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.
Last weekend an estimated 670,000 people marched through the streets of London demanding a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. At the front of the procession were young people and students, marching for their future and to be given the final say over their own destiny.
I was honoured to join the University of Bristol Student’s Union at the march, joining dozens of Bristol students who like me are anxious about their future. The greatest divide in our country today is generational. My generation, the young in this country, feel that we have been short changed by the previous generations. A banking system that was allowed to bloat and collapse the entire world economy that remains unfixed. The promise of one day owning your own home which is now for so many an impossible dream. Inaction on climate change which threatens the very future we will inhabit.
And, of course, Brexit. The theme of this march was a march for our future. Young people voted overwhelmingly for a different future to the one that the government is trying to force on them. The young are being betrayed with Brexit. One generation forcing a vision of the future that those who will inhabit that future simply do not want.
It was the Brexit vote that inspired me to stand up for my generation and the next, and I am proud to march with students and young people from across the country in demanding a people's vote.
Whilst I was inspired by the numbers of people who turned out in London, I was also angered and disappointed by those who didn’t. Labour know they have the support of a lot of young people and on Brexit it is clear they are taking them for granted.
I am perplexed as to why Bristol West’s MP Thangam Debbonaire who prides herself as a remainer and who represents a constituency which is disproportionately young will still not back a people’s vote. Her reasoning against has been weak and transparent, and every day that passes that she and her colleagues on the Labour front-bench don’t back a vote, the chance slips further out of reach.
The next stage of the People’s Vote campaign is to encourage people to write to their MPs and show the strength of the numbers who are demanding a final say on the Brexit deal. I will be continuing to work with Our Future, Our Choice and the Bristol SU to plead with Thangam to fight for those who voted for her and give the young the final say on their future.
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.