If a week is a long time in politics…

What a difference a week can make. A week in which the Conservatives continue to implode over Europe and in which Labour look ever more inward to fight their battles of the past. Abolishing Labour Students for being too moderate; pushing deselections on more and more MPs; threatening Harriet Harman with deselection if she doesn’t withdraw from the race to replace Bercow as Speaker; and returning to re-write clause 4 of their constitution as a final break with the successful past of the leadership of Tony Blair.

IMG_20190917_140752At the same time the Liberal Democrats were looking to the future and this week I attended my first Liberal Democrat conference. Only four months in to membership of the party I attended conference with full voting and speaking rights, the same as available to any other member. An opportunity I was able to take full advantage of speaking from the main platform in debates on Crime and Housing policy.

The overall focus of the conference was forward looking and positive; how can the values of equality and community make a real difference? It was interesting and refreshing to see how shared values underpinned debate, even where there was disagreement, and brought members together. Increasingly in Labour the opposite has been the case. Claims of shared values that unite but a growing division based on whether your interpretation of those values is ‘the right one’.

It was also good to see and meet up with fellow travellers from Labour, including Luciana Berger MP and Angela Smith MP. Particularly to see the way they have been accepted across the party and how relaxed and at home they felt. Something that mirrors my experience.

The debate on Brexit was excellent and the policy decision the right one. How can we campaign in a general election as a party that believes in Remain and then say we will conclude a negotiation on a leave deal to be put to a new referendum? That wouldn’t be believed by anyone. We believe in Remain. If you want to Remain vote Liberal Democrat and a Liberal Democrat majority government will then Revoke Article 50. Any other result and we will continue to work with other parties to deliver a referendum where we will campaign for Remain.

Changing the measure of government success away from purely GDP to well being is also the right thing to do. What else is the government their to achieve other than to further the well being of our communities? That should be the true measure of government success.

On the debates I participated in our policy on crime is strong, with a focus on prevention, community policing, and a recognition of the need for specialist resources to tackle the growing problem of digital crime. In housing we will scrap no fault quick evictions for private tenants as a first step to bring greater security to the private rented sector and then to work with tenants and landlords to reform the sector so that landlords can get a fair return and tenants greater choice, fairer service, and longevity in their homes.

Conference concluded with Jo Swinson’s first speech to conference as Leader. And what an excellent one it was. Perfectly encapsulating why I was right to join the Liberal Democrats. The real choice facing us at the next general election is not one of left or right, not even (although it is summed up in) the vital choice over Brexit, but of what kind of country we want to be. Do we want to go down the dark path of increasingly authoritarian populism or do we want a country that is open, fair and inclusive? Do we want a country that seeks to work for all, not put one group against another, and understands that the world is changing and needs to work for people and the planet?

There is, right now, only one party looking to the future inclusively and with equity, and that is the Liberal Democrats.

Posted in Current Comment, Liberal Democrats, Political Renewal | Leave a comment

Our approach to education perpetuates poverty – we need a different answer

Back in April Heidi Allen MP, pressing for an end to the Government’s benefit freeze made the point that “The Work and Pensions Select Committee has compiled evidence that shows that ending the benefits freeze would lift 200,000 people out of poverty.”  Reducing the number of families facing poverty must be a priority.

Now we have Boris Johnson as the new Prime Minister making all kinds of promises for a positive future, in order to justify an approach to Brexit that is likely to result in catastrophe for families on the lowest incomes, we need more than ever to take this problem seriously and for the long term. It is no good saying that the best way out of poverty is through employment and that we must make work pay if the main lever to make the income from work more attractive is to reduce the benefits income available below the amount you need to make ends meet.

However for policy on income poverty this must be just a start. There is no doubt that poverty and its effects on children and families in the UK is growing. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released in early 2018 showed that almost a half of all children living in the UK’s largest cities are in families experiencing poverty. For young people in the north of England there is a double whammy according to the Children’s Commissioner. In a report also from early 2018 the Children’s Commissioner found that children in the north are more likely to struggle at school or drop out of education altogether. Many council areas in the north, the report found, had twice the national average level of children not in education or training. In London children receiving free school meals are twice as likely to go on to university as similar children in the north.

Whilst we now know that the so called “Northern Powerhouse” initiative was more PR than reality it is true that many areas in the north have seen investment and redevelopment. However children in those areas see this as something done to where they live and not for them. Shiny new buildings don’t impress because they are not something that offers a tangible promise that can be believed in.

For policies that address poverty sustainably they must address not only access to employment and the problems of low income but also the level of engagement that enables people to believe that the opportunities that exist are also for them. Top down policies whether reforming or scrapping Universal Credit or making people provide job seeking plans just serve to re-enforce the idea that stuff is done to you not for you. It’s all about proving you are eligible to an uncaring state.

In his recent book Re-imaging Britain Archbishop Justin Welby makes the point that the focus on education as being solely about attainment actually drives exclusion and helps perpetuate poverty.  It is not be surprising then that data Welby draws on suggests that the poor not only stay poor but are the least well equipped to adjust to and get the most from our rapidly changing society.

In a world where technology and information is changing rapidly being equipped to function in that environment is essential but that is about more than operational skill. Recognising schools, colleges, and universities as communities that can do more than just churn out a productive workforce is central to improving the life chances of everyone. Education needs to be a source for developing shared values and understanding without which the inequalities we are seeking to address will perpetuate. Telling young people their only value is in the skills they can develop and the marks they can get will only continue the exclusion of those who see themselves and their families as having no stake in our shiny new future.

Education and training that creates self worth, that creates an interest in who we are, where we are, and that we have something to offer is known to build community. So often it is lauded as the innovation that gets young people out of gang culture or petty crime. Perhaps we need to see that it also can engage those who might just end up discouraged and face a future in poverty. Making education about the whole person not just their economic value can create communities where everyone can see an opportunity they can believe in.

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Why I decided to leave Labour

I had originally intended to stay quiet on this until after the May council elections. Partly because I have friends still in Labour who are doing a good job for their local communities and partly because I didn’t want this to be just another bit of noise in an already crowded political scene. But as ever in politics, events can change things quickly.

So it seems appropriate to simply publish the main text from the letter I have sent to the Labour Party Membership Department resigning from the party. I’m sure there will be comments. But I would hope after 32 years of active campaigning for the party people will respect the fact that this has been a very difficult decision to make, even if I now think it was an essential one to take.

The main text of my letter of resignation follows:

“It has become increasingly clear over the last 2 years that the Labour Party both nationally and locally is no longer a broad church party welcoming and listening to all views from left of centre politics but is driven solely by a desire for conformity to a single doctrinal position. This is continually evidenced by the repeated demand for loyalty to the leader above commitment to the values and standards of the party. This is not healthy for debate, for inclusion, nor for the future of the party. The consistent belief that this has somehow attracted record numbers of people to the party and therefore of the public to vote for the party will mean that Labour will continue to let down the people it is most meant to represent.

It is this continually growing grip from a single viewpoint that sees the expulsion of dissent as a defining position that has allowed and is continuing to allow anti-Semitism to not only exist but become institutionalised in the Labour Party. When the Leader’s office, despite denials to the contrary, are demonstrably shown to have interfered in cases of anti-Semitism to prevent the suspension of members it is undeniable that the party simply does not understand this issue and is now incapable of resolving it. Hence we now have the embarrassment of an EHRC investigation in to racism in the Labour Party.

Add to this the pitiful leadership shown on Brexit, the most important issue facing the country in a generation, then there is no case for Labour to become the next government. A party which says it must take a narrow line to support Brexit in case it loses support from people who voted leave in the 2016 referendum is a party that is taking for granted the support of those people who voted remain in that same referendum. An overwhelming majority of Labour members and supporters voted remain in 2016 and want a second referendum now. Despite a conference policy designed to provide a route to that referendum the leadership continues to insist there should not be one, its leading spokespeople say there should not be one and this from a leadership that promised that the members would direct policy.

There are other growing points of departure for me from Labour under this leadership. My values have not changed but it is clear that the values underpinning Labour today are not the same. It is increasingly clear that the world view of the party leadership is one I neither share nor wish to support.

I joined the Labour Party in 1987 to make a difference.

I was proud to be a Labour Councillor between 1989 and 2013. Proud to be the Deputy Leader of a Labour council making a difference and Leader of a Labour Group continuing to do so from opposition.

I was proud to be a Labour Parliamentary candidate three times in 1992, 2001, and 2005 supporting a successful Labour government. A Labour government however that brought in the minimum wage, rebuilt the National Health Service, invested in our schools and our children, a government that successfully took tens thousands of families and children out of poverty. A Labour government now decried by an increasing number of members for being right wing, red Tory and ‘neo-liberal’.

After moving to Leeds in 2012 I was more than happy to be a Labour candidate for the city council in a Conservative held ward and increase the Labour vote and support in 2014, 2015, 2016.

In 2018 as a candidate in the same ward I became aware of the animosity to Labour from parts of the community as a result of the anti-Semitism scandal. It hasn’t gone away and has only grown. This and the failure to lead for the country but simply for narrow political advantage means I would now be ashamed to campaign for Labour.

As a result I have concluded I must resign my membership.”

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An important message about rough sleeping in Leeds

Leeds City Council ensures that we always have enough emergency accommodation for all rough sleepers.

This is something important to Labour in Leeds.

While some people may for whatever reason not accept the support offered, we will ensure we always provide and continue to offer that support.

Officers at Leeds Housing Options recorded 435 homelessness prevention actions by assisting people into private rented sector accommodation alone between April 2016 and March 2017, and are on course to exceed that this financial year.

Private rented accommodation is just one of the options for people facing homelessness.

If you see someone sleeping out please let them know that they don’t need to.

Contact 0113 245 9445 during office hours or 07891 271939 at any other time. 

They can then access emergency accommodation and the opportunity to secure long-term housing and support.


Posted in Leeds City Council, Local Government | Leave a comment