As Parliament finally returns today, we are facing the greatest constitutional crisis of our lifetime. MPs are deadlocked on what happens next with Brexit. This is our opportunity to stop Brexit.
Theresa May delayed the vote on her deal in order to avoid unleashing momentum behind the People's Vote campaign. With the new date set for next week, one thing is clear - Nothing has changed, the quote the PM herself.
That then leaves a litany of different options for the Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn has proposed that the PM go back and negotiate a customs union with the EU. Putting aside Corbyn's mantra that there is no time for more renegotiation, there is absolutely zero appetite from the Europeans for this fantasy of an idea.
Our Labour MP is pushing the second unicorn: Norway-plus. This model would have us join EFTA for EEA access, but also join the EU customs union in order to avoid a border on the island or Ireland. Whilst it solves that problem, it still leaves the UK as rule-takers and not rule-makers, having only "influence" over the rules of the Single Market and the Customs Union.
No deal is unpalatable to the majority of the MPs and cannot be allowed to happen. Even the Prime Minister knows this and when push comes to shove, I believe she will not take us off this cliff.
So the only realistic pathway available is a People's Vote on the PM's deal. It is time we gave the British people the final say on Brexit and give them the option to democratically choose to remain part of the European Union.
Whilst there has been a ground-swell of cross-party MPs coming to support this - including Labour's Darren Jones and Kerry McCarthy here in Bristol - the Liberal Democrats remain the only major national party who want to give the people the final say on Brexit.
Now is the time for Labour and Conservatives alike to put democracy and the national interest first and put Theresa May's deal to the people for them to decide if its what is in their interest. We have 3 months to stop Brexit. Let's not waste another minute.
The word 'hero' can be overused. It's meaning to describe someone who possesses courage, has many outstanding achievements and noble qualities seems to have got lost. But if there is one word to describe Paddy Ashdown, for me, it would be a hero.
Born in 1941, Paddy joined the Royal Marines in 1959 and served for almost thirteen years gaining the role of Captain and also working as an intelligence officer.
Paddy left the diplomatic service to pursue a career in politics having defected to the Liberals from Labour in 1975. He was selected for the Yeovil seat in 1976, where his passion and hard work in the local community pushed the Liberal Party from third place to win the seat in 1983.
When the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party merged in 1988, the party was in dire straits. Reminiscing about becoming leader in 1989, Paddy would often talk about how the Liberal Democrat vote was often represented by just an asterisk - the margin of error. The baptism of fire meant the Liberal force in Britain would either have to rise or cease to be a political relevance.
One of Paddy's most abiding beliefs was the realignment of progressive politics in Britain. One of the reasons he had left the Labour Party was over its perpetual internal conflicts, undermining the cause for social justice. Paddy worked very closely with Tony Blair whilst in opposition - with the talk of a Progressive Coalition at the heart of it. He always believed in working above party-politics, and that the only way real change could happen was by people working together in common cause. In 2016, after the great rift of the EU referendum, Paddy helped to launch 'More United' a political startup aimed at raising money for progressive and liberal candidates from across the political spectrum. At the 2017 general election, they helped over 80 candidates - Lib Dems, Labour, Green and even a Conservative.
Paddy made a name for himself as the fighter of causes that others felt either too complicated or controversial. He led the campaign for Hong Kong citizens to be allowed to keep their British passports and more recently that Afghan interpreters be allowed to resettle in the UK.
His vision of Britain was one which looked out openly to the rest of the world. He passionately led calls for Britain to intervene in the Human tragedy in Yugoslavia. He has long since been an ambassador for Remembering Srebrenica and even became the UN High Representative for Bosnia & Herzegovina.
It would not be an understatement to say that Paddy saved the Liberal tradition in this country. Without his hard work, clarity of thoughts and sense of mission there may not be a Liberal party in the UK - certainly not one which since its inception won a quarter of the votes at general elections and formed a government.
It would not be an understatement to say that Paddy saved this country - it's reputation and purpose - many times. Whilst others question Britain's role in the world, Paddy got it right time and time again. Where there are injustices and human tragedy, where there is tyranny and subjugation of people, we have a moral duty to stand with the people against dictators. We have a moral duty to defend human rights across the world.
Every day, I am reminded of Paddy's influence on me. He is what all Liberals and progressive should aspire to. A great man without who's sense of moral duty, pragmatic tenacity and optimistic vision of a fairer society means that the country we live in may have been quite different without him.
We are going to miss you, Paddy. Thank you - for everything.
This weekend marks the centenary celebrations of women being allowed to stand for Parliament. 100 years later and we have had 450 women MPs, 42 women cabinet members and 2 women Prime Ministers. Not enough, but numbers that 100 years ago would have been unthinkable.
Our current batch of Parliamentarians features four incredible women MPs – each of whom is an inspiration to what Liberal MPs should be doing. Christine Jardine, a passionate unionist, who as our Spokesperson for Scotland is leading the charge against Scottish Nationalists both in Westminster and north of Hadrian's Wall.
Wera Hobhouse – our nearest MP in Bath – has already made a huge impact with her Upskirting Bill, getting support from across the house to end this injustice. As our Local Government Spokesperson, she is also putting pressure on the government to build the millions of homes young families need.
Layla Moran was only elected in 2017, but already she has proven herself as one of the finest parliamentarians around. Her passion for education policy is infectious and she is making the most powerful and radical case for real change in our schools’ system. Layla works incredibly hard locally and has been a fantastic spokesperson for the People’s Vote campaign.
Jo Swinson, our Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, entered the House at just 25 years old and already has such an incredible record of delivery. As a Minister for Business and for Women & Equalities, Jo introduced incredible measures like shared parental leave, extended flexible working rights, clamped down on unscrupulous payday lenders and won government support to bring in gender pay gap reporting. Her passion for gender equality is best articulated in her great book Equal Power – a call to arms for all of us and a guide for what we can do to bring about a more equal society.
I am proud to be in a party that carries the values of Liberalism and Feminism so closely and passionately. We still have a long way to go. Whilst women make up a third of our parliamentary party, they are still disproportionately underrepresented at candidate, council and activist level. During the coalition government, we had the opportunity to add to the diversity of the cabinet, but we failed to do so. That was wrong, that cannot happen again.
I am not too disheartened though. As a party, we are making active efforts to ensure women have equal opportunities. Our policy of all-women shortlists has helped some amazing candidates into seats that mean they are just one general election away from being MPs. Whether its Laura Gordon in Sheffield Hallam or Daisy Cooper in St Albans, we are ready to be a party that represents the type of country we want to lead.
Politics, especially at a local level, can be a boys club, but we can change that and change it now. Meetings cannot be all male, target seats should take into account gender representation, committees and decision-making bodies should be actively recruiting women. We have, too many of us, got used to a culture that subtly and insidiously undermines what women can offer our parties. This has to change and we all need to be a part of that change.
The future of our party is feminism. The values of equality of opportunity and empowerment of individuals are in our blood as liberals, and the talent and ideas of the future will, in my mind, undoubtedly be led by those values. We have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of prejudices and comfortable cultural norms to disseminate, but we have the opportunity to lead the way as we have done in the past. The future of Britain is Liberal; the future is feminist.
Today is Internation Human Rights Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today we can celebrate what we have achieved but also raise awareness about the risks to these rights which we have fought so hard to get.
One of the reasons I joined the Liberal Democrats is that we believe we should all be free from an overreaching state and that the individual freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act are central to a free and democratic society.
You can draw a clear link between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, both of which are celebrating are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year. The Human Rights Act is one of our Parliament's greatest legislative moments and has supported thousands of individuals to protect their rights - whether it be Deepcut or Hillsborough.
There have always been threats to our rights, whether it be Labour Home Secretaries wanting to be able to lock people up without charge, or Tories wanting to scrap the Act altogether, Liberals have stood firm and not flinched in our commitment to protecting your rights.
So on this momentous day, let me reiterate that decade's old commitment so that in 70 years time we can be celebrating this milestone again. The movement cannot stand still; we must jump on injustices. I oppose any attempt to water down, withdraw from or abolish the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, however, represents a real and present threat to our rights and freedoms. Currently, with the Lords, it is due back to the House of Commons soon for ascension. If our MPs vote the same way then every single Tory and Labour MP will be voting for it - even Bristol West's.
The Liberal Democrats are leading the campaign against this. Rather than fighting terror by protecting our freedoms, Labour and the Tories are signing off on a litany of ill thought through new proposals blindly expanding the government's power. But what does the bill actually mean?
- It means if you watch the wrong YouTube video just once, you face up to 15 years in prison.
- It bans even photographs of certain flags or clothing declared illegal.
- Local authorities like Bristol will be brought under the controversial Prevent Counter-Extremism strategy, without an independent review of the scheme. They will also be given new powers to keep your biometric data for much longer, even if you haven't been convicted of a crime.
- It also gives unprecedented powers to border security staff to detain, interrogate and search you even in the case of no suspicion of wrongdoing. There is no requirement for officers to give any justification for their actions.
- It criminalises journalists, human rights activists and aid workers who travel to 'designated areas' of terrorist activity.
It is wrong, will do nothing to prevent terrorists and is an assault on our basic human rights and freedoms. Our MP is currently voting with the Tories for this. Please in the coming days and weeks, get in touch with your MP and ask them to fight to defend your human rights.
Brexit has, at times, felt like a very long, complex yet boring Netflix series. So it comes with little surprise that as we approach the series finale, the government’s history of bad decisions and contempt of democratic principle would reach a dramatic zenith. The government – specifically two cabinet ministers – are likely to be found in contempt of parliament; a historic moment in the history of our parliament.
The reason for this is because of the government’s decision not to publish to MPs the legal advice given to the government over the Brexit withdrawal agreement, despite a motion in the House of Commons commanding the publication passing unanimously.
Whilst this is an unprecedented moment for Parliament, it follows a clear pattern of this Conservative Brexit government treating the role of Parliament with contempt, seeking to undermine and overcome the duties of our Parliament and the role of MPs in holding the government to account.
This government, don’t forget, had to be taken to the Supreme Court just to allow Parliament to do its duty in passing Article 50. Since then, the government has sought to ignore Parliament. Whether it’s been withholding strategic information, intimidating the Lords, misleading MPs, fighting against MPs having a meaningful vote or refusing to involve other parties in the Brexit process, this government has spent energy and political capital working to subvert Parliament rather than work with it.
Brexit, we've been told, is about sovereignty. Brexiteers have spent years telling us that our Parliament will ‘take back control’, but this government clearly doesn’t believe that. If Brexit were truly about sovereignty it’s government wouldn’t hold the role of Parliament with such disdain.
This, somehow, pales in comparison with how the government has treated the people through this process. To demand a time of departisanisation, asking politicians to work together in the national interest, before calling a snap general election for party gain shows this government holds even its own people in the lowest possible regard.
Now, the future of this country is in the control of a handful of politicians as the Prime Minister goes on her version of a charm offensive. An election debate with neither an election called or much of a debate being forced on the nation is not only pointless but patronising. The Prime Minister wants us to have second best, not respecting the real will of the people to demand better than Brexit.
When it comes to Brexit, this Conservative government has been paranoid, partisan and pathetic. Liberal Democrats demand better.
It’s time to give the people – not the government, the backbenchers or the opposition – the final say on Brexit. The government is clearly unable to command the confidence of the House, its Brexit deal will stall and our democracy will ground to a halt. The Prime Minister’s government will likely be found in contempt of Parliament – if she doesn’t call a People’s Vote now, she will be in contempt of the people.
If you’ve taken the bus in Bristol you know you’re rolling the dice. It has become luck of the draw when your bus will turn up, if it turns up at all and if it’ll take you near where you want to go. If you live on an unpopular route you risk your vital service being limited or even cancelled completely by the bus companies as its not profitable enough.
Liberal Democrats demand better. We believe that buses should be accountable to their passengers not shareholders and union bosses. Buses in Bristol should be reliable, clean and available to everyone. They’re not, but they could be.
Last weekend I joined other Bristolians who are sick and tired of the buses in Bristol letting them and their families down. The frustration is palpable, but we need to ensure we are directing it at the right place. As former Bristol West MP Stephen Williams pointed out, the power to make these changes lies with the Conservative's West of England Metro Mayor, the invisible man, Mr Tim Bowles. He has the power to change people's lives for the better, but refuses to act.
The Bristol Liberal Democrats are backing a local campaign to take control of Bristol’s buses. The campaign wants to take power out of the hands of the bus companies and give it to our local authority. They would then have the powers to decide bus routes, timetables and introduce quality controls to tackle the dangerous levels of pollution in our area.
Our public transport should run in interest of the public. Back our campaign to make buses better for Bristol.
Sign the petition here: www.change.org/p/bristol-city-council-take-control-of-bristol-s-buses
The Prime Minister admitted last night that there are three options before the country: Her deal, no deal and no Brexit.
The deal on the table is a bad deal. It will damage the large of our economy, make us rule takers but not rule makers, and offers no long-term solution to the Irish border problem.
Listening to the Prime Minister's statement in the House, it is clear that there is no Parliamentary majority for her deal. The Liberal Democrats are voting against it. As are Labour, the SNP, Tory remainers and Brexiteers. In fact, it's difficult to find anyone who is actually supporting it.
Forces will continue to move against the Prime Minister, with the hard-right pushing for a no deal Brexit which has the potential to be catastrophic for our country. It is therefore important for MPs not to be fooled into thinking it is a choice between a bad deal and no deal at all. There is a third way.
From day one, myself and my party have been campaigning for the British people to have the final say, with the option to remain in the EU. Then we were a lone voice in the debate. That is why today it was so fantastic to hear so many MPs (though still some noticeable absences) standing up in the House and urging the PM to go back to the people.
A People's Vote is not only the democratic and principled choice, but it is also the pragmatic and sensible one. Only through a People's Vote can we break the deadlock and end the Brexit chaos.
No doubt by tomorrow this blog will be out of date. But, whatever happens over the coming days and weeks be sure that myself and my party will continue to put forward the case for securing a People's Vote, getting an exit from Brexit and remaining in the European Union.
The latest Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) has uncovered a rise in the number of people suffering from mental ill health, including high levels of suicide and self-harm particularly from people living in deprived areas.
The report, which looks at the well-being and health of the city of Bristol, shows that the number of Bristol patients diagnosed with depression is above the national average, with new diagnoses rising sharply to 8,700.
The report also shows a strong link between self-harm and areas of deprivation, with those in better-off areas much less likely to be hospitalised for self-harm. Hospital admission for young people (10-24) is significantly higher in Bristol than the national average, with a rise from just over 400 in 2012/13 to 611 in 2016/17 (the last reported year).
The rate of suicides in Bristol has also been shown to be considerably higher than the rest of the country. Whilst men make up a higher proportion of suicides, the rate for women is considerably higher in Bristol than the national average. Bristol is ranked third of the core cities in terms of male suicides, and has the most women suicides of any core-city in the country.
A high-level of stigma surrounding mental health has also been reported, with an estimated 50% of mothers suffering from perinatal mental health conditions not seeking diagnosis or treatment.
Bristol has a reputation as a progressive, creative and youthful city, but these figures show a city divided by mental ill health.
My question to the Mayor today at the full council meeting will be what are the administration’s plans to bridge this divide in our city and what specific support is being developed for vulnerable groups?
During Trans Awareness Week, I think it is vital that we point out the great work done by charities and groups like LGBT Bristol, who have been seen their funding cut so repeatedly that they are unable to provide the full crisis support that can save lives. Vulnerable groups, like the Trans community, need services expanded not shrunk. I hope the Mayor will agree with me that we need to be supporting these groups and services if we are to bridge the divide in our city.
Budget debates are usually predictable: the government proposes and the opposition opposes. The government’s flagship tax proposal from this budget was an increase in the higher rate of tax threshold. This would in practice be a tax cut to some of the more better off in our society at a time when local authority budgets and vital public services are still being cut under austerity.
If Jeremy Corbyn is known for anything, it probably would be opposing tax cuts for the wealthy. It was then an incredible about turn, based on opinion polling and focus group results more synonymous with Blair spinnery than Corbyn’s Labour, but the Shadow Chancellor announced that Labour would not be opposing the Conservative’s tax cut of the rich.
After an internal row broke out, the Labour whips – including Bristol West’s MP Thangam Debbonaire – instructed MPs to abstain on this issue. Labour was even happy for there not to be a vote on the issue, probably to save face. The Lib Dems demanded better and insisted on a vote on this controversial package. The Liberal Democrats again lead the opposition to this Tory government.
With Labour abstaining, it was a clear victory for the government. 21 Labour MPs defied the whips and voted with principle rather than with party and voted with the Lib Dems against this indefensible tax cut for higher earners.
Whilst Labour huff and puff about wanting more investment in public services, when it came down to vote against giving help to those who need it least, they simply abdicated from the debate. That money could have been used to properly fund Universal Credit or end the benefits freeze. Progressives should be defending the most vulnerable in their communities, not giving the well off a windfall.
I and other Bristol West constituents challenged Thangam on this. Her response was to dodge the question, talk about another amendment and insist that Labour would vote against the budget, but apparently didn’t feel like voting against a tax cut.
Then came her inevitable criticism of the Lib Dems. Rather than defend her decision or admit she made a mistake, Thangam employed whataboutery a tactic that is increasingly destroying political discourse. She seems to believe that she is beyond criticism because of decisions taken by others.
Thangam, again, made the wrong call. Rather than standing up and representing the interests of her constituents, she and her partners in the whips office forced Labour MPs to sit on their hands whilst the Tories gave the rich another helping hand – probably for those little extras.
This is becoming a frustrating pattern. Whether it's on Brexit, civil liberties or fair taxes, Thangam and her Labour colleagues are proving again and again why the Liberal Democrats need a larger voice in parliament. We need a strong, progressive and outward-looking voice for Bristol West.
This year’s budget was billed as the end of austerity. This was the budget that would announce to the country that the years of struggle have been worth it and a better future was just around the corner. Instead, we were treated to a complete non-event. Growth remains low, Brexit continues to deflate our economy and public services and local authorities remain stretched to breaking point. This was a sticking plaster Budget, aimed at keeping the government ticking over until Brexit hits.
This government seems to have a routine on mental health – talk the talk, don’t walk the walk. Whilst any extra funding is welcome, the money being given by the Chancellor doesn’t come close to what experts are suggesting is needed to meet demand. The services announced have the potential to change lives, but when the funding doesn’t follow more and more people fall through the cracks. This is unacceptable.
For us Liberal Democrats, these plans feel all too familiar. Much of the announcement on mental health was a rehash of the Coalition government’s blueprint for children’s mental health services; Guaranteeing a named mental health lead in schools and dedicated professionals for specialist services have been in the pipeline for years, but the Conservatives have consistently failed to deliver. I won’t be expecting anything to change this time.
I demand better for mental health services in Bristol West. The Tories will continue to pat themselves on the back, but until we have a proper funding formula for mental health, they cannot guarantee that money will get where it is needed. I will continue to work with local charities to ensure that the case for mental health funding is made locally and passionately.
The Chancellor seemed particularly pleased with himself when he announced funding “little extras” for schools. For teachers up and down the country, this is frankly an insult. Primary schools in Bristol West, which are now in the bottom 20% of the country in terms of quality, won’t benefit much from a £10,000 one-off gift. This won’t stop kids being sent home with begging letters from headteachers, or end the staff shortage crisis. The Tories have cut £1.7 billion in school budgets since 2015; much more is needed than a few little extras.
There was more in this budget for potholes than for schools. Whilst potholes do present a daily bother for most people, surely investing in a 21st Century education for our children is a slightly more pressing matter? There was nothing in this budget to plug the gap in our schools’ budgets. Thousands of schools across the country, including in Bristol West, will still see their budgets cut in real terms.
I demand better for schools in Bristol West. Before this budget, I wrote to the Chancellor explaining the need for greater funding for primary schools in our community. This appears to have fallen on deaf ears. I will continue to reach out to headteachers in our area, and to put funding for the most disadvantaged kids in our society first. The Tories think that the problem can be fixed with a few extra pens and stickers – we need real change for our schools.
Brexit, as ever, lingers like a bad smell in this budget. Before the budget announcement, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were at odds at what a no deal Brexit would mean. The Prime Minister thinks it’ll be fine, the Chancellor has warned that an emergency budget may be required to stabilise the economy.
It’s what made this budget feel like a complete non-event. For all the headline grabbing, short-term giveaways, all the funding and investment is contingent on Brexit not damaging the economy. Nobody seriously suggests this is possible. The government added half a million more to its no deal preparations, now a total of £3.5 billion. This will surely go down as one of the largest wastes of public money spent by a government. I can’t help but think about the lives that could be changed if we invested that money in mental health services or schools.
I demand better than Brexit for Bristol West. We cannot be allowed to pursue a policy that we know will make our country poorer. Whilst our Labour MP sits on her hands, I am demanding a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal so we can exit from Brexit.