehicle technology and put more low-emission buses on the road; the Lib Dems want to see all diesel buses in urban areas running on low-emission or zero-emission fuels by 2022 but there's no idea as to how much it will cost whereas Labour has only committed to retrofitting diesel buses in areas with high levels of air pollution, which might be more achievable.

    Overall, I am pleased at the breadth of policies that have been offered in the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos and remain confident that EU environmental protections can be maintained by a progressive government. We need a strong Clean Air Act to ensure that everyone can play their part towards reducing air pollution in our towns and cities and the Conservatives do not really have a very good record on this. The most recent Clean Air Strategy plan published by the Government has been criticised for being weak, with no plans for a national network of clean air zones in urban areas which would not have charges for the most polluting vehicles to deter them from driving and have literally passed responsibility for air quality to local authorities who already have squeezed budgets. The Conservatives will not commit to a diesel scrappage scheme either. This comes after years of heel-dragging by a Tory Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs where several plans were ruled as illegal by the High Court and there was even an attempt to delay publication of the recent plan which the High Court rejected, based on the fact that they were meant to publish the plan by the 24th April prior to the election being called (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/27/air-pollution-plan-election-campaign-bomb-court-government). Perhaps the only way forward in uncertain Brexit times is to ensure the Government can continue to be held to account for their Clean Air Strategy and that could be best achieved through a new Act. The Conservatives will never approve such an Act so my only choice is to vote for either the Lib Dems or Labour.