My Speech to Conference on Europe

Here is a transcript of my speech to the Liberal Democrat 2020 Autumn Conference on the Europe motion debated on 27th September.

Good Evening Conference and hello from a chilly Lincolnshire

Some of you might have got to know Lincolnshire a little better during the 2016 Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election in which I had the pleasure to represent the party here in my home county.

 In the campaign, we were the only party fighting for our place in Europe. Labour plummeted into fourth place in that election due to their muddled message over Europe. Labour finishing behind us made the headlines that night, and we narrowly missed out on a second place to UKIP in one of the strongest Leave areas in the country.

 I was proud to be flying the flag for our party and Remain during that election.

But looking at the motion as it stands currently, it is a similar kind of fudge to that ambiguous Labour position.

Lines 47-50 would leave us in constant limbo and open to continuous questions as to what we will do and when is the right time. I mean – How long would we actually wait for the circumstances to be right?

It is a far cry for our clear and simple rallying call of Stop Brexit in 2019 European Elections which stood out and helped us to our best ever European election results.

Screenshot of my speech to the virtual conference (thanks to Leon Duveen for the image)

I despair that we are not brave enough to take the lead on Re-join and give hope to those who have had their lives turned upside down by the UK withdrawal. We know the impact it already has had on people’s lives and we know that is only going to get worse. We also know we are better together and better inside the European family.

We have never been shy in the past to take unpopular stances when it was the right thing to do.

 Whether it was Charles Kennedy’s stance against the Iraq invasion in the face of opposition from politicians, the press and public opinion. Despite the protests against the invasion, the majority were in favour – but Charles held firm.

 The party also has a long history of supporting LGBT+ Rights going back to the 1960s- long before it became a mainstream issue because it was the right thing to do.

 Conference, without amending this motion it seems to be responding to headline writers rather than seeing us do the right thing now.

 Europe is in our DNA as a party.

 I agree Europe is not the number one priority at this moment, but that does not mean we should turn our back on our principles to appease the right-wing press. Passing Amendment 1 does not mean we have to make it front and centre of our campaigns – it means we have it in our arsenal.

I urge you to support Re-join- vote for Amendment 1 and be ready to lead on this and to keep us as the true European party.

Thank you

Oh, I do like to be beside the virtual seaside

This weekend is vastly different from the one I was planning nine months ago. The annual pilgrimage to the Liberal Democrat Conference has been much shorter than the usual trek for me down to the south coast to the resorts of Brighton or Bournemouth.

After the planned Spring Conference in York was cancelled at the last minute in March just a few days before the country went into lockdown, I turned my focus to looking forward to the annual big seaside gathering which this year was to be held in Brighton.

With the effects of the pandemic continuing, it was announced that the Autumn Conference was also off. The Party said that alternatives were being looked at to allow a sort of conference to be held.

Brighton Pavillion - Brighton would have hosted Lib Dem Conference this Autumn
Brighton would have hosted the Lib Dem Autumn Conference this year

My colleagues within the Party managed to find the solution – going Virtual. This has allowed the Party to keep the most important part of a Liberal Democrat Conference up and running – making policy. The debates and voting can now be all done from our home offices, at kitchen tables or, if you prefer, still in bed! There is a kind of nosiness about seeing everyone in their own homes and seeing what speakers have on their bookshelves behind them (a bit like we have been doing with celebrities during interviews on the TV over the last six months!)

There is also a jam-packed training programme, which is especially great as we have so many new conference attendees this year which the conference being so accessible this year.

Despite being at home, the conference timings have still meant grabbing food at odd times, or late at night after the conference programme is over, although the benefit is the food is more healthy and cheaper (the same with the coffee prices!)

The one thing the virtual conference cannot replicate is the togetherness. I am missing seeing those friends who you only see at conference time and the late-night discussions on motions being discussed the next day. The buzz that you also normally get from so many like-minded people in one place is also missing. I have not yet tried the networking facility on the platform being used which has been likened to ‘speed-dating’ – where you get to talk to a fellow networking member at conference randomly for a short time.

The Lib Dem Conference Hall where the debates, voting and set-speeches are usually held

However, saying that, whether we must have a full virtual conference again in Spring is unknown, but it is so important that we have a sense of normality even if there is a modern twist on it.

I hope that when we can meet again at a conference venue, that an element of the virtual conference is continued, maybe a hybrid version like the House of Commons currently. This would allow those who are not able to access a traditional conference for whatever reason to attend, to vote on our policies and have a taste of the conference experience.

Conference to me has always been an important part of the year, and I have missed very few since my first conference back in Brighton in 2007. I look forward to the time when we can all be back together again as a big Lib Dem family, but until then, it is great to know that the usual Lib Dem quirks of conference with procedural motions and fringe events (minus the curly sandwiches and warm wine) continues – even if we are not together in person.

Trying to look on the bright side of life

Today must be one of the darkest days I have personally felt in my political career. Only the morning after the 2016 referendum result and the day following the 2015 General Election have left me feeling much lower. However, there may be a glint of something on the horizon that is driving me forward despite this fear.

The prospect of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (to give him his full name) becoming the 77th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom tomorrow fills me with complete dread. My biggest concern is his main ‘do or die’ policy on leaving the EU on October 31st come what may. Anyone prepared to play fast and loose with the economy, and in turn, people’s livelihoods, has no business entering Number 10.

Now people may say that I am a doom-mongering for believing that the economy will crash if we leave the EU with or without a deal. I do tend to prefer listening to the experts who have a far great grasp on economics than I do, and with the majority predicting such an event, then I will continue to say that staying in the EU is best for the economy.

As a Liberal Democrat, I have always believed in international co-operation, and that is why I am proud that my party took on the mantle to be the voice to Remain. The day after the vote in 2016, the speech by the then leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, called on the party to become the beacon of remain. This speech made me realise the fight was not over:

“Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin but were outvoted. They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them.

Even though the result was close, there is no doubt that the majority of British people want us to leave.

Our fight for an open, optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant Britain is needed now more than ever.

Together we can still make the case for Britain’s future with Europe, as millions of people voted for it. Together we cannot afford to let that vision to die.”

(extract from Tim Farron’s speech on 24th June 2016)

Similarly in back in 2015, following the night when I was at my first count as a Parliamentary candidate in Lincoln and saw many of the inspirational colleagues that I looked up to losing their seats as MPs, through the darkness of the events unravelling there were chinks of light. The first was the fantastic team I had around me at the count. Most were in their first General Election, and they were young and committed liberals who were ready to begin the fightback. The energy they had to right the wrong of the night got me through.

The next part of the 2015 story happened up and down the country. The resignation speech of Nick Clegg began the tidal wave of new members. This influx, combined with the strength of the team from election night felt like I was plugged back in the mains electric supply.

The new Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, with former leader, Sir Vince Cable

As for what is the glint keeping me from complete and utter despair, that is Jo Swinson. I have long admired Jo as a politician and her commitment to fighting injustice. Her speech that she gave on becoming leader gave me the drive I need to help her and the party I love to succeed. You can read or listen to Jo’s speech in full at Lib Dem Voice here. (For those of you who are looking to listen/watch it move the video to 28 minutes in for the start of the coverage of the results or 34 minutes in for the start of the speech itself)

So yes, I may be glum and annoyed at the self-obsessed, blithering fool that is Boris is now hours away from becoming Prime Minister, but there is a leader who has my full support to ensure that Britain has a true alternative to the self-righteous and nationalist approach of Johnson and Farage, and the party that is led by man is so ineffective he cannot decide what his view is on the most important issue of the day. Thank you, Jo, for being a beacon of hope, decency and inspiration in this darkening world and I am on this fight with you for a better Britain and to stop Brexit!

Mental Health Matters

Last Thursday saw ‘Time to Talk Day’, a day where we were encouraged to spend 5 minutes talking about mental health. It also saw the story emerge that ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle’s attempted suicide in December was a result of his mental health issues.
With one in four people suffering from mental health issues at some point in their lives, it is something that will touch many of us personally through our family, or our own mental health. Yet despite its prevalence, it is a subject too many people are hesitant to discuss.

With mental health issues affecting so many, until recently there has been a gap in funding for mental health in the NHS. John Lucas, from the charity Mind, sums it up perfectly: “Why does the NHS pull out all the stops to stop me dying of physical health problems, but does not care if I die of mental health problems?”

Therefore I was pleased to hear that Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister, made a commitment last October that mental health will have additional funding to ensure it will receive an equal footing as physical health by 2020. For the first time, waiting times for mental health treatments are being introduced in April this year. To put this into context, patients needing talking therapies for conditions like depression will mostly be seen within 6 weeks and have to wait no longer than 18 weeks for treatment, and those patients who have experienced their first episode of psychosis will be seen within 2 weeks.

By putting mental health on an equal footing as physical health, it is also hoped that the stigma of talking about mental health will be removed. If you knew someone who had just had an operation, none of us would think twice about asking how they were. But people feel nervous about talking about mental health. Sometimes just doing the little things, like asking someone how they are, is all it takes to let someone know you’re still thinking about them and make a big difference to how they’re feeling.

‘Time to Change’ is a organisation, made up of the Department for Health, Mind and Comic Relief, that is informing people about mental health and asking people to talk more about mental health. The website offers everyone the chance to pledge to end the stigma of mental health. So far nearly 80,000 people have signed up to this aim. I would urge everyone to visit their website, find about more about the affects of mental health on people’s lives and to sign up to this pledge to help end this stigma.
Article for my Lincolnite column – posted by The Lincolnite 10th February

The reasons why I am a Liberal Democrat

Standing for Parliament is similar to a job interview. The only thing different is that instead of a panel of three or four people watching how you perform and interact, this has nearly 73,000 people watching how you do. Also, with just less than 100 days to go until the election, it is a very long interview.

My own political views were shaped during my teens with the backdrop of Tony Blair’s government and the Iraq invasion in 2003. The Liberal Democrats’ stance against the Iraq war led me to join the party during Freshers’ Fair when I started Lincoln University, but it was not the only thing that attracted me to the party.

One of the principles the Lib Dems were founded on is that no-on shall be “enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

For me this is the most important aspect of being a Lib Dem – allowing someone to achieve their full potential no matter what their background.

I have not had a privileged up-bringing but my parents believed in helping me to reach the goals I aspired to. My Dad worked as a carpenter in the building trade and my Mum has worked both as a dinner lady and in retail. They worked hard and I never could ask for anything more they have done for me.  I studied hard and, with the help of my parents and the staff at my old school of St Peter & St Paul’s, got good grades and became the first in my family to go to University.

I now want to help others reach their goals, dreams and ambitions; that is why I am a Liberal Democrat.

The other core principles the Lib Dems were built on are the “fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”.

The Lib Dems, and the Liberals before, have been at the forefront of issues such as human rights, the environment, devolution, social justice and many more, long before they have been taken seriously by the other main parties, often being ridiculed by them for raising these issues that affect so many people’s lives. It never stopped us and our resolve grew stronger.

Personally, the Lib Dems long history in supporting LGBT rights is another key element for me. As someone who has experienced homophobia and had friends attacked for being themselves shows that there is still a long way to go in the journey. Equal Marriage was a fantastic step by the coalition, but there is lots still to do especially we need to look at the way in which LGBT asylum seekers are treated.

Looking back over the last five years of coalition, I am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been able to implement policies that follow these principles – the increased numbers of apprenticeships and the Pupil Premium to help children from the poorest backgrounds, to scrapping ID cards and ending child detention, and giving an £800 tax cut to millions of workers.

If you believe in a society in which people have the freedom to be themselves and live without fear, a country which keeps its citizens’ privacy and human rights, a promise to preserve our planet for generations to come and a nation that helps an supports everyone from whatever background to achieve their potential in life then you are also a Liberal Democrat.

Article for my Lincolnite column – posted by The Lincolnite 28th January