I realise I haven’t posted to this blog for a little while. Obviously there’s a lot to say about what’s happened in the Liberal Democrats in the General Election, with Brexit and with Coronavirus, but for now I’ll link to things I’ve written elsewhere on the latter subject.
Last weekend, I drove to Llandrindod Wells with a couple of friends Holly and Mike, and a boot full of six foot wooden stakes and boards. We were helping out in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, where the Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds stands a good chance of beating the Conservative candidate, the former MP who was recalled from Parliament after pleading guilty to providing false information over Parliamentary expenses.
Helping out at by-elections is really good fun. Particularly in such a beautiful part of the world. One of the things I like best is that I don’t have to think – I just turn up at HQ, tell them what I’m prepared to do, and they give me a job. These days I’m pretty experienced at campaigning but if I needed training or help, or to get set up with my phone apps, I could do that too.
Over the course of three days, I did delivery and canvassing (talking to voters and asking them how they’ll vote), but mostly I did putting up stakeboards . And I got to chat to other volunteers from all around the country, as well as Pete the local councillor running the Llandrindod office.
Outside of the campaign, I got to stay in a reasonably priced hotel (free accommodation is available with local members), sample some great pubs and restaurants in the town, and generally relax and have a bit of a break from day-to-day life. On our last day, we picked up some campaigning in Rhayader, which allowed us to visit the Elan Valley Dams – we only had time for the first one but it was beautiful nonetheless.
Jane Dodds is running a great campaign, but it’s going to be a close-run thing. We need another great Liberal Democrat MP in Westminster, not a hard Brexit Tory. What Jane needs more than anything else is more volunteers on the ground. There are two weekends left in the campaign and I’m going to try and get down for at least one of them. If you’re reading this, fancy meeting people, learning new skills and seeing a beautiful part of the country, please try to get a car full of people from wherever you are to go along!
Today’s big political news is that seven MPs have resigned the Labour whip and party membership, and are standing together as “The Independent Group”. It’s too early to say what this might mean in the long term. However there’s been lots of talk about “splitting the vote” and whether standing for re-election will help or harm the causes they’re fighting for.
These arguments come down to the flawed way we elect MPs. We use a system known as “First Past The Post” or, more correctly, plurality voting – whoever gets the most votes (a plurality) wins. There is no post.
The Liberal Democrats believe that we should use British Proportional Representation, also known as the Single Transferable Vote (STV). It has three properties which make it fairer and more transparent:
Firstly, it is preferential. This means that rather than voting for one candidate, you list the candidates in order of preference. This means that you can safely vote for the candidate you actually want to win, rather than the “least worst” option of the likely candidates. This was the key property of the Alternative Vote system proposed as a compromise by the Coalition in 2011.
Secondly, it is proportional. This means that the result of the election actually reflects the votes cast. It is very odd to realise that this is not the case currently!
Thirdly, it is open. This means that you vote for a candidate not a party, and the parties can’t choose who “wins” their seats. This means that you can prefer one candidate over another within the same party – perhaps a pro-EU candidate from your party of choice, over a pro-Brexit one. It also means that politicians rejected at the ballot box can’t end up representing the people who rejected them through “top up” lists.
One of the key effects of these properties is that there will be far fewer “safe seats”. MPs and political parties will have to work harder across the country for their constituents.
The obvious attack is that the Lib Dems only support this system because it would benefit us electorally. And overall it probably would – historically, we do worse in terms of election results than the votes cast would suggest. But there’s nothing in these three properties which are inherently biased towards one party over another. It’s just fairer and gives more of a say to voters.
Given the state of politics these days, there’s an urgent need for a movement calling for British Proportional Representation. I believe that this movement needs to be distinct from any political party to avoid accusations of self-interest. Unfortunately, we don’t have one.
There’s the Electoral Reform Society who mostly lobby Parliament. MPs who’ve been elected under the current system generally quite like the current system and don’t want to reform it and make their jobs harder. There’s also Make Votes Matter, who are organising along party-political lines, and calling for a generic “Proportional Representation”. This allows them to build a wide base of support, but that base will collapse when any specific reform is proposed.
So at the moment I’m a bit stuck. I’d love there to be a grass-roots organisation spreading the message about British Proportional Representation, getting voters to decide it’s important and lobbying MPs, candidates and parties to support it. But this organisation doesn’t exist and I don’t have the time or money to start it. The need for this reform is critical, but there’s nobody driving it.
Every year, Manchester Pride is one of the biggest festivals in support of the LGBT+ communities in the UK and around the globe. It takes place in the Village, at the heart of Manchester City Centre – until now!
The private car park which forms the main stage area for the Big Weekend is now a building site, and Manchester Pride have announced that the stage will instead be at Mayfield, the decommissioned railway terminal just south of Piccadilly Station. This is about half a mile and across some busy roads from the Village, which is quite a lot for out-of-town visitors in a festival mood!
This is also only a temporary solution – Mayfield itself is scheduled for re-development. Other possible future venues for the Big Weekend include Castlefield Bowl and Heaton Park.
The Village is an important part of Manchester’s history, and LGBT+ history. There are a lot of businesses there who benefit from the Big Weekend and the trade it brings, and moving the main event out of the Village will have a huge impact on an area already hurting from pressure over business rates and Manchester Labour’s betrayal over preserving the LGBT+ character of the area.
It looks like there may be a solution – the land on which Chorlton Street bus station stands is owned by Manchester City Council, and there are plans afoot to redevelop it. Creating a two or three storey high indoor venue, like the Manchester Academy, would allow the Big Weekend to stay in the Village, and keep revellers dry during the wetter August bank holidays.
There’d be space on top for not only offices or flats, but also more accessible LGBT+ venues which could open up the Village to a wider range of clientele who are currently excluded from it.
Let’s keep Manchester Pride in the Village – but make it bigger, better and more inclusive while we do!
Just before Christmas, I was in Longsight with Manchester for Europe, talking to people about how Brexit was going.
The Leave campaign broke electoral law during the Referendum. There is no democratic mandate for Brexit, and particularly not for the hard Brexit that Theresa May’s deal entails – let alone the disaster that a No-Deal Brexit crash-out would entail. This is not the will of the people. It is the will of Theresa May trying to save her own skin from the far-right of the Tory party.
I believe that Parliament should act in the best interests of the country, rescind the invocation of Article 50, and work on healing the divide in the country without self-imposed misery on top. But it seems that the most plausible way out of this mess is a Peoples’ Vote, a choice between either the Prime Minister’s Deal or Remaining in the European Union – a clearer choice with more facts on the table, now we know the “Brexit Dividend” of £350 million per week for the NHS was nonsense, now we know that Nigel Farage “never promised Brexit would be a huge success”.
However, I don’t believe that a Peoples’ Vote will necessarily go the way I want it to. Very little has been done to close the loopholes exploited by Leave campaigners during the last referendum, and the Internet is still full of fake news. The Labour Party, and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, have been particularly disappointing – they know full well that any form of Brexit would be devastating, but are still trying to sit on the fence. Some Labour supporters seem to want the chaos of Brexit to deliver a Labour Government, without realising it will be unable to deliver its programme from the post-Brexit economic and political wasteland.
Most importantly, the Brexit vote came from somewhere – it came from peoples’ dissatisfaction with the way things are. As a Liberal Democrat, I share a lot of that dissatisfaction. People do worry about the NHS, about affordable housing, about jobs and communities. People worry about not having a say in their lives.
The Leave campaign was wrong to blame the EU, and immigration more widely, for these problems. They are fixable – and the Liberal Democrats have the solutions. We have plans to increase funding for the NHS, and build more social housing. And these plans start with keeping us in the EU where we retain our economic and political power on the world stage as part of a huge trading bloc, giving the country more resources.
Under Labour and Conservative Governments alike we’ve seen too much of the wealth and power go to people at the top. In Coalition we managed to start closing tax loopholes by raising capital gains tax, cut income tax for low earners, and put more funding into schools. We passed a Localism Act which gave councils more powers to build housing. And without the Conservatives or Labour holding us back, we’d be able to go much further.
But most important is peoples’ sense of powerlessness. In Manchester’s one-party state, it is particularly acute. The Liberal Democrats, above all things, believe in power coming from the people – whether it’s more money in low earners’ pockets, or electoral reform so you can vote for who you want to win and have that mean something.
If we achieve a Peoples’ Vote on the path back from the cliff-edge of Brexit, we need to go further than just pointing out the lies and illegal cheating of the Leave campaign. We need to convince people that we can fix the problems they see around them – and I believe the Liberal Democrats have the best ideas to do this.
A few weeks ago, the Government approved the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport in London, with support from the Labour and Conservative Parties. This has been a controversial plan ever since it was first suggested in 2006 – increased air traffic will lead to more air and noise pollution, and the disruption to local communities will be significant. However, Heathrow is at 99% capacity, meaning disruptions can be severe.
There is, I think, a better solution to this. We already have trains which exist “beyond” UK passport control – you can get on a Channel Tunnel train at Kings Cross International, and you’re not allowed to get off at Ashford International because you’ve already left the country. With Old Oak Common providing a Crossrail and HS2 station near Heathrow, we have the opportunity to run “air side” trains along HS2 to Birmingham and Manchester Airports. This means passengers don’t need to go through passport control “into” the UK, travel to another airport, then go back “out” and check their luggage again at the far end.
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.