A year ago today, at 10:31pm, 22 people lost their lives. Young lives, full of potential, enjoying Ariana Grande. In the days that followed, I attended the big Albert Square vigil, I shared in the grief. My city, my home, had been attacked. More than that – I’ve been to the Arena to see Bill Bailey and Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails and other acts, with friends and loved ones. This felt personal.
The One Love Manchester concert a fortnight later was another opportunity for us to come together, around the world, to start to rebuild. Plus will.i.am shouting “What’s up London?” at Old Trafford, which was a cringe-inducing, hilarious gaffe.
In the year that’s passed, I’ve been proud that we’ve not forgotten the attack, but we’ve not let it define us either. Today’s commemorations have shown the city at its best, and the complete failure of the Football Lads Alliance protest last Saturday shows that we won’t let the tragedy be co-opted by hatred.
Just as Manchester is bigger than the IRA bomb in 1996, we’re bigger than this. We’re the greatest city in the world. And we mourn the dead and we don’t forget and we take pride in ourselves and each other and our city. And tomorrow, just like last year’s tomorrow, we get up and we get on with it. One Love.
This May, voters across Greater Manchester will have our first election for a new Mayor. The Mayor of Greater Manchester will be one of the most powerful politicians in the country, with more authority devolved to Greater Manchester than to London.
The aftermath of the EU Referendum remains the biggest issue in UK politics, and likely will do for decades. Overall, Manchester voted to Remain in the EU. But of the three leading candidates, only Jane Brophy for the Liberal Democrats is determined to use the influence afforded by the position to maintain the best possible relationship with the EU – remaining in the EU if possible, with a referendum on any terms of exit rather than giving the Government a free rein.
The Supplementary Vote used in the election means we can express a first and second preference for candidates. In preferential systems like British Proportional Representation (STV) and Alternative Vote (AV), this allows you to vote for who you want to win first, then for who you wouldn’t mind winning, and so on.
Unfortunately that tactic does not work in this election. Second preferences are only counted for the top two candidates in the first round. That means that for the pro-EU case to be heard in Manchester, we have to make sure Jane hits the top two. This requires all pro-EU voters to give Jane first preference.
There are of course many other reasons to vote for Jane. As a health care worker, she will exercise Greater Manchester’s powers over the NHS responsibly and wisely. She is a deeply committed environmentalist, and has a good understanding of small business and job creation. But these things will all be impacted by Brexit far more than they will by the Greater Manchester Mayor and Combined Authority, so it’s even more vital that our Mayor has Greater Manchester’s interests in Europe at her heart.
Even if you don’t live in Greater Manchester, you can support Jane’s campaign today by donating just £25 or more to reach 10,000 voters, and there are many other ways to get involved. But it’s important that pro-EU voters do get involved. The people who want to drag us into a disastrous hard Brexit have not given up, and neither can we.
Last night I attended a meeting at the Klondyke organised by the Levenshulme Community Association with local police. It was a busy meeting with hundreds of local residents.
The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss three recent rapes in the local area – one in Crowcroft Park, one in Cringle Fields and one on Chapel Street. However, a lot of anger was expressed at policing in the local area more generally. This ranged from a lack of visible presence despite more resources being allocated to the area, to peoples’ experiences of crime reports not being taken seriously, recorded properly or followed up.
The GMP representatives present admitted that they had let Levenshulme down, and promised better communication from the police to local residents in a variety of ways. Campaigner Sarah Brown pointed out that the Levenshulme policing priorities on the GMP website read “No priorities”.
The response from the police was a little clumsy at times, with Supt. Nawaz mentioning “stranger rape” to howls of protest from the crowd who were keen to point out that all rape is rape. However, the Superintendent later made it clear that people should be free to walk the streets and parks of Levenshulme at any time, which was a very positive message.
Some of the practical measures mentioned, other than more visible policing at peak times such as the evening school run, include Inspire running self-defence and safety classes, and the possibility of the police making rape alarms more readily available to the public. There was also talk of the council providing more funding for lighting in the parks.
It’s clear that this is the start of a process of reconciliation between the police and the community of Levenshulme. And there are still three criminal investigations into horrific crimes ongoing. But it was a valuable opportunity for people to demonstrate their strength of feeling and frustration. I look forward to future meetings organised by the Community Association, and updates on the investigations and policing in the area more generally.
Today, Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected as Leader of the Labour Party, with an increased share of the Labour membership vote. This has been a long and divisive campaign for the Labour Party – I have friends in Labour in both leadership camps and they’ve all found the process uncomfortable, bitter, accusatory and at times downright nasty. I’ve voted in several Lib Dem leadership contests in recent years (rarely for the winning candidate) but our contests have generally been friendly, particularly among the membership.
I’ve heard it said that those disaffected with Corbyn’s leadership and policy position are likely to “flock” to the Liberal Democrats. I know that today’s result will see many of my friends leave Labour and join the Liberal Democrats. I’m not entirely convinced that it’ll be a huge trend – Nick Clegg was absolutely correct to say that the Liberal Democrats are not simply a home for disaffected Labour voters unhappy with their current leadership. We are our own party with our own history, far longer than Labour’s, and our own political drives. There are plenty in Labour, as in the Tories, who would not feel at home in the Liberal Democrats.
We are as distrusting as Labour of concentrations of power in unaccountable corporations, but also equally distrusting of concentrations of power in unaccountable Government departments. We opposed Labour’s ID cards (which the Tories originally supported) and the Tory’s Snooper’s Charter (which Labour claimed didn’t go far enough) alike. We have consistently supported fairer votes, not because it’d be of electoral benefit to us, but because it’s the right thing to give people a more meaningful say.
However, there are many liberals who may now decide that the Liberal Democrats are a better vehicle than Labour for the future they want to see. Maybe they believe the Labour infighting will continue, and the party will further lose political relevance; maybe they’ve seen Corbyn’s ambivalence to Europe and increasing numbers of Labour MPs chasing after the UKIP vote which has eaten into their Northern heartlands, including Greater Manchester. Maybe the suspension of the Manchester Gorton Constituency Labour Party has them seeking a party more open to input and debate.
If you are a liberal, no matter what party you’ve belonged to or voted for in the past; if you support an open, tolerant and United Kingdom, and giving people a real say on our future with the EU; if you oppose the racism and bigotry given free rein by the lies of the Brexit camp; if you want to see more investment in our NHS and bridges across the gulfs between prevention and cure; then you are welcome in the Liberal Democrats.
Around the country, Your Liberal Britain events are giving people a chance to discuss what they want to see in a fair, free and open society. I was recently invited to speak at an event organised by Richard Flowers and the Cheadle Liberal Democrats, on something I’d like to see in a Liberal Britain.
I could have picked an obvious Lib Dem topic such as mental health, electoral reform, or social equality. But I decided to pick a topic that isn’t covered so much – work/life balance. I gave a short (3.5 minute) speech, followed by a Q&A. You can see a video of the speech below, followed by my notes as a rough transcript.
The discussion that followed touched on the value of work, dignity in the work place, employment standards and other topics. It was a great evening, and the other talks (Holly on how we treat immigrants, and Louise Bowe on diversity) are also well worth a watch.
For my Liberal Future, I’m going to look to the past. About a hundred and fifty years ago, to the Industrial Revolution. It was a time of great political upheaval, with the Chartists calling for access to democracy for the working class.
Working days of 10-15 hours were common, including Saturdays. As machines and steam supplanted manual and repetitive labour, people were working harder than ever. A popular slogan was “8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours leisure” – along with half-day Saturdays a balance which led to longer life, better health, the Football Association and more involvement in civic society and politics.
Since then, there has been another radical change in technology. Microelectronics and computers have automated repetitive thinking as well as repetitive labour. There has been no matching radical look at our work/life balance. Improvements have been made – proper rest breaks for shift workers, for example. There was the EU Working Time Directive. But even before Brexit, we had an opt out from that. It’s time for a new movement for worker’s rights.
These days we are working longer and harder than for decades. We’re spending more time commuting. And according to research by the New Economics Foundation and others, we’re not achieving more. We value hours at work more than work achieved. We are putting our people under unnecessary strain, damaging our health and mental health. And it is counter-productive. Most people in most jobs working more than 30 hours week are not achieving more than they would at 30 hours.
My vision of a Liberal Britain is one that puts people first, which strikes a new fair balance between work, rest and leisure. A 30 hour week as the standard – five days of six hours, or four of seven and a half.
What would this look like? An increase in the minimum wage because we expect people to work, improved access to public transport to cut the time and stress of commuting. Better access to flexible working, whether that’s working from home or flexible hours. Perhaps it’s no longer assuming that shops open 9 to 5.
Some of this will introduce costs. But it will also provide benefits – people will have more time, and importantly energy, to spend with friends and family. More time for civic society, from Neighbourhood Watch to the Liberal Democrats. More time to understand and appreciate the world around us. Better mental health, better transport for leisure,
As Liberals, when society has taken a path which is counter-productive, we shouldn’t be afraid to make the case for better way. This is my vision of a Liberal Britain for the future.
Cameron has done the right thing by resigning, but he should have gone straight away. We need a Brexit figurehead as PM to take responsibility for what’s going to happen over the next few months. In under 12 hours, Leave have said (a) there won’t be £350m/week for the NHS (b) we’re not going to invoke Article 50 (the process for leaving the EU) any time soon and (c) we will probably keep freedom of movement. They spent months plugging these lies to the people, and dropped them as soon as the polls closed.
Corbyn must go. He’s been as weak on this referendum as he has been on everything else. Never mind Labour’s culpability for trying so hard to destroy the Lib Dems that they let the Tories get a majority in 2015. We need a Leader of the Opposition who will stand there in PMQs every week asking the new pro-Brexit Prime Minister where this week’s £350m has gone, and act surprised when the PM cannot answer.
We must be kind to each other, and keep spreading love and truth and decency and equality and diversity. Of course we must. My friend Rhona is correct that we have every right to be angry at those who chose to vote Leave – they had all the facts at their fingertips, and chose to ignore the “so-called experts” and put their prejudices ahead of reason.
But if we’re ever going to win our country back from the rich establishment figures who’ve run a xenophobic campaign, we need to make sure we’re addressing peoples’ concerns. We need to make the positive case for migration providing extra resources which could be invested in housing, the NHS and public services if we voted for a Government to do that. The Greater Manchester mayoral election next year is a good place to start.
Lots of people are talking about organising in various ways as a result of this – starting new movements, joining unions etc. I will say simply that the best framework I’ve found for furthering the cause of decency, equality and of course liberalism is the one found at http://www.libdems.org.uk/join
The EU Referendum is only a week away. I’ve been pounding the pavement as part of the Lib Dems’ Team #INtogether, and with the non-party-affiliated Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, to get the message across: we have more power, more influence, a better economy, a better environment, a safer world and more jobs if we Remain in the EU.
Today, the Manchester Evening News makes it crystal clear. The Leave camp blame the EU for problems caused by decades of under-investment in the North West by successive Labour and Tory Governments – supported by the key politicians behind Leave.
Leaving the EU won’t mean more money for the UK. Even if it did, the people likely to hold national power when the dust settles won’t spend it on our NHS or other things that benefit the average Mancunian.
In the EU, we have more say, more jobs and more money. Nearly every expert and business agrees. We need to Remain, and we need Lib Dem councillors, mayors, MPs and MEPs to make sure we benefit from the opportunities we get from being #INtogether
The Tories and Kippers behind Leave think we’re idiots. Think all they have to do is keep shouting “Project Fear” and “take control”, and we’ll vote to give them the power to make our lives worse.
If 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.
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?
Two 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.