Sunday, 19 August 2018

My Hustings Speech

So, the PPC selection for Bristol South was yesterday and... I beat RON. The hard work starts now!

This was the script of my speech. I'm afraid nerves and some technical difficulties with the iPad's teleprompter app means it reads better than it was in delivery.


Firstly, thanks to all for coming: I’m sure there’s lots of other things you could be doing, even on a dreich Saturday afternoon like this one.

Well, the script says dreich, but it looks like it may have improved out there.

An especial welcome if you’re here from Bristol South.

Thanks for your support unless your here intending to vote for RON, in which case I hope that I’m able to change your mind.

For those of you who haven’t already met me, as you can tell I’m not a native Bristolian. But I’ve lived in the South West for over 12 years, and I’ve been in Bristol for the last 8 – so I’m quite settled here.

Like many people, I moved to the city for work, and discovered it’s a great place to live, so ended up staying.

And it was here that I finally got involved properly with politics: from joining with the intention of delivering some leaflets, to standing in local council elections and losing by seven votes, to being involved with the local party as Membership Officer amongst other roles, and nationally with the LGBT+ Lib Dem exec.

But it all began in a hall not unlike this one at the South and East Bristol Lib Dem AGM in 2010.

Politics has become my life, but why am I standing in this selection?

Someone asked me the other day if I would actually like to be an MP.

Well, I would. Because I would like to be in a position to make a positive impact on people’s lives, both through dealing with individual casework and through championing Liberal causes in Parliament.

But if that was all I wanted, then I wouldn’t necessarily be standing here seeking selection for a seat that’s been Labour since 1935.

So, I’m really here because Bristol needs Liberal Voices, and Bristol South especially.

I’m here because the Tories are failing the country at Westminster and Labour is failing the City.

I’m here because our MP is failing to represent the interests of her constituents on the biggest issue of the day, and a myriad of other issues.

Indeed you may have seen her constituent survey asking for people's priorities, that completely fails to mention Brexit.

I’m here because I want us to Demand Better for Bristol South, and because Bristol South Deserves Better.

Nationally, Brexit is tearing the government apart, and we are hurtling towards the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal in place.

Now, I’m not in favour of the type of politics that consistently predicts Armageddon – that reminds me of the story of the Boy who cried Wolf – but the long term prospects of a no deal Brexit are bleak and we are right to point that out: and to give argue that people should be given the chance to reconsider.

But Labour’s - and our MP's response has been to concede to the government at every turn: on triggering Article 50 before they had a negotiating plan in place, to refusing to make staying in the Single Market or Customs Union a red line, there is nothing to choose between May’s Brexit and Corbyn’s Brexit.

But Brexit isn’t the only long term issue we face – indeed part of the problem is that whilst everything is focused on Brexit, day to day government suffers.

We need to build liberal policies and messages that appeal beyond this issue, important as it is.

In my literature I highlighted three issues that I feel will dominate the future of politics in Britain : Brexit, Inter Generational Fairness and the Environmental.

I’ve mentioned Brexit already – so, briefly, “Inter Generational Fairness”, as the jargon would have it, is about addressing the inbalance between the benefits that the post-war generation has derived from society and the experience of those now in their 20s and 30s.

Speaking in generalities, the former have benefited from generous employer sponsored pension schemes, home ownership, and enjoy a range of universal benefits regardless of personal circumstances. The latter have less generous pension schemes, higher barriers to buying homes, and may not be able to rely on the same levels of support in eventual retirement.

Of course, this does cite the problem crudely, and we shouldn’t forget that there are some very poor pensioners, but it serves to illustrate some of the nettles we need to grasp as a party and as campaigners.

As a whole, Bristol South has more young people and fewer older folks than the national average – and I want to see us develop messages that respond to their needs and aspirations.

Environmentalism, Green policies, and Sustainability issues, should be at the heart of everything we do. Brexit may be dominating the political agenda, but this is the biggest challenge facing the world. And at a time when nationalist and protectionist politics is growing in popularity, Liberals need to be shouting even louder.

On the doorstep, people are more likely to be concerned about “Austerity”, the NHS or Education, and we need better messaging around our policies on these: the need for greater investment in infrastructure and public services, a penny on the pound for the NHS and creating a Health and Social Care Service, and an end to a target driven culture in schools – but all these issues play into the three themes as well.

We need to recognise that our society is, if not broken, fractured. There are people who feel left behind and have lashed out at politicians, and the EU. These are people who have been failed by globalisation and a move to a service economy.

And these are the people that the right wing have stoked up to blame immigrants and other minorities rather than failures of planning and provision at all levels of government.

I grew up on a council house and have lived and worked amongst working class folks – my life may have become middle class, but I can understand where people are coming from. Our task is show them that Liberalism, and the Liberal Democrats, have answers to their problems. We have a different diagnosis and a better prescription than that offered by Johnson, Farage, et al.

At a city level, the Labour administration has proposed, and backtracked on, cutting Council Tax relief for our poorest residents. Proposed, and backtracked on, cutting libraries. And is shilly-shallying on the development of the Arena. Despite his manifesto commitment to “Complete the Arena”, it’s clear he’s going to backtrack on this too.

Meanwhile, Bristol South continues to be left behind in the city’s plans. Laying aside the Arena, which would have been (just) in the constituency, we have metro bus deciding not to run between Hengrove and Ashton Gate, we have no plans for a Park and Ride to relieve the Wells Road, and we have a number of ill-thought through housing developments proposed that don’t take account of the amenities required, or the need to build communities not just tower blocks.

So, if selected, what do I propose to do?

I will work with councillors and council candidates to support their campaigns in the run up to the next *scheduled* elections in 2020.

I will work with others of like mind on campaigns that promote Liberal Democrat policies and values.

I will commit to taking part in two action weekends each month as well as weekday activities.

I will engage with the press and council processes to raise my, and the party’s profile in the city.

I will utilise my various social media outlets to share my thoughts on current topics and to create shareable content for others to use.

We have opportunities to extend the reach of our messages – not just in the Remain voting areas but other areas as well. I want to grow our membership, including amongst minority groups, activist and financial base, and will use this role to seek to achieve that, so that we can fight harder, smarter and more successfully.

We’ve come a long way since that AGM meeting in Knowle in 2010 – the party has grown, but our number of elected representatives has shrunk, we lost a Brexit referendum, and have seen two party politics reassert itself. But the tide is beginning to turn, and with your help and support, I hope to be able to help lead a revival of fortunes, South of the River.


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Some thoughts on the environment

This is the third of my series on "Policy Themes" in which I'm sketched out some thoughts on some of the big issues facing the country - and world - in connection with my selection campaign in Bristol South. The original can be found on my Facebook Page for those who do Facebook.

I believe these three themes (brexit, "inter-generational fairness" and the environment) will dominate politics for the next decade and more... but this obviously isn't the extent of my policy views, or that there aren't other issues that will pre-occupy voters. However, these themes will cut across the issues voters will raise - health and social care, education, jobs - and they will inform my thinking and responses on these issues.


BIG ISSUES 3 : The BIGGEST

Yes, yes, I know I said Brexit was the biggest issue, but climate change and the environment will have a much bigger, and wider, impact in the long run. And Brexit makes it worse - impairing our ability to be part of an internationally coordinated response, and potentially putting us at the mercy of those who argue for lower standards.

The science is undeniable (unless you're Lord Lamont) - and the future without systemic change is bleak. Science, innovation and engineering have been the drivers of economic development since the Industrial Revolution: they must now be the drivers of environmental protection.

The challenges that the world faces: reducing carbon emissions, feeding an ever growing population, generating and distributing energy, all require significant political will, research and investment to manage. Building a sustainable future is a problem for the planet - but we require national, local and individual policy responses too.

As well as increasing energy from renewable sources, we need to explore electricity storage techniques. As well as encouraging recycling, we need measures to drastically reduce, and reuse, the materials we use. Investing in research and development aimed at solving these problems will benefit the economy as well as the environment.

There are all sorts of ways to achieve change but I believe it is best done through education and (collective) behavioural changes, rather than coercion. Likewise, we must be wary of solutions that would seek to put the brakes on economic development. Reducing people's living standards, regardless of good intentions, will be counterproductive to the aim.

Politically, and economically, the answer is to change the direction of progress, not reverse it.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

More from the frontline in Bristol South...

This is the latest in a series based on posts on my Facebook Page for those who don't do Facebook, but are interested in my selection campaign for Bristol South.

If you're a member in Bristol South, you should have had your PPC mailing - if not, then please contact the Returning Officer! (Send me an email at andrewcbrownukATgmailDOTcom if you need his details). Please read the mailing carefully, particularly the arrangements for postal votes. If you can't make the members' meeting on the afternoon of the 18th August, please arrange for a postal vote instead! Please also note that, although you will receive two manifesto documents, the other candidate has withdrawn.

As I noted in my previous post, I'm going to try and flesh out some of the ways in which I view the big issues facing Bristol South and the Country over the next couple of weeks - but your questions are also welcome.


BIG ISSUES 2: Building a Fairer Future for All...

...or, to use the buzz-phrase, "Inter-generational fairness".

We've come a long way from "we've never had it so good" and in many respects it the current generation of young adults is the first in a long time to suffer a dip in living standards relative to their parents.

Yes, they have iPhones, Smashed Avocados, and huge flatscreen TVs (but so do their parents). What they don't have is access to affordable homes, should they choose to buy, or a rental sector which works to the benefit of tenants. Meanwhile, pensioners receive a range of universal benefits, the triple lock for pensions, and are often fortunate enough to have accumulated substantial private pension benefits from "Defined Benefit" schemes that are no longer available to younger workers.

At least, that is the way that this issue is normally presented, reflecting a very middle-class view of the world. And the solutions normally presented do little for those whose outlook is even more bleak. However, there are a number of valid issues here: and there are several nettles to be grasped.

Amongst other measures, I would be in favour of abolishing the triple lock in the next parliament, linking pensions solely to average earnings and inflation - and would review the scale and scope of universal benefits provided to pensioners. We need to reform the private rental sector, with longer leases and greater rights for renters. We need to make pension savings more attractive, and more rewarding - I would favour a flat rate relief that provides a bonus for basic rate savers, whilst reducing the relief to higher and additional rate payers.

And we need to build more homes: not just flats, but houses too: for ownership, private letting and social rent. But we need to build more than just homes - we need to build communities, and to ensure that relevant amenities are provided: schools, doctor's surgeries, dentists, parks, shops - not just for the big developments, but for those where multiple smaller developments amount to the same things. We need to build on brownfield sites, and we will need to build on greenbelt too, and we need to think very carefully before we consider building up as the answer.

More radically, we need to seriously consider the development of a Universal Basic Income - to provide people with greater flexibility of income - and the implementation of some form of Land Value Tax, and a shift to the taxation of unearned income and wealth, and away from Income and Consumption Taxes.

In all of this, though, we need to consider not just the needs of the middle classes, who shout loudest, or the young professionals lunching on North Street, but the folks in Hartcliffe or parts of Bedminster that estate agents don't call Southville.

Monday, 6 August 2018

An announcement

This is a version of two posts made over on my Facebook Page. For those who don't do Facebook, I'll be posting here regularly over the next couple of weeks.

After a bit of a false start, I was able to announce on Saturday that I am a candidate in the selection for a Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bristol South. Unfortunately, due to a late withdrawal, I'm now the only candidate (other than RON: "Re-Open Nominations")

Nevertheless, we are now in a two week campaign period - messages of support or volunteers to help are welcome! If you are a Bristol South resident and message me here, you may save yourself a phone call or three later in the campaign!

Over the next few weeks, I'll try and flesh out some of the ways in which I view the big issues facing Bristol South and the Country - but your questions are also welcome.


BIG ISSUES 1: The BIGGEST

The first of my policy position posts deals with the biggest issue in British politics: Brexit.

It will come as no surprise that I oppose Brexit: I campaigned against it in 2016 and believe that re-applying for EU membership should be part of the Liberal Democrat's policy platform should it not be averted. Indeed, a commitment to the European Community (as it was) is part of the preamble to the Party's constitution.

It should also come as no surprise that I regard Labour's attempts to face both ways on the issue as not just disingenuous but damaging to the country's interests. Had Labour committed early on to retaining membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, and sought to work with like minded Tories, then we might not now have been staring down the barrel of a "no deal" Brexit.

And if I were an MP, I'd have been voting against this government at every turn.

But we are where we are.

If selected, I will be an advocate for an "Exit from Brexit" - and will work with others to this end. Whilst I would gladly never participate in another referendum ever, I support having a "people's vote" on the pragmatic grounds; having started this with referendum which (in part) played on a perception of politicians being disconnected the people it would be dangerous, and fuel for the populist fire, for those same politicians to overturn the result. [Unfortunately nuanced debates about non-binding referendums and the meaning of representative democracy would be lost in the resulting uproar.]

I will challenge our MP's record on Brexit: supporting Article 50 and opposing a number of Brexit Bill amendments that would have sought to retain SM and CU membership.

More widely, I will highlight the other damaging effects that Brexit will have on the Constituency, City and Country: whether economic, social or cultural.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Reading Habits: Mid Year Update.

It is (over) halfway through the year and I thought I'd do an update to this post in which I outlined my intention to read more books by women this year... So, how am I doing?

Well, I think I'm doing well.

Dialling the stats back to how they stood at the end of June, I had read 29 books - well ahead of target, which was 40 for the year.

Last year 64% of the books I read were by male authors. This year, to date, that's been 45%. In terms of individual authors read, just 41% have been male.

In absolute terms, I have read 16 books by 13 female authors - outstripping the 15 books by just 6 women read over the course of the past year by some way. Many of these have been authors I've read for the first time, some as a result of recommendations both here and on Facebook: Jeanette Winterston, Naomi Alderman, Maya Angelou, Mary Shelley, Val McDermid, Jane Harper, Mary Beard, Susan Hill, Natasha Pulley, Jessie Burton.

So, while I still have huge piles of books by men to read, I've been making efforts to buy and read additional books by women. Much of this has been virtual or audible stockpiling: I'm trying to resist adding too much to the physical piles!

Should you be inclined, you can follow my progress on my goodreads page.