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Paul Gray's Conference Highlights

Thursday 24 September 2015

As a first time conference goer I approached the event with mild trepidation. I needn't have worried. From arriving on my first day, the second day of the conference itself, I immediately felt at home amongst a collective of people all determined to see liberalism grow on the British political landscape.

Before lunch on that first day I listened to passionate newcomers and experienced politicians alike speak about how they had, and how they were, promoting liberal values across their local communities, the entire country and the whole of Europe. Of particular inspiration was Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in t’Veld. Her party, D66, had faced an almost total collapse a few years ago but were able to recover via a stringent process of remodelling themselves and becoming more business efficient. In 2014 D66 were the most popular Dutch party in the Netherlands' European elections. All of that was achieved just a few years after nearly being wiped off the political map. It was a very strong message to the Liberal Democrats to get the party machine in order and she received a genuinely euphoric standing ovation for her speech.

One of the real standout things about conference which I had no prior concept of was the huge array of fringe events going on. And if you were lucky, you got fed in the process too! There were so many fringe events to choose from that I was really only able to scratch the surface. There were, to name but a few, events for Green politics, youth events, economic events, LGBT events, electoral reform events, secularist events, asylum seeker support events and EU events.  Picking out three in particular:

Feeding Britain and foodbanks: a liberal responsibility - This was an excellent event hosted by the Trusell Trust, an organisation responsible for many foodbanks across the country. Not only do they provide food however, much of their emphasis is on providing real longer term solutions to help people improve their own lives. These include such things as teaching people to cook well for less, a relatively easy thing to do but a basic life skill which many in our society are simply not equipped to do. Growing up with a chef for a mum, this has spurred me personally to get involved with the Trusell Trust and to get teaching!

"After the Storm" - This was Vince Cable, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, in conversation with Lord Skidelsky, biographer of 'Keynes' and advocate of Keynesian economics. The discussion really centred around what the Liberal Democrats were able to do to curb the Conservatives in government and whether or not Vince was right to have stayed within the government when the Conservatives were determined to follow ideological rather than intelligent policy decisions. If that all sounds a bit complicated, it basically just boils down to the fact that trickle down economics is proven to fail and yet the Conservatives insisted, as they still do now, on continuing with it. The session then moved on to questions from the audience where it became clear that there was a universal feeling that 'Osbornomics' was the result of utter incompetence. Seemingly, if you want to unite a room of liberals who just might have an idea about economics, just mention George Osborne!

Attracting Liberal Youth - This was a workshop held by Liberal Youth available to all party members, young and old. The focus was on how to approach young people to join the party and the overriding message was to be ambitious and to focus more on national and international issues which will have attracted younger people’s attention. As one older member put it quite brilliantly, "They don’t care about pedestrianised town centres, they care about Syria!"

Conference was rounded off by Tim Farron with a truly inspiring speech. Tim has a genuine, down to earth approach and speaks passionately about improving things for everyone. He's not focused on special interests; he doesn’t have any desire to get involved with trade unions or get bought off by multi-millionaires. What he does want to see, and approaches intelligently with evidence based ideas, is a society in which everyone; rich, poor, young and old alike, get a fair crack at improving their lives. As liberals we place huge importance on people taking responsibility for their own actions but we are smart enough to recognise that people can't and won't do that without the right education, life skills and opportunities to control their own destiny. Tim Farron understands that better than anyone.

Are you working hard enough?

Thursday 23 July 2015

Before the election every party was the friend of hard-working families but what they actually meant by 'hard-working' was tricky to work out. Fortunately, the Conservatives budget have now given everyone a clearer idea of what the Tories mean by 'hard-working'. Leaving aside the headline grabbing loss of student maintenance grants and the wonderfully misnamed National Living Wage (NLW), it is even more discouraging to look at the likely impact of the budget on low income workers.

These are not the welfare scroungers that the media and politicians wheel out when they want to trash the welfare system. Instead I mean the men and women in low paid jobs who make ends meet as much as they can through the array of welfare benefits such as tax and universal credits and housing benefits. The headline figure of 13 million families, as stated by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), feeling the squeeze of the budget throws attention away from the tightness of the squeeze for different families. Further analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) of this impact makes depressing reading for low income families particularly finding that the poorest 40% of income earners will be over £1000 worst off when all the budget changes kick in, representing a loss of income of between 5-11%.

How should LibDems react to these changes? The Tories claim they are incentivising work for such people, painting all low-income earners with the same brush of not working hard enough. After all, the Liberal architect of the welfare system, William Beveridge in his own 1942 report said that 'social security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility' (p.7).

Beveridge also made it clear his social security system was an insurance plan that gave the means upon which individuals could build. He viewed the welfare system as providing individuals with a route to escape their temporary conditions by building on the opportunities provided by a free and fair society. As Lib Dems this view of welfare as a means of enabling individuals to develop their full potential to their and society's benefit is a lens through which we can view the welfare reforms of the budget.

The budget does not provide low-income earners with opportunities to build upon their potential, instead it creates fears that their situations will get worse. They are locked into a cycle of more low-paid work to maintain their income; sprinting rather than running to stand still. As a family they will need to work longer hours, often hunting for part-time work in a labour market crowded with others trying to do the same and where employers are likely to be shedding part-time hours as the NLW adds to their costs. Grandparents will be increasingly called upon to cover for childcare that parents can not afford or to cover for free childcare places that just don't exist. The opportunities to build upon potential is ground down by the grim necessities of Want. Yet all the time the Tories would have low-income families believe they are not working hard enough.

The welfare system needs reform but as well as the fear of Want, the hope of social progress for individuals needs to be part of that system. Limiting social progress could become generational as more children become locked into a cycle of in-work poverty with their parents and their hopes of social progress are extinguished as well as noted by Patrick Butler in the Guardian on 16th July. Conservative policy casts the low paid as part of the 'undeserving poor' and punishes them for that. Lib Dems need to see the welfare system as wider than just changing benefits, we need to balance creating sufficient incentives to work with the development of policies that produce real opportunities for improving the life of the low paid and that advance a fair society so social progress is possible.

Fightback continues with new Lib Dem leader

Friday 17 July 2015

Havant Lib Dems welcome the announcement that Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, has been elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Tim said that under his leadership, the party would oppose the cuts to tax credits and other benefits in the Conservatives' budget and push for greater spending on infrastructure such as transport and broadband.

Tim added, "If you care about human rights join us. If you think you shouldn't have your emails snooped on join us. If you think everyone deserves a decent home join us."

Cllr. Faith Ponsonby said, "These principles are at the heart of what drives the Liberal Democrats, our members and activists. More than ever Britain needs a party that will stand up for what we believe in, so we're starting our fightback and I'm asking local residents to be part of it. 17,000 people had joined the party since the General Election. Locally we have been joined by many new members."

If you would like to join, please do so at

Experienced councillor, Steve Sollitt, selected as the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Havant

Friday 6 February 2015

Havant Liberal Democrats are delighted to announce that at a recent meeting of their members Cllr. Steve Sollitt was chosen to be their Parliamentary candidate for the coming General Election.

45 year old Steve is an experienced councillor in Eastleigh, retaining his seat last year. He also stood as a candidate in the 2014 European elections.  He has worked on the financial side of the NHS for the last 12 years, currently being a Management Accountant in Southampton.

Steve said: "I am delighted to have been chosen to stand in Havant, and I look forward to meeting Havant people. As a Cabinet member on Eastleigh Borough Council for Youth and Social Policy, I will be particularly interested in hearing from younger as well as elderly residents.

I especially welcome the pupil premium now bringing thousands of pounds into local schools, particularly in Leigh Park, enabling head teachers to give extra help to children who need it most. I am also keen to see free school meals now being given to all infant school children, extended in future to all primary school children. This will ensure that every primary pupil gets a healthy meal in the middle of the school day, boosting their education, health as well as saving parents money. None of this would have happened without the Lib Dems being part of the coalition government."

Havant Borough councillor, Faith Ponsonby, welcomed Steve warmly, and said "He will be a strong representative for the Liberal Democrats, speaking up for a stronger economy and a fairer society."

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