First Europe Debate Between Clegg and Farage

Central to the European debate that was held on Wednesday were issues of lies and leadership.  What is very clear to me is that people are entitled to, and must have, the actual facts about the benefits and disadvantages of EU membership ideally before they vote in May this year, and certainly before any referendum is held.

The fact is that pulling out of Europe would be a very serious step to take.  We are told that 3 million jobs rely on trade with the EU; we know that 80% of business leaders have said in a poll commissioned by the CBI that pulling out would be detrimental to our trading with the largest trading bloc in the world; we also know that through rapid technological change the world is becoming globalised and that we must work together to resolve cross-border issues such as climate change and crime.

Nigel Farage openly admitted on Wednesday that he had made up some facts to serve his argument., such as the claim he made that 75% of our laws are made in Europe (in fact it is just over 7%).  He also made up the total number of Bulgarian and Romanian people who in theory could come to the UK—the number was larger than the combined populations of the two countries.

Such untruths and obfuscations are simply not acceptable if we are to have a mature and serious debate about issues that could critically affect people’s lives in the UK, and people must demand the facts and not stand by and be “fed” a diet of selective and inaccurate information.

At least Clegg and Farage have exhibited leadership over this issue that divides them, and that is to their credit.  I find it disingenuous that Conservatives and Labour say they would leave it to the people to decide in a referendum and shirk from revealing their true colours.  They are quite content taking huge decisions on behalf of the public when in power—which as our representatives they are allowed to do in our system of democracy—so why not tell us what they stand for when it comes to being in or out of the EU?

This failure of leadership has been a blight on the UK for some time, with the people losing out as party political loyalties edge them out.  To my mind this crisis of leadership is the single issue that has affected our country for a considerable time.  We have seen it in the inability of Government to devise sensible energy policy; plan transport infrastructure in a strategic manner; and to manage the economy in such a way that we are not destined for another round of “boom and bust” any time soon. And that is to mention just three issues.

The fact is that both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are letting the people down by not being grown up enough to lead on or even enter this debate.  It is an important debate and the people are entitled to know where both parties stand.

I look forward to the next debate on Wednesday 2nd April.



21st Century Education: A Social Liberal Approach, Just Published!

I have been working on this new booklet for some months and am glad it is finally out there!  See the press release that I wrote to announce it’s publication below.  If you would like to order a copy, or would like to write a review, please get in touch with me through the contact page.


The Social Liberal Forum are proud to announce the publication today of our newest publication: 21st Century Education.  The contributors to this publication are all experts in the world of education—the majority of whom are teachers—who are also members of the Liberal Democrats.   Grass roots members at that, many with long years of party membership.  As the editor of the booklet I am grateful that all the contributors were happy to write under the Social Liberal Forum banner.

What we are predominantly grappling with in this publication are not the usual battlegrounds of education policy such as structures, admissions and social mobility. But rather what education that is fit for the 21st century should be about: its purpose, mode of delivery, its methods and how it should relate to the political arena.

We hope to spark debate and are attempting to reframe the discourse about the purpose of education through this publication.  Liberal Democrats have been associated with radical and child-centred education policies for some time.  But many argue that in coalition, we have lost our way and are now not able to speak to the profession, in particular, and parents and the public in general, with the same level of credibility.

At the end of the day, politics is all about trust.  This booklet attempts to re-establish that level of trust.  It shows that we are sincere in our aims for education policy and are the most thoughtful and responsible political party when it comes to our aspirations and ideas about an education system that is fundamentally child-centred, yet also has a clear grasp of the overarching purposes of a state-funded education system.

All at the Social Liberal Forum are very pleased and grateful that Tim Farron found the time to write the introduction to the booklet, and hope that its (hopefully) many readers will find much that chimes with their own personal philosophy and beliefs about education.

We hope to re-ignite confidence in the public at large that we are still the most trustworthy political party when it comes to education and welcome your feedback.

Why Harrogate Should be a Cycling Town

At the full council meeting at Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) this Wednesday, I will be asking Conservative Executive Member for Transport, Alan Skidmore, why we are so short of ambition for making Harrogate into a proper bike town, and requesting that funds be earmarked from last year’s underspends— or from reserves — to fund a proper cycle feasibility study of Harrogate.

I have been working with the Sustrans office in Leeds to see how we can progress plans for making Harrogate into a cycle town and link it to Knaresborough.  Government has been making funding available through different schemes for cycling initiatives for some time.  But those authorities without a full feasibility plan for projects are always left at the bottom of the queue when it comes to funding allocation.  If we are serious about wanting to become a proper cycle town, then we have to put our money where our mouth is and invest in a feasibility plan.  It’s the vital first step.

Sustrans has indicated that for approximately £15,000 a Harrogate-wide walking and cycling network of the future plan can be completed.  This would give good information on alignments, desire lines and the likely barriers to delivery to be overcome, plus indicative costs for budgeting.  A full feasibility study is likely to cost in the region of £50,000.  This would mean that when the Department for Transport announces new pots of cycle funding in the future, Harrogate would be on the front foot and have a greater chance of gaining funding.

I can really see the case for making Harrogate into a proper cycle town and this is part of my vision for the town.  Congestion is an issue in Harrogate and Knaresborough and unlikely to improve, especially with the new plans for housing around Harrogate & Knaresborough that the Conservatives are pushing through as part of their Local Plan.  Currently, around 70% of traffic is local, so it is eminently feasible to shift some of this onto bikes.  The healthier lifestyle this would create and the reduction to CO2 emissions can only be of benefit to local people.  But we must be strategic and plan how we can become a cycle town now.  In the year that Harrogate welcomes the Grand Depart, I can think of no better time to get serious about cycling. It would mark a proper legacy.

As North Yorkshire is technically the transport body for the Harrogate area, there are constraints on how far HBC can go in terms of planning for its own future transport ambitions.  However, if local HBC taxpayers are behind the scheme, they can put pressure on County Councillors to take these plans up at county, and the money invested by local HBC taxpayers (coming from council underspends or reserves) in a full feasibility study for a cycle town would show local commitment to the scheme.

Don’t believe politicians when they say that things are not possible.   It’s a matter of priorities.  But mainly, at the end of the day it is down to (1) vision and (2) political will.  Sadly the current council is lacking both.