Breaking With The Past

Tim Farron MPIf you haven’t seen Tim Farron’s first Lib Dem leadership speech, you should. It’s good in general, but I want to concentrate on something said in the first ten minutes. He came to praise his predecessor Nick Clegg, not to bury him. He explicitly said that he was proud of Nick’s achievements in Government, proud that the Liberal Democrats had gone into Coalition to do our best by the country, and that the tough five years for us as a party was nothing compared to the tougher five years for the country under a majority Tory Government since May 2015.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he has said nothing of substance about his predecessors. The general impression is that Labour is a brand-new party, completely separate from the days of Miliband, let alone the days of Brown and definitely the days of Blair. Any criticism of Labour’s record, both in Government and in Opposition, is met with “Yeah but that was before Corbyn”. I don’t believe that that dismissal is valid, even if we ignore Corbyn and McDonnell’s terrible, meaningless U-turn on the Fiscal Charter (exposed neatly by John Humphrys’ interview with Diane Abbott around 2:42), and the inevitable further cock-ups and rebellions to follow.

Most of the Labour MPs under Corbyn’s leadership were MPs under Miliband, and many under Blair and Brown (including Corbyn himself). They have their own power and ability to influence the party’s direction. There is a long-term threat to rebels in terms of deselection and replacement in 2020, but a party is always more than just its leader. Especially if, as Corbyn says, he wants a less Presidential style of leadership and more internal democracy in Labour.

I believe that Corbyn’s election as leader was the best option for Labour; I also think it’ll be the best outcome for the Liberal Democrats as well. But we should be proud that our leader is standing on his party’s historical record, and not allow Labour to wriggle out of responsibility for the past.

The Orange Grove, Fallowfield

The Orange Grove, Fallowfield
The Orange Grove, Fallowfield

According to the Manchester Evening News, the former Orange Grove pub in Fallowfield may be knocked down and the site turned into more flats.

I’m not a fan of the idea – that part of the main road is very busy, with loads of shops and takeaways, and even before it closed the Orange Grove represented a bit of a break for the eye-line and some welcome greenery. In an area largely populated with bars, it was also nice to have a wider choice of pubs before it shut.

Ideally, if it can’t survive as a pub, I’d like to see it turned into a large late-night café with space for people to read and relax, perhaps some meeting area for groups from knitting to political campaigns, and retain the outdoor area. I’m not sure whether that’d be viable as a business though – what do others think?

Edited to add: Withington Lib Dem MP John Leech has also opposed this development.

Orange Grove, Fallowfield” is by Adam Bruderer, and available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license


Safer, Warmer Homes for Gorton’s Renters

Terrace on Lloyd Street South in Moss Side, ManchesterTwo recent measures announced by Liberal Democrat Ministers in Government are great news for the many private renters (including myself!) in Gorton, Levenshulme, Fallowfield, Longsight, Rusholme and Whalley Range.

Firstly, thanks to Lib Dem Communities Minister, Stephen Williams, revenge eviction will soon be made illegal. A lot of private rental houses and flats in the city are in relatively poor condition, with buy-to-let landlords seeing them as effort-free investments, rather than a contract involving providing a good quality house and tenants paying for that provision.

Many of us have been too scared to report serious problems such as vermin, damp, unsafe plumbing or electrics because we fear we’ll just get thrown out and they’ll find a less picky tenant. This is about to change; the Deregulation Bill includes measures to stop section 21 notices being served to evict tenants in response to a complaint about poor standards. There are a couple of procedural things – the complaint should be in writing where possible, and you’ll need to notify the council if you don’t get a satisfactory response to your complaint. Still, this should give us a lot of reassurance that we can report problems without risk. I recently had to involve the Council after going three days without water due to my landlady failing to fix a plumbing leak, and I was terrified that I’d be given my notice in response.

Secondly, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, has announced that landlords will be forced to meet minimum energy standards, particularly if they can get assistance through schemes like the Lib Dems’ Green Deal. The Green Deal has helped insulate millions of homes already, but private landlords haven’t been motivated to improve their properties. These new regulations mean that private tenants will be paying less for heating, and have fewer problems with damp, mould and other things that can cause or aggravate poor health.

It’s this kind of joined-up thinking being delivered by Lib Dem Ministers in Government which show the difference a Liberal Democrat voice can make.

Terrace on Lloyd Street South in Moss Side, Manchester” by Lifeofgalileo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

It’s Time to Talk about mental health

Time to Talk Day 2015Today is Time to Talk Day. I’m glad that in recent  years, it seems that we’re more able to talk about mental health, accept it as a real problem that people struggle with, and as a whole we’re getting less judgemental about it.

I’ve personally suffered with anxiety and depression. I resisted taking medication for years, thinking that I didn’t want to see the world through rose-tinted glasses. One day,  a friend sat me down and pointed out that I was already seeing the world through the filter of my depression, and that medication and counselling were like glasses to correct, not obscure, my view of the world.

The medication was the crutch I needed to learn to be kinder to myself. I can do more as a political activist with that understanding than I could before. I’ve studied meditation and other mindful techniques to allow me to think clearly and not panic – a skill I believe is useful in politics as well!

But it’s not just about me – many of my friends and loved ones have also had problems with mental health. It’s not unusual, and lots of other people do. I do my best to help others, whether it’s practical assistance, some friendly advice or a shoulder to cry on.

I’m hoping that by talking about it, by putting myself forward for public office while being open about the problems I’ve faced and still face,  I can help to normalise it and bring it further into daily conversation and debate.

As a Liberal Democrat I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve achieved in Government, and our minister Norman Lamb MP.  We realise that to build a stronger economy and fairer society, we must treat mental health as seriously as physical health. That’s why we’ve increased funding for mental health, and introduced maximum waiting times for mental health too.

Even some of our non-obvious policies benefit mental health – growing up with nobody to talk to,  the Internet was the first place I could reach out to people and discuss mental health with them. Our funding for broadband will help others do the same. Our income tax cuts for low and middle earners means more money in your pocket and less worry. Free school meals and the Pupil Premium are helping students get on with study regardless of their background.

Yes, there’s further to go on mental health, and I am sure the Liberal Democrats will do more. As our economy continues to grow, thanks to the Lib Dems holding back the Tories’ reckless desire to cut, while tackling the problems that Labour still deny, there will be more funding available to deliver this. It’s clear that with the Liberal Democrats in Government, the future is a little brighter for those of us in Manchester Gorton with mental health concerns.

UMSU Welcome Fair

The 2014 UMSU Welcome Fair stall from Liberal Youth
The 2014 UMSU Welcome Fair stall from Liberal Youth

I’ve spent the last couple of afternoons at the Welcome Fair laid on by the University of Manchester Students’ Union, on a stall with Liberal Youth. It’s been a good and positive experience – lots of people interested in the campaigns we were running on the environment and International Development, keen to hear about what we’ve delivered as part of the Government that you wouldn’t have seen under the Tories, or Labour, alone.

We’ve also got a lot of people interested in joining the Manchester Liberal Youth student society, to be invited to social meetings, political discussions, meet Lib Dem figures such as Manchester MP John Leech and party president Tim Farron, do some on-the-ground campaigning, make new friends, learn new skills and have fun. A couple also joined the national Liberal Democrats for the Freshers’s Fair discount rate of £1 for your first year!

I was also interviewed live for Fuse FM, the UMSU radio station – I’ll see if I can grab a clip and post it here later.

It looks like we’ll have a strong student society this year with Liberal Youth’s English chair-elect, Matt Downey, involved in the running.

If you’re a student at the University of Manchester, you can join UMSU’s Liberal Youth society online here. If you’re a student at Manchester Met or Salford, please get in touch with me and I’ll see what we can do for you.

20mph Limits Across Fallowfield

Lib Dem Campaigners supporting 20s Plenty
Manchester Lib Dems have long supported campaigns such as “20’s Plenty”.

The local Liberal Democrats have campaigned for 20mph speed limits in residential areas across Manchester for some time, so it’s great to hear that they may finally be implemented in Fallowfield.

As a motorist, cyclist and pedestrian, I get to see the roads from multiple perspectives, and I’m aware that a 20mph zone can make a big difference to traffic speeds and make the roads safer for all. However, it remains to be seen how well these zones will be enforced; it’s a question for Labour’s Police & Crime Commissioner how seriously he intends to take road safety.

In any case, I am very glad that the Council has finally gotten around to acting on this Lib Dem campaign.