May 12th – We’re off!

Last week parliament was dissolved, and this week nominations opened. So after two weeks of not-quite-an-election-period we are officially into the general election.

The local party has agreed our campaign budget and election expenditure rules apply. Not much chance of us needing to worry about breaking the limit here in Gateshead – it would be nice to have that much money to spend!

But our main election leaflets are now approved and I have just ordered over 100,000 leaflets in various versions. I wish we could give more of the printing to local printers, but timescales and prices are critical and that often means we need to use the big companies who have large high speed presses, rather than small local printers.

My agent and I handed in my nomination papers, duly signed by 10 local electors on Tuesday. I think Labour’s Ian Mearns beat me to it, and by Thursday UKIP and the Conservatives had joined the fray. Three of us are from Gateshead, but the Conservative candidate lives in Westminster. She stood in Glasgow two years ago – so I suppose Gateshead is a bit closer to home for her! I know the Tories aren’t strong in Gateshead, but you might have thought they could find a more local candidate. Or maybe Central Office appoints candidates by drawing constituency names out a hat. I wonder if they give maps to the candidates?

So the election is officially started, and my team have their first leaflets to deliver at the weekend – but as it happens I’m off on a long planned (but brief) visit to London for the Convention on Brexit.(speakers include Nick Clegg and Michael Gove – but in different sessions, which is probably just as well)

The first weekend (22nd, 23rd April)

In elections, weekends are more often a time when work intensifies, rather than relaxing, because that is when more of our volunteers are able to help, and because more people are at home. My colleague Jonathan Wallace, in the next constituency has used this Saturday to get his first election leaflet delivered to several thousand homes.

For me, Saturday meant a previously arranged trip to London for a meeting of the national body of a pressure group I have become part of. Unfortunately much of the agenda was no longer very applicable – a report on the political situation for the next few months, written just a couple of weeks ago, and eclipsed by the election announcement. It was still a useful meeting, and it was interesting as the discussion turned to how can the group best interact with candidates during the election. I’m more used to thinking about the process from the other end – how the candidate interacts with voters and pressure groups and the different perspective was quite revealing. Elections are meant to empower our voters, but how do they actually influence the choice issues that are being talked about?

Sunday, and its a photo-shoot in central Gateshead, getting some new photos of me, and some group photos of the three Lib Dem candidates in Gateshead. Afterwards a brief visit to the Baltic – the “Mare Nostrum” exhibition about the experiences of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe was very moving. I can understand why people do this, but can’t imagine the pressures and difficulties they face that drive people to hazard themselves and their families on these desperate journeys. And whilst we in Europe struggle to deal with the influx (or in some cases refuse to do so), its worth remembering that countries such as Turkey and Lebanon are dealing with far higher numbers – around 2 to 3 million in each country.

The first week …

In the Liberal Democrats we’ve had prospective candidates on standby since last summer, in case of a sudden general election, but the likelihood seemed to be receeding … until about 11am on Tuesday morning when someone said “Are you able to watch a television?”.

So for me this week has been about having internal party discussions & emails to confirm who is standing where, contacting printers, building this website, and clearing out of my diary a range of things that I was expecting to do in the next few weeks. There is more of the same to come, as we get a campaign organised and up & running and seeing which bits of “normal life” can continue (some of it has to!).

Articles and leaflets need writing, and party headquarters are wanting information and contact details for their website and email lists.

Meanwhile email traffic is rising as candidates are now getting copies of press releases from HQ. We could really do with having the manifesto, and I imagine in every party HQ there is currently a group of people crouched over keyboards trying to get that finished – or maybe at least getting drafts ready for party leaders.

Its a long time since we had an election campaign where we are needing to get so much organised as we go.

Our NHS & care services

The Liberal Democrats are setting out a ‘five-point recovery plan’ for NHS and social care services in their manifesto, including a 1p in the pound rise in dividend and income tax allocated specifically for health and care service to provide the cash injection that the NHS needs.

The Key elements of the five point recovery plan are:

–          A 1 percent rise on the basic, higher, additional and dividend rates of income tax in the next financial year raising around £6bn per year, which will be ringfenced to be spent on NHS and care services and public health.

–          To direct this additional investment into priority areas: social care, primary care (and other out of hospital care), mental health and public health which we know represent the most efficient and effective ways of spending extra resource

–          In the longer term, we will introduce a dedicated Health and Care Tax, which will bring together spending on both services into a collective budget and set out transparently, on people’s payslips, what we spend on them.

–          Establish a cross-party health and care convention, working with patients, the public and NHS and care staff to review longer-term sustainability of the health and care finances and workforce, and greater integration

–          Introduce a statutory independent budget monitoring agency for health and care. An Office of Health and Care Funding, similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility. This would report every three years on how much money the system needs based on meeting Government health targets and to fund new initiatives, while also covering projected increases in demand.

Why is this funding needed?

Our health and care services are in a state of crisis. The Conservative Government has left them chronically under-funded, while need continues to grow. Social care is facing a funding blackhole of £2bn this year alone and more than a million older people are missing out on care that they need.

People are routinely left stranded in hospital after they finish their treatment because the follow up care and support they need isn’t available. Nearly two thirds of NHS Trusts ended the last financial year in deficit.

We cannot continue asking the system to deliver more and more, without giving it the resources to do so. The alternative to raising taxes is that the Government will have to cut drastically from other essential public services, like schools and welfare, to keep the health and care system afloat.

What is the policy in detail?

  • The Liberal Democrats will put in place a 1 percent increase on the basic, higher, additional rates of income tax and on the rate of dividend tax. This will raise, approximately, an additional £6bn per annum.
  • Additional revenue raised would be ring-fenced to be spent only on NHS and social care services.
  • As part of this, we would direct additional resource specifically to out of hospital care. Primarily: social care, general practice, mental health and public health/ prevention. This is where the money can be spent most efficiently and will have the greatest impact on patient care.

How will this be divided between health and social care

We will ensure at least £2bn additional revenue is dedicated for social care in the next financial year, to fill the projected funding gap.

The impact of this investment will be felt across the NHS too – at the moment 89% of GPs think reductions in social care are leading to extra pressures in their surgeries. and 93% think that the lack of social care is leading to extra pressure on A&Es and contributing to increased delayed discharges from hospital.

Housing & the Environment

Liberal Democrats are determined that we live up to our environmental obligations and that we transform the housing market so that everyone has a fair opportunity to have a safe, decent and affordable home.

Housing

Liberal Democrat proposals to help home buyers, home renters, and the homeless  include

  • A government commissioned programme to build homes for sale and rent to make sure we reach the house building target of 300,000 homes a year that the country needs but the housing market is currently not delivering
  • Stop forcing housing association and councils to sell off ‘high value’ homes.
  • Lift the borrowing cap on local authorities and increase the borrowing capacity of housing associations so that they can build council and social housing.
  • Help people who cannot afford a deposit by introducing a new Rent to Own model where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years.
  • Ban lettings fees for tenants, capping upfront deposits and increasing minimum standards in rented homes.
  • Reverse cuts to housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds
  • Scrap the ‘bedroom tax’
  • Set up a new Help to Rent scheme with government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.
  • Promote longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.
  • Improve protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing of landlords and allowing tenants to access the database of rogue landlords and property agents.
  • End the scandal of rough sleeping by increasing support for homelessness prevention and adequately funding age-appropriate emergency accommodation and supported housing, and  ensuring that all local authorities have at least one provider of the Housing First model of provision for long-term, entrenched homeless people so that homeless people can get long term homes, not just hostel places

The environment

To help protect and enhance our environment Liberal Democrats are campaigning to:

  • Support the Paris agreement by ensuring the UK meets its own climate commitments and plays a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change.
  • Expand renewable energy, aiming to generate 60% of electricity from renewables by 2030, restoring government support for solar PV and onshore wind
  • Support investment in cutting-edge technologies including energy storage,smart grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind, and tidal power
  • Giving the go-ahead for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon
  • Support an ambitious carbon capture and storage programme,
  • Oppose ‘fracking’ because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment.
  • Ensure that at least four million homes are made highly energy efficient by 2022, with priority given to fuel-poor households. 5
  • Continue to back new entrants to the energy market, aiming for at least 30% of the household market to be supplied by competitors to the ‘Big 6’ by 2022.
  • Set new legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050.
  • Set up a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to mobilise investment into the low-carbon and sustainable infrastructure the UK needs to remain competitive.
  • Introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty offences, increasing the maximum sentencing from six months to five years, and bring in a ban on caged hens.
  • Clamp down on illegal pet imports through legal identification requirements for online sales, and minimise the use of animals in scientific experimentation, including by funding research into alternatives.
  • Pass a Zero-Waste Act, including legally binding targets for reducing net consumption of key natural resources, and introducing incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency.
  • Establish a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England and extend separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2022.
  • Introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups – the unrecyclable plastic liner contents of these cups is a serious problem

About Frank

For 30 years Frank Hindle has been a passionate campaigner for this area, successfully campaigning on issues from traffic and the state of local parks, to making sure that the NHS retains inpatient beds on Tyneside for people with severe mental illness.

Frank says “Labour have treated Gateshead as their fiefdom for far too long, and this election is an opportunity to change this. They have singularly failed to provide opposition to this government and failed to back vital safeguards and protections for both EU citizens and British people when they approved Article 50.”

Born in Newcastle but moving to Gateshead when he was 10, Frank has lived in the town for most of his life. He was a local Councillor for 25 years and was leader of the opposition there from 2011 to 2015 before retiring from the Council last year. He is a former teacher and lecturer, becoming head of computing at Northumbria University in 2001. He left the University in 2010 to concentrate on his role as a councillor.

Frank believes that key issues in this election are opposing a damaging hard Brexit, the consequences of which will hurt many people in Gateshead, together with ensuring that vital services such as the NHS, care services and education are properly resourced, that job and housing prospects in Gateshead are improved and that local residents have a member of parliament who they know they can contact and hear from, and who will speak up for them.

Frank’s experience as a governor and chair of governors at local schools that went from satisfactory to outstanding, his work with local community charities, his professional career, including as a staff governor at Northumbria University and his time on Gateshead Council where he met and dealt with leaders from a range of agencies such as NHS bodies, as well as Council departments, mean he is experienced at representing people, at dealing with complex issues and finding solutions to problems, and that he is well placed to take on the role of a member of parliament.

Frank has also written several occasional columns for The Journal and in his spare time enjoys fell walking and listening to jazz.

Jobs & the economy

Liberal Democrat priorities to boost jobs and the economy include

  • A major programme of capital investment in houses, schools, hospitals, renewal energy and infrastructure, stimulating growth across all areas of the UK.
  • Encourage the creation and widespread adoption of a ‘good employer’ kitemark covering areas such as paying a living wage, and avoiding unpaid internships
  • Stamp out abuse of zero-hours contracts. We will create a formal right to request a fixed contract and consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time.
  • Create a new ‘start-up allowance’ to help those starting a new business with their living costs in the crucial first weeks of their business.
  • Establish an independent review to consult on how to set a genuine living wage across all sectors. We will pay this living wage in all central government departments and their agencies, and encourage other public-sector employers to do likewise.
  • Extend transparency requirements on larger employers to include publishing the number of people paid less than the living wage and the ratio between top and median pay.
  • Modernise employment rights to make them fit for the age of the ‘gig’ economy, looking to build on the forthcoming Taylor report.
  • Review Business Rates to reduce burdens on small firms, and make them the priority for any future business tax cuts.

Education

Our priorities in the next parliament will be:

  • Investing nearly £7 billion extra in our children’s education – increasing school budgets and the Pupil Premium to protect against rising costs and pupil numbers, and introducing a fairer national funding formula.
  • Investing in high-quality early years education, tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000.
  • Opposing any new selective schools
  • Reverse all cuts to front-line school and college budgets, protecting per-pupil funding in real terms.
  • Introduce a fairer national funding system with a protection for all schools, so that no school loses money.
  • Protecting the Pupil Premium which targets extra help at disadvantaged children.
  • Extending free school meals to all children in primary education and promote school breakfast clubs.

Brexit

Liberal Democrats believe that the British people should have the final say on any Brexit deal in a referendum. Voting for a departure (in June last year) is not the same as voting for a destination. Everyone should have the right to have their say on whether the deal they are offered is the right one for them, their families, their communities and our country.

Leave campaigners said leaving the EU would let the NHS have an extra £350 million per week, would enable a points based immigration system to restrict immigration, would restore sovereignty and could be done without damaging trade with the EU.

After the referendum they quickly ditched the £350 million for the NHS, Theresa may announced that a points based immigration system wouldn’t work, the government white paper admits sovereignty was never lost, and plans to withdraw from the single market and customs union will inevitably make trading with the EU more difficult – and that’s before the question of tariffs and regulatory differences are introduced.

The Leave campaign knew that their claimed £350 million per week cost of belonging to the EU was misleading – it is a gross figure, that doesn’t take account of the rebate (put in place under Margaret Thatcher), or the money that comes back to the UK, such as farm subsidies and research grants to UK universities and companies. The net cost of payments to the EU is around £120 million – but in the Autumn statement the Treasury admitted that leaving the EU is likely to cost £180 million per week in lost taxes to the UK. That’s a £60 million per week difference, that the government will have to borrow – or reduce spending on services such as the NHS. And that’s before taking account of the cost of running two new government departments to manage Brexit, or the damage done to businesses (and possible increased welfare bills).

Some Leave campaigners such as Ian Duncan Smith and multi-millionaire Aaron Banks admitted that leaving the EU might be bad for the economy, but said that was a price worth paying to be out of the EU – but unfortunately most of us, maybe unlike them, can’t afford to be out of a job, and do depend on public services such as the NHS.

Leave narrowly won the referendum by 17 million to 16 million votes. But many forms of Brexit were discussed during the campaign and Theresa May and the Tory Government have chosen to adopt a “Brexit at any cost” approach – not just leaving the EU, but abandoning any idea of staying in the single market and customs union.

Liberal Democrats are clear that in a democracy, people should be allowed to change their mind. Many claims were made by the “winning side” during the campaign, and when the negotiations are completed people should be able to have their say and decide if they want the deal – or if it is not what they were led to expect and they want to reject Brexit.

Frank Hindle believes that being part of the European Union brings many benefits – culturally and socially as well as economic. Many of the things that the EU is blamed for – from benefit tourism to bendy bananas to run down council estates – are inaccurate or could be dealt with by the British government if they chose to. Frank says that if there are enough like minded MPs elected on June 8th, then we should withdraw article 50, stay in the EU, and put our efforts into supporting people and businesses in the areas, towns and regions that have been neglected for too long, the areas that voted leave because they have been left behind by successive governments.

And if we can’t stop Brexit altogether, then every Lib Dem MP, and every vote for a Liberal Democrat will be used to press the case to let the people of this country vote on the Brexit Deal. This is a decision that should be made by the people, not by a “metropolitan elite”, and not by ministers meeting in secret or by Theresa May when she goes walking in Wales.