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 http://www.libdems.org.uk/join

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.

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