The Conservatives are again messing up over Europe in a tacky attempt to mask their own huge internal divisions. Cameron’s ploy of renogotiation will deliver nothing sunbstantial and the vote is really an IN or OUT. Lets be honest and say so. In that case it is a huge vote and a huge decision and for the poll the voting age should be lowered to 16. A great debate at Bournemouth approved this change at the Liberal Democrat Conference. Now lets get on and pursuade the Government to implement it.
I am for IN – but recognize some of the rules need changing and the way to do that is by being a supportive constructive member rather than threatening exit if we dont get our own way.
The 5p plastic bag tax, which is being introduced in England this week, will significantly reduce the billions of one-use bags handed out in England every year.
However, as with so many things to do with the environment, the Conservatives simply do not understand the issues. In Wales and Scotland the charge is being applied to all retail outlets. Here in England smaller retail outlets will be exempted.
At a stroke the Conservatives have clouded what should have been a very simple step and introduced confusion and variations across shops. Small and medium-sized enterprises – retailers employing fewer than 250 staff – are exempt from the English plastic bag charge.
This is absolute nonsense from the Conservatives and shows that whilst they will indulge in greenwash schemes they are not prepared to really tackle the issue. Whilst I welcome this charge as a first step, as it will significantly reduce the billions of one-use plastic bags handed out in the UK each year, it is a shame that the Government has introduced confusion by exempting smaller retail outlets. They should review the exemption as soon as possible and bring in the charge across all retail outlets as is the case in Wales and Scotland.
The day started with the issue of Fracking and the Conservative plans to bypass local democracy and steamroller through Fracking around the Country. Hopefully at our Easter Confrerence we will debate a policy to leave this gas in the ground but in the meantime the attitude of the Conservative government to local democracy is astounding. Planning applications of this type need proper and careful consideration and with the volume of interest from the public it is impossible for any Council to fully consider and respond to all the concerns raised in 13 weeks. The first few months of this government have seen many outrageous decsions but the threat to determin fracking applications in any planning authority that does not determine one within 13 weeks has to take the biscuit. This was the only debate at which I put a speakers card in but was not called. This year we have had so many first time speakers it has been really refreshing to hear so many new voices at Conference so I was not too upset.
The Youth Service debate was also good with an excellent speech from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Wiltshire County – Jon Hubbard . In B&NES during the last 4 years in which I lead the Council we did not reduce funding to the Youth Services. The track record of Conservative administrations around us does not lead me to think the new Conservative administration at the Council will maintain this committment.
And to end the Conference the Leaders Speech – it was inspiring. Watch it all here on Liberal Democrat Voice.
Started the day at the Christian Forum breakfast to listen to Simon Hughes talk about his life as an MP and how his faith had helped him in his role as an MP. Apart from a good breakfast it was a very enlightening talk. Bermondsay has lost a good MP with its vote in May. After that to the housing debate and vote for an ambitious Liberal Democrat housing policy. We need more social housing as well as more affordable housing for people to get onto the housing ladder. We also do not need the Conservative giveaway policy which is going to damage all our social landlords and Councils that still provide social housing. It will also affect and reduce house building thus making our housing crises worse. But as with the environment, benefits, free school meals and energy, the Conservatives simply do not understand the needs of the wider community. The speech by Norman Lamb was as ever full of content and his advocacy and committment to improving mental health care in the NHS has been awesome. The afternoon sesssion had good policy on human rights (why oh why do the Conservatives want to scrap this?????) and a memorial tribute to Charles Kennedy – a great Liberal Democrat and a sad loss.
Fringes today included Carers UK on the needs of carers, NFU and Food and Drink Federation on the need for the country to produce more of its own food and finally Liberal International on the isues of a resurgant Russia.
Liberalism is a political philoshopy that attracts parties from around the world and the family of parties works together as Liberal International and in the EU as ALDE. Obviously here in the UK we had a bad experience at the polls in May but then other parties around the world have had similar experiences and bounced back. So the Fringe meetings had speakers from VVD (Netherlands), D66 (Netherlands), FDP (Germany) and from Georgia the Republican Party . It was really invigorating to sit in an international forum and here how Liberals across Europe have responded to the challenges of their countries. What united them was a philosophy of belief in the individual and the value of freedom and a committment to social justice and fairness. To a speaker they all urged us to work hard for a YES to the EU in the Conservative referendum scheduled for next year. They also gave us their tips for overcoming the electoral difficulties we have just experienced.
The Trident debate was one of the most passionate of the conference with strongly held views for both the multilateral approach to nuclear disarmament and the unilateral view. What we all agreed on was that we should unite about voting against the like for like replacement of the nuclear arsenal. A position the Conservatives will be taking next year and wasting £100Bn in the process. What we did not agree on was what should be the alternative. So we have set up yet another commission to devise a policy. In my view the policy is very simple – simply do not replace the Trident at all at the end of its life and instead make sure our forces are properly equiped to do the job we ask of them with conventional weapons and equipment.
We should lead by example and simply say to the world – Nuclear Weapons – No Thank You.
The vote was counted as 579 for multilateral approach to 447 for the unilateral approach.
Climate Change is in my view the most serious issue facing us on the Earth. As climate becomes more variable and more unpredictable and areas become unsustainable then people will simply move en-masse. We have to solve the problem and solve it fast. Unfortuneately one of the first acts of the new Tory Government was to slash and burn all the environmental achievements of the coalition government. Just as renewable energy is about to reach self sustaining level the Conservatives butcher the industry and the environmental gains it brings. Its attitude to solar power and land based wind beggar belief. And if that is not enough just of the coast of Bournemouth (well I say just but in fact 13 miles off shore) the Tories have trashed an off shore wind farm. But then we know their priority Frack at any cost. What a short sighted view on life. We should be welcoming renewable energy based on the sun, wind and tides and rejecting CO2 poluting energy sources.
This was a real priority for The Liberal Democrat administration that I lead in Bath and NESomerset from 2011 to 2015. During this time we took recycling rates from 40% to 80%, increased dramatically the amout of renewable energy produced in the area and developed a sustainable food policy.
In contrast the Green lead administration in Brighton over the same period inherited a recycling rate of about 30% and succeeded in taking it down to 25%.
The motion debated:-
F23 Securing a Global Treaty on Climate Change
Mover: Lord Purvis (Parliamentary Spokesperson on Energy and Climate
Summation: Neil Stockley
Conference notes that:
a) The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to
take place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015.
b) This will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new
international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries,
with the aim of keeping global warming within 2°C above preindustrial
Conference applauds the achievements of Liberal Democrats in
government from 2010 to 2015 in maintaining momentum towards a new
global treaty on climate change, working constructively with other EU
member states for more ambitious action on green growth and making
progress towards decarbonising the UK economy.
Conference calls on the Government to:
1. Play a leading political and diplomatic role as part of the EU
negotiating effort to secure agreement on a fair, effective and legally
binding new global climate treaty at the conference, including
commitments by all countries to reduce emissions, with the richer
countries taking the lead, supported by a well-financed Green
Climate Fund to assist poorer countries to tackle and adapt to climate
2. Cooperate with other European countries to address environmental
threats and tackle climate change by securing a formal agreement
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (from 1990
levels), as part of a global agreement, reforming the EU Emissions
Trading System and developing the EU Energy Union.
3. Continue pressing for the greater use of EU funds to support
innovative low-carbon investments.
4. Ensure that the UK meets its own targets to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions and plays a leadership role within Europe and
internationally on efforts to combat climate change.
5. Pursue additional actions outside the UN climate talks, including EU
and international initiatives to reduce hydrofluorocarbons and other
‘short-lived climate forcers’.
6. Ensure that UK and EU development aid, free trade and investment
agreements support environmental goals and sustainable investment,
including maintaining the UK’s International Climate Fund and
supporting direct bilateral programmes with developing countries on
Conference condemns the Government for its ideologically-motivated
decision to end support for onshore wind power, which can only serve
to increase the cost of the low-carbon transition while at the same
time losing jobs and investment and harming the UK’s international
One of the concerns of the day expressed several times by several people and businesses was the Tory EU referendum. The Tories may well be leading the Country into economic and social disaster with its EU referndum merely as a salve to its extreme Eurosceptic wing. Building up myths and fears rather than woprking from within to improve it as an organisation that works for citizens across Europe.
In the conference hall listened to good speeches from Willie Rennie and Nick Clegg and the main debate of the morning on Climate Change . In Scotland the Independence dabate continues apace and certainly if the Tory plan for a EU referndum delivers an exit vote then surely the UK will disintegrate with Scotland for sure and possibly Wales clamouring to remain in the EU and leaving the UK thus leaving Cameron with his Little England mentality and a completely fractured country.
Lunch time Fringe – went to the Country Side Alliance and the importance of the rural vote. Mark Williams MP for Ceredigion made several good points on the different needs of rural communities from housing to the desire for hill farmers to have small wind turbines to help with energy costs as well as using renewable energy.
In the afternoon we had the Trident debate (see separate posting) and One Member One Vote. At this conference we had a record number of attendees including a record number of first timers and new members. Up to now we have had voting delegates and non-voting delegates – with numbers assigned to constituency by membership numbers. However from now on anyone who comes to conference will be a voting delegate. I think this is a great step forward in opening up conference. Now we have to look to see how we can develop on-line participation so that members can vote from home if they cannot get the time or money to attend the conference in person.
For the evening Fringe started with Land Value Taxation and Vince Cable . Land Value Taxation was unfortuneately one of the few items in the LLoyd George budget that did not get enacted. A shame. We need something that controls the value of land and make sure it contributes to society and not just a lucky few owners. From there went to an International Fringe event – again subject of a separate posting.
Sunday started with two training sessions on websites which proved very useful and learnt lots of new techniques. The challenge is now to see if I can implement them. Back at the Confernece listened to a great speech from Sohie in t’Veld about the importance of the UK staying in Europe. She is from D66 – a Dutch Liberal party that had a traumatic election experience a few years ago and is now bouncing back.
Lunchtime Fringe event was at Trussel Trust fringe on food poverty in the UK. There is real concern that the new Conservative Govenments ruthless attacking on the working poor since its election victory in May is going to have major impacts on many families. The cutting of free school meals and DWP working tax credit penalties etc are just two examples. John Pugh MP also raised issues about poor diet, lack of fresh food in some communities and obesity as a sign not of overeating but poor eating.
Evening Fringe – I selected one on Gibraltar with Fabian Picardo MP and Joseph Garcia MP – the two leaders of the coalition government there one from Labour and one from the Liberals. Interesting to hear their issues with Spain and how the current economic woes in Spain had casued a raise in tension as a distraction policy by the Spanish Government. Followed this with an excellent beer and curry fringe with the RSPCA fringe on issues around pet and animal welfare with Baroness Kate Parminter and finally on to the LGA LD group AGM.
Great speech from Sophie in t’ Veld D66 MEP on Britain in Europe. UK should be in and not afraid of saying so. The reasons for staying in Europe are many and the reasons for leaving are false.
Speaking at Bournemouth sept 2015