Corbyn’s Re-Election – is there a new home for liberals in Labour?

Lib Dem Membership FormToday, 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.

Please, join us today.

Your Liberal Britain: Work/Life Balance

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.

First Thoughts from Post-Referendum England

sadeuCameron 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

Don’t Be A Leaver’s Mug

Don't Be A Leaver's MugThe 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.

Don’t fall for it. Vote Remain on 23rd June.

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

20 plentyThe 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.