Climate Change, along with Brexit, poses the greatest political challenge we face. This week, a UN intergovernmental report on climate change warned that we have just twelve years to get our act together to have a chance at preventing catastrophe. Some, including many in the government, roll their eyes at what they see as sensationalism from environmentalists. They are wrong. The threat is real. The consequences are already unfolding. Climate change is a crisis not for the next generation, but for all of us now.
Given the sobering effect of this report it seemed frustratingly illustrative of this Tory government that whilst these headlines were circling, two policy changes were announced. Firstly, fracking for shale gas would go ahead after a court appeal failed. Second, a scheme to subsidise electric cars to make them more affordable and viable would end. The Tories clearly don’t care about the future, just interested in making more money for their donors.
Climate change presents a threat but also an opportunity to advance public policy decisions that can create a genuinely better world. Whilst the Lib Dems’ plastic bag tax has been an overwhelming success, it is almost literally a drop in the ocean. More needs to be done.
So, if the government won’t act, it falls to cities like Bristol to be more pro-active in pushing for greener policies. The Liberal Democrats were founded on principles of environmentalism and localism, and by combining the two in Bristol – a hotbed of progressive politics – we can demonstrate that fighting climate change doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or expensive task. It can transform our economy and our communities.
In Bristol, it is believed that over 300 people die every year because of pollution in our city. The city has failed to comply with EU legal limits on air pollution for years, and we need to act now at all levels to bring that down to zero. This is unacceptable.
The council is currently consulting on its future transport policies and is considering several options. Personally, I support the creation of an ultra-low emissions zone in the city which would dramatically cut air pollution, freeing the road from high-polluting vehicles and encourage Bristolians onto public transport and the cycle network. Another proposal not currently being considered would be for all private hire vehicles and diesel buses licensed to operate in Bristol to run on ultra-low emission or zero emission fuels by 2024. Making our transport greener and emission free will have a profound impact on people living in the city, as well saving our local NHS trusts millions every year.
We cannot afford delays and half measures. We cannot afford to choose between a clean environment and a strong economy, we have to provide both. It’s time to invest properly in clean energy, producing clean jobs and a clean economy. Bristol is the city to lead this clean revolution.
As your MP, I would be lobbying the government, the regional Mayor and the Bristol City Council to set up Bristol as a green pilot city. We can and should be leading the way on in transform our cities into modern, sustainable urban areas. There is much we can do at every level, but without government support we cannot achieve everything.
We have got to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees to avoid global catastrophe. We are running out of time. That challenge may seem daunting but it is a challenge we must meet and we will meet. We might even create a better world in the process.
During the party conference season, other stories can easily get lost and forgotten. Whilst Theresa May was trying to humanise herself by dancing to ABBA, a week previously a thousand headteachers took the streets of London to protest the cuts to school budgets.
Since 2015, the Conservatives have cut school budgets in real terms and the investments that have been made have benefited the academies and not the vast majority of schools. Lib Dem achievements like the pupil premium - that supports students in disadvantaged areas - have been gutted, classrooms are getting bigger and teachers are being forced out of the profession. It's obvious why for so many enough is enough.
Headteachers are at the heart of this crisis. Every day they see the impact of Tory austerity on their staff and students. They have every right to stand up for their schools. In fact, they have a responsibility. I am proud to join them in solidarity.
The Tory government have ignored the countless warning from teachers and headteachers about the impact that their education policy is having. Cutting staff and support staff numbers, heaping more and more pressure on fewer people. Dropping subjects from the curriculum, prescribing a closed and antiquated education for the next generation. We’ve reached the point now in Bristol and across the country where parents are being asked to chip in for basic school supplies. Surely our kids deserve better than this.
The Liberal Democrats demand better. Not just better funding and resources, but a better education for our children.
That is why this week I will be writing to all secondary schools headteachers in our community, to show my support and to learn from them the individual challenges that our schools face.
The government can only fob off the teaching profession for so long. The headteachers who marched and are in our schools every day are everything they can to provide the next generation with the tools to thrive. This Tory government, however, is holding them back.
I wholeheartedly support the headteachers in their protest. It is vital that this time the Government finally listens to them and puts an end to these crippling cuts.
When Theresa May first entered Downing Street, there seemed to be a genuine change in tone from the Conservatives. Mrs May set out what she believed were the great modern-day injustices in our society:
- Being poor made you more likely to die almost a decade early.
- White, working class boys are less likely to get into university.
- The privately educated are more likely to get a top job than somebody who went to state school.
- Women earn less than men.
- People with mental ill health do not have the support they need.
- Young people will find it even harder to own their own home.
All of these struck a chord with me. These are the undeniable truths of our society. It felt strange, almost refreshing, that here was a Conservative Prime Minister who had a clear understanding of what was broken in our society. It suggested that Liberals and Social Democrats would not have to spend our time debating whether or not these problems existed, but instead how we could all go about tackling them.
Two years on, and this speech seems like it was made in a different universe. The Conservatives have gone out of their way to avoid tackling these injustices. Instead, they have spent every ounce of political capital fighting with each other over how best to fall off a cliff-edge.
Brexit has become the political equivalent of a black-hole. The domestic agenda has been sucked away. Apparently, this week at Conservative conference, Mrs May will attempt to articulate her post-Brexit vision, however the headlines have so far been dominated by Boris Johnson, a festival of Brexit and a Thick of It-style conference app failure. Not the most inspiring start, but completely representative of this mess of a government.
One of the main reasons the social mobility agenda has fallen by the way side is because too many Conservatives simply don’t value it. The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg didn’t get into Parliament because they had a burning desire to see that every child had the same opportunities in life, or that the gender pay gap was a national embarrassment that needed to be ended. He and his ilk were driven by just one subject – Europe.
The reason Brexit so all-encompassing is because those with the real power are demanding it to be so. Social mobility can wait a generation or two, this is their one chance to drag Britain out of Europe and they will not be distracted.
Whilst I would like to believe that Theresa May will eventually stand up to the Brexit zealots and legislate for a people’s vote, I know it will not be that easy. But the injustices and inequalities as set out by the Prime Minister will not benefit from Brexit. The poorest and most vulnerable in our society will not see a Brexit dividend. If Theresa May is serious about building a truly just society, she needs to start working towards it. That means giving us an exit from Brexit and investing in people again.
As the Labour Party conference begins, there is much debate over the direction of your party’s policy on Brexit. It is unclear whether there will be a formal debate on the subject, but I have no doubt that you will spend a lot of time this weekend discussing the best way forward for your party, our city and our country.
I have emailed you, as one of your constituents, seeking your views on various details of Brexit and asked you to back a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. We have debated on Twitter and as the recently selected Liberal Democrat PPC for Bristol West I have even challenged you to a public forum in the constituency so that we can hear from the people of Bristol West and put forward our arguments for our apparently different strategies. Your response has always been that you don’t believe there is a debate. I respectfully disagree.
Whilst you have firmly and sincerely said that you don’t believe a people’s vote to be the best strategic choice, you have indicated you are open to the arguments.
The case for me is very clear:
- That the arguments put forward in 2016 have fallen into dust
- the Leave campaign has been found to have broken electoral law
- Promises made in the 2016 referendum will in no way match up with the reality of what comes next.
- There is no majority in Parliament for any flavour of Brexit, therefore, in order to advance, the final decision must be returned to the people with the option to remain in the European Union.
One argument you have used against this is that you believe a People’s Vote is too risky, and if lost could damage our relationship with the European Union irrevocably. I sympathise with this position, as I too want to have the best relationship with the EU. With all votes and decisions there comes risk, however, the risk any Brexit poses to our relationship with the European Union, the jobs, security and opportunities of my generation and the generations that follow means that I cannot be content to let Brexit pass without a fight.
Barry Gardiner, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have all made clear that if elected they will take Britain out of the European Union. You have described yourself as pro-European to your core, so how can you be comfortable asking the people of Bristol West to vote for a potential government that will not change course and will take us out of the European Union?
Many of your colleagues, including neighbouring MPs here in Bristol, agree with me that we need a People’s Vote. 71% of Labour supporters back a people’s vote and 79% of your constituents voted to remain. The TUC, NUS and many other unions see the damage that Brexit will do to worker’s rights and environmental protections and demand an exit from Brexit.
We have now less than six months until Brexit day. With Chequers dead in the water, the most likely Brexit is one that wasn’t even considered in June 2016 – a cliff-edge, no deal disaster. As a constituent and fellow European, I beg you to use your voice and influence to change Labour Party policy so we can have a proper and effective opposition to the Government’s Brexit and to join me in calling for a people’s vote on the final deal.
Time is running out. Please take this opportunity to be bold and do what’s right.
Liberal Democrats Bristol West Parliamentary Spokesperson
On Tuesday night, with very little fanfare, the Conservative government and Labour opposition voted on the third reading of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill. The bill came in response to the horrendous terrorist attacks in London and Manchester and sought to ensure that we remain safe and secure whilst giving the security services the powers they need to ensure these tragedies are not repeated. Whilst that is something we must all work to achieve, this legislation does not do enough to balance security and freedom and could have potentially chilling effects on our most basic civil liberties.
In its third reading, the legislation came under scrutiny and criticism, including from the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. The committee – which is cross-house and cross-party – determined that “some of these offences risk a disproportionate interference to the right to privacy, the right to freedom of thought and belief, and the right to freedom of expression.” There have also been doubts raised on whether or not the legislation would be accepted under the European Convention on Human Rights, a breach that should concern those of us who continue to campaign for international cooperation on human rights.
Many of the clauses seem entirely open to abuse. Clause 1, for example, changes the offence from “inviting support” for an extremist organisation to simply “recklessly supporting” one. The concept of recklessness is already confused and open to huge levels of subjectivity with regard to physical acts of harm, however there is no legal precedent for reckless speech. This legal loophole opens up all sorts of potentially innocent behaviour to being criminalised.
Perhaps the most chilling part of this legislation is the extra powers given to border security staff. Under Schedule III of this bill, security guards will now be able to stop, question and detain individuals at the border without having to justify their reasoning at any level. To quote the bill, that Conservative and Labour MPs including Bristol West’s Thangam Debbonaire voted for, “An examining officer may exercise the powers under this paragraph whether or not there are grounds for suspecting this person is or has been engaged with hostile activity.”
This not only represents unprecedented powers for our border force, but an inability to hold bad behaviour to account and protect people under the law. How on earth can Thangam Debbonaire, as Chair of the APPG on refugees, not believe that these extra powers will be targeted at vulnerable groups such as refugees and asylum seekers?
These powers go beyond anything we’ve seen before. We have never been comfortable giving unrestrained powers to our police and border control team. Not only are they unwanted by the police, they have been decried as unnecessary by counter-terrorism experts.
For me, it was hugely significant that it was the Liberal Democrats in Parliament led the opposition to this bill. Only 10 MPs voted against one of the most significant pieces of legislation this parliament will pass. Like many in Bristol West, I am appalled that our local representative sided with the Tories over the rights and liberties of her constituents
Parliament returned from summer recess this week. With the Conservative Party pulling itself apart over Brexit and Labour mired in an antisemitism crisis, it can be easy to forget that the day-to-day work continues. This week offered up a rare bit of good news as Wera Hobhouse’s upskirting bill began its journey through the House into becoming law, making upskirting a specific criminal sexual offence.
The Bath Liberal Democrat MP put forward the private member's bill before the recess, representing the peak of a campaign to make upskirting a specific criminal offence. That this wasn’t already an offence shows the scale with which Parliament and our laws are struggling to keep up with modern day misogyny. Conservative dinosaur MP Christopher Chope, however, blocked the bill, but public outrage and passionate campaigning have forced the government’s hand and the bill is now well on its way to becoming law.
This should in no way be the end of it, however. Whilst this is a crucial victory, there is still much more that needs to be done. Loopholes in the law mean that so many crimes that devastate the lives on their victims are not classified as sexual offences and therefore do not offer the legal protections that this brings.
Revenge porn, for example, whilst a criminal offence it is not a sexual offence. This distinction denies victims their right to anonymity in what are harrowing cases. In government, the Lib Dems made revenge porn a specific criminal offence and in 2016 we tabled amendments that would have taken this further and made it a sexual criminal offence. The amendments were sadly rejected by the government. It is, therefore, important that the upskirting bill is not seen as an end but as a precedent for how we can go further.
The bill has not only opened up a national discussion around upskirting but has informed a wider conversation around consent, the distribution of sexual images and the attitudes towards women generally. The concept of consent has got to be at the heart of sexual offences legislation, and the precedent this bill sets out must now be applied to the litany of crimes which are not designated sexual offences and do not offer justice to their victims.
I am very pleased with the speed with which this bill is being progressed. Not only does it show the power of cross-party support in fighting an injustice, but illustrates that even with just 12 MPs Liberal Democrats are making real change and fighting injustice in parliament.
The momentum is now on our side, and the government has shown itself at least open to changing laws. The pressure and campaigning to modernise our judicial system must accelerate as we seek to end not only injustice in the law but misogyny in our society.