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.