Investment in transport in northern England far behind London

It’s good news that the first Pacer trains are being removed from service 10 years late but the North deserves to get its fair share of public and private investment if it is to thrive.

So, what should we make of today’s report from IPPR North about projected spending on transport in the North of England up to 2033?

Lets first look at those figures:

The north of England is set to receive £2,389 less per person than London on transport, according to a new study which has stoked concern that the north is “held back by government underinvestment”.

The study, by IPPR North, analysed the government’s planned infrastructure projects between now and 2033 and found that planned transport spending in the capital was set to be £3,636 per person, compared with £1,247 in the north.

Yorkshire and the Humber will receive the least of all of England’s regions at just £511 per person, followed closely by the northeast at £519 per person, while the northwest will receive £2,062 per person, according to the think tank.

Are you surprised? Well I’m not. I have never thought much of the so-called Northern Powerhouse, believing that it’s more smoke and mirrors than reality. I regularly go to Leeds and the journey is usually only about 45 minutes less than the trip to London and is about one third of the distance. The trains are squashed and it’s almost impossible to get a seat even if you have reserved one. The London train is usually comfortable and on time albeit it terribly expensive unless you have a pass, can book well in advance and can travel off peak.

As a regular visitor to London I am convinced that it is killing itself off. The commute is getting longer and longer, living accommodation is getting more and more expensive. The standard of living is getting poorer and poorer. The answer from successive governments of all political persuasions is to spend more money solving the problems of London within London. That is a strategy which is ultimately doomed to failure.

The answer to London’s problems is to reverse the continued movement of people to London and the South East by having a set of progressive policies which will encourage businesses and then employees to the North.

One of the things that encourages me that this will work is the continued reaction to people who come to Liverpool, for a conference or events at our well used Conference; Exhibition Centre and Arena. “We didn’t think that Liverpool was like this!”, they say with surprise. When I ask them what they did think there are no specific answers just a set of impressions about poverty, filth, poor employment prospects, poor environments, high crime rates etc.

Another reason that I think that things can change is the opinion of those who have already made that journey North. I called at a house last year and the resident had recently moved to our City. His mate had moved here the year before and another mate was moving here this Summer. Their house was twice the size they could have afforded in Greater London and the commute less than one third of the time. They were in Seventh Heaven (as we like to call Church Ward!)

I am always aware just how good our lifestyle is here. Within an hour and a half, I can be in the middle of the Lake District, Welsh Hills or Peak District. I have immediate access to a world-renowned Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. We have seven world class museums which attract major exhibitions such as the terracotta army last year. We have 4 theatres, 1,000+ restaurants with cuisines from all over the globe; 981 listed buildings which make us unique, three great universities. The football is excellent in all our major cities (with the obvious exception of Manchester). The list is almost endless.

Of course, other cities in the North aren’t quite as good as Liverpool but all of them have a full list of quality homes, easier commuting and first-class facilities! I have no hesitation is saying that’ like for like’ you will have a better standard of living up here.

There are some things that the Government needs to do to make life even better and hopefully irresistible:

  • We want a level playing field so that we get our fair share of taxpayer funding for a range of infrastructure projects.
  • We need grants to persuade some businesses to come north and a combined advertising and marketing campaign from the City Region Mayors and Government to get some business owners to come and look what its like north of Watford!
  • Sort out the main routes across the Pennines to the Yorkshire and Humberside and north-east regions. Improve the commute from some of the suburbs into all the major Cities.
  • Place research activities into our huge range of Universities and then back businesses which are established to build on that research.
  • Provide quality public sector housing for public and private sector workers

But the biggest way forward is not ultimately dependent on the Government. It depends on businesses and people wanting to break away and develop in cities that are big enough to have everything but small enough to get out of!

I hope that a Lib Dem Government would indeed introduce the policy changes that would mean that the North would get its fair share of Development and capital money. The way for this to be ensured is for you poor Southerners to say, “Enough is enough, we won’t put up with these conditions any more, we want to go North and join in with the great standard of life that they already have”.

Shake off your shackles, fight your prejudices, open your eyes and join us in embracing all the good things that the North of England has to offer.

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Wollaston and Corbyn the good, the bad and the ugly

Its great news that Dr Sarah Wollaston has joined the Lib Dems today. She is a person of courage and principle and is respected throughout the House of Commons. She’s the type of figure who would be a sensible interim leader of the Country which Corbyn certainly could not be.

Two pieces of news have dominated politics today. The fact that Dr Sarah Wollaston has joined the Liberal Democrats and that Jeremy Corbyn has partly come off the fence that he has been sitting on for three years and is proposing something about Brexit which might be construed as being positive.

Firstly, it is great to welcome Sarah to our Party. She is someone who I have respected since she was first elected and have come to know her well in the many sessions that I have done in the Commons on health matters. She is an authoritative voice of calm in what is a fractious and divided House. She is well respected on all sides and exercises a positive view on politics. I believe that she is a huge addition to our Party and understand that there may be more to come.

I have seen a number of members join us recently from the liberal wing of the Tory Party which is nothing more than a few feathers now! At one time there were about 30% of the Tory membership who could be regarded as moderates, centrists or liberals. Now they have either joined us or have given up. Today’s Tory Party is a far right, unthinking, incoherent group which is the mirror image of Trump and the Republican Party on the other side of the Pond.

So, what do we make of Corbyn’s offer to lead an interim government after a Vote of No Confidence? The main problem with that being that he has absolutely no chance of winning it and he knows it is just a token gesture. To win he would need to get the following to support it:

  • Lib Dems
  • Green
  • SNP
  • PC
  • Independent Group
  • Independent MPs
  • Tory Remainers

The Independent Group, Former Labour MPs sitting as independents and potential Tory waverers have all made clear within minutes that they would not support a No Confidence Vote which would lead even to the possibility of a Corbyn premiership. But Corbyn knew that already so he knows that what he has put forward is an empty gesture.

When Jo Swinson tried to move a VONC on the last day of the House sitting before the Summer recess she was careful to take both herself and the Lib Dems out of the short-term leadership equation. She proposed that someone who commanded goodwill from all sides of the House should be asked to be the caretaker PM. She suggested people like Hillary Benn who is the Chair of the Select Committee.

Today Jo Swinson has confirmed that both Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman have indicated that they have no long-term aspirations for power but would be prepared to step in for the very short term. The indications are that a VONC to potentially put those people into power would be successful. That is the reality of the hopelessly split and dysfunctional House of Commons and the hopelessly split and dysfunctional body politic in the UK today.

So, it looks as though Corbyn has damaged irrevocably or at least in the short-term the possibility of getting VONC through so what else can be done?

In the short term there does appear to be enough support to block a no-deal BREXIT and once again push back the date for leaving the EU from 31st October. That would mean that a General Election could be held anyway which would have the same effect as a VONC. That would mean that all the Parties could put forward their views on BREXIT in the course of a General election. The winners would then indeed have a mandate to proceed.

The Lib Dems, Greens, PC and SNP have no problem with defining their policy. They will argue for a People’s Vote and then in that vote campaign to stay in the EU on a binding referendum. The question in that would be do you want Mrs May’s deal, which is the only one on the table, or Remain.

The problem then lies with Labour. At present it is abundantly clear that the membership of the Labour Party is overwhelmingly Remain but that Jeremy Corbyn and his cult are overwhelmingly Leave. They have already put forward proposals for a jobs led Brexit which the EU have made clear is as much a fantasy as that of PM Johnson.

The electorate can decide for themselves whether they want a Leave party and how severe; or a Remain Party and how committed. That is true democracy.

Corbyn’s suggestion is just a fudge and he knows it. One way or another the choice must be made by the people. The Labour Party will have to make up its mind on getting off the fence or not because the way that they deluded large swathes of the electorate into believing that they are a Remain Party simply will not wash for a second time.

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Telling the truth about Brexit

The so-called Brexit debate has descended into a verbal fisticuffs based on lies, smears and down-right untruths. We now need to get back and have debates based on evidence and not wind-baggery!

Are you fed up with the debate on Brexit? Well I am! The biggest problem we have with it is that it will not stop if we do Brexit. Some people think that an Oct 31st Brexit will mean that we don’t have to talk about it again ever. Regrettably, this is just not true. If we did leave then there are 700+ trade agreements which will need to be sorted out and the 450 pages of the withdrawal agreement are packed with decisions that will need to be taken.

Expect BREXIT and the consequences of it to go on for years then unless of course we decide not to BREXIT when there will be no need for the withdrawal agreement and all the trade and other rules will stay as they are now.

What really encouraged me to take up my metaphorical pen again is hearing the Head of Wetherspoons, who is I believe called Tim Martin, telling the most outrageous untruths about BREXIT. He claimed that only 7% of the world trade exists on a tariffed basis! This is so far from the truth that I cannot decide whether the man is lying or just plain stupid.

Just look at the economic news which is dominating the news throughout the past few weeks – the trade war between China and the USA. This is being ratcheted up by continually increasing the tariffs between the two countries. Note the word increasing. There have always been tariffs between the two biggest economies in the World so even if they were the only two Countries that used tariffs, they account for a huge proportion of world trade, world GDP and the world population.

The 7% falls on that basis alone. Almost all trade is conducted using tariffs some of which are entirely marginal and are really designed to force proper standards of goods and trade. Others like those now between China and the USA are punitive and are designed to create level playing fields where one partner is seen to be abusing their power.

Economic trade zones like the EU exist globally. There’s one in South East Asia; there’s one in North America; there’s one in the Caribbean. All created to smooth trade between adjacent countries which necessarily makes trade outside the bloc more difficult. Adjacency is the key factor here. By and large we trade most with countries that are closest to us. There are obvious reasons for this relating to the cost and time of transport and the perishability of some goods.

It’s also interesting to hear people talk about the World Trade Organisation as if there are no tariffs which it controls. That would mean you have an organisation that would do nothing! In fact, the WTO polices a whole range of tariffs which we would fall back on if we leave the EU. One really sticks in my mind having been to Brecon last month. At present the Welsh Hill Farmers export much of their produce to Europe. They do so because we only have limited storage for meat. At present we export to Europe on a zero tariff. Under WTO rules they will be subject to a 35% tariff. That will kill the trade and will kill the way of life of sheep farmers.

Even if we were able to continue to export on a zero-tariff basis into the EU from outside then there would still be paper work to be filled and increased checks to be made as we would outside that market.

As I look back to the referendum debate more than 3 years ago, I can see that everything that the Remain campaign said at the time is being proven true but still being denied by the Leavers;

I said that there would be huge problems for the car industry and pointed to nearby Ellesmere Port. That plant will close if we Brexit, especially without a deal. That’s not what I say but what their management say.

I said that there would be a hard border for Ireland which would start in Birkenhead where the ferries come in from Belfast and Dublin. That hard border will be there because rules exist which UK governments have insisted upon for 40 years. We wanted a hard border between the EU and the rest of the World. In fact, we demanded it. Now when it is applied to us, we don’t like it and expect the other 27 Countries to change those rules which apply to all the external borders of the EU.

Perhaps the most ludicrous arguments relate to democracy. I recently heard a Brexit MEP says that there was no democracy in the Parliament. This was someone who had just won an election to become an MEP. Had he bothered to turn up he would have known that the European Parliament actually votes on who will be the Chairs of Committees which in many ways is the equivalent of the Cabinet.

They voted to accept a new Head of the Civil Service recommended to them by the 28 elected heads of Europe. They could have rejected that person. In the House of Commons, the Head of the Civil Service is appointed by the Prime Minister as is the Cabinet. So, there’s actually more democracy in the EU than in our own Parliament which still operates as a 19th century Gentlemen’s Club.

What do we do now? There are two options:

  1. Have a second referendum which this time is a binding referendum based on the binary choice of May’s deal or Remain. Remember the first Referendum was only an advisory one which was not binding on Parliament. That was on the face of the Bill and part of the Act. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court.
  2. Just revoke Article 50.

My original preference was the first option. Now I am not so sure. The debate that has been conducted is so farcical that it has debilitated trade and investment. It has meant that other vital areas such as social care; education and the environment have been largely ignored.

Perhaps we should now just say that we will revoke Article 50 and try to rebuild the shattered alliances and agreements which the UK has so recklessly endangered with our crass and boorish behaviour.

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Support the Police – legislate on drugs

It is absolutely disgraceful of members of the Labour Party to attack the Police as part of their internal campaigns to get the nomination for Police Commissioner. We need to debate a range of issues intelligently the most important being that of a new drugs policy.

Over the past few days I have watched with interest the debate on who should be the next Labour candidate to become Elected Police Commissioner on Merseyside. Now admittedly I’ve not actually seen what they said. After all I am not a member of the Labour Party. However, I have never known a group of people who are so prepared to wash their dirty linen and arguments in public so we all know who is saying what. I get a few more snippets from people within the Labour Party whose continue membership of that faded, jaded organisation never fails to amaze me.

So, as we can all understand it the arguments take place along three main lines:

  1. That they attack each other and then attack other people such as the current Elected Police Commissioner who was, until recently, a distinguished member of their own Party. I have no reason to like Jane Kennedy – she wiped the floor with me when I stood against her in 1997! However, I have always respected her although I have nothing but contempt for the two people currently fighting it out to replace her.
  • Attacking the police especially by claiming that the police have left certain areas of the City. It is no coincidence that the three areas where this is supposed to be happening are the heart of political rather than criminal competition. It is sad that a senior police officer has had to enter the fray to defend his staff. Let me be clear. There are no-go areas or the police on Merseyside. There may not be enough Police but there is nowhere where these brave men and women don’t go to try and defend us and our liberties.
  • That the big problem is that there is not enough money. Well that is clearly true but as I discussed in a blog recently if we just got more money to do what we do now the problems will continue to grow. We need to do things differently. It’s the last of these that I want to talk about so let me jump in with both feet into the debate called ‘drugs policy!’

Ironically, I know that Jane does not support the line that I am taking although she is trying all sorts of different and innovative things!

It seems to me that there are three addictive substances which we treat very differently:

  1. Tobacco. We have long recognised the damage that this does to people who smoke and to people who inhale the smoke of others. Over the past 40 years the number of smokers has been reduced from over 80% of adults to less than 20%. The result is that the number of people dying from lung cancer is in decline although this is a lagging indicator because the NHS is still dealing with elderly smokers. This is a cause I emote with because my dad died of lung cancer at the age of 64. He was a heavy smoker and indirectly I suppose I was as well.
  • Alcohol is without a doubt a poison. It is addictive. It leads to cirrhosis, cancers, driving and behavioural problems. As with tobacco the effects go beyond the individual and can even cause their deaths. In some ways alcohol abuse amongst the young is declining as they seek healthier lifestyles. Its people of my age who are now the secret drinkers

We control both of these addictive substances by legislation, regulation and societal controls such as a restriction on advertising. It is now impossible to advertise fags and alcohol. You can only buy it in certain amounts from a certain age. Education programmes help people realise the problems that are caused to heir health. They are taxed to reduce consumption. One can argue whether the measures go far enough but there is always a choice between people’s right to do things and the affect that they have on others.

So why do we treat the third addictive substance differently?

  • We now need to look carefully at having a strong drugs policy which allows it to be legally sold, regulated and taxed just like fags and booze. There are those that will say this is wrong – we must totally abolish the use of drugs because some people take them and become dependent. That’s true now but in Countries which have looked at this intelligently the consumption of drugs is reducing. To some extent we already do this. Methadone is available on prescription and distributed through the health service. All over the Country there are needle exchanges for those who are addicts so that they don’t pick up a range of infectious diseases. If we know who is selling drugs they can be involved, just as are licencees, in recognising people with problems.

Why is this so important to the Police? Because it is estimated that drugs trading is THE major cause of crime. Many of the break ins and street abuses are related to theft to enable people to feed the habit. This leads right up to the ‘Mr Bigs’ who make vast fortunes from the illicit drugs trade. Most of the serious knife and gun crimes in the Country are drugs related. Not only is this the major crime problem but is also one of the major health problems that we face with huge pressures on this and all addictions on our health services.

Now it may be that you disagree with me on this issue. What you surely cannot disagree with is that this is a subject which must be discussed.

If we simply put more and more money into the Police without changing the cultures that lead to criminality crime will continue to grow. We need more money now to catch those who are beyond hope and to protect all decent people who just want to live a quiet life in a safe society. In the medium to long term we need to talk about the reasons that people commit crime and deal with those social determinants. So much needs to be done but it won’t be done without having serious and adult conversations about the issues.

We will shortly be choosing our own candidate for the Police commissioner election although we don’t believe that Elected Police Commissioners should exist. I am absolutely sure that whoever we choose will face up the realities and deal with the issues in an intelligent and thoughtful way.

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Unleashing the power of women

I go to so many conferences where the speakers are heavily male oriented. More than half the speakers at the World Merit Global summit are strong, confident young women

For the past three days I have been at a global summit of World Merit, a charity which I chair, which encourages young people from all over the world to get involved in positive actions within their own community. They do this by supporting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Inevitably, because it is being held in Africa the majority of participants are African but in total, we have more than 400 delegates here from more than 40 countries. White skinned people are in a small minority. White, old blokes are in an even smaller minority!

I have been very struck by two things.

Firstly, the growing power and influence of Africa. Africa is not the ‘dark continent of tribespeople selling cows on a dryish plain or semi-desert and living in huts’, that many people in the UK think. There is a reason we think that because parts of Africa are indeed poor and in need of substantial aid. Increasingly Africa is becoming a global powerhouse. Morocco where our conference is being held has 75% of all the phosphate reserves in the World. They are using that resource to power change and are now one of the global leaders in resource efficiency ranging from water to power production. They are not alone in becoming very quickly a fully developed economy.

I almost cried when people were talking about the commercial opportunities that are being created by companies from Germany, France, Japan and China. This is a continent where almost half the nations have a traditional affinity with the United Kingdom through the Commonwealth. We have done little to foster and improve those links to the mutual benefit of both sides.

Secondly, without a doubt the stars of our conference to date have been the strong, assertive young women of who lead our movement all over the World. In all places, including the UK, they have had to overcome prejudice. We only have to look at the board membership of our FTSE 100 companies to see that so much of our society is led by white-upper middle-class chappies from a certain privileged background. They believe that possession of testicles is the pathway to success!

The problems that they face in the UK are almost as nothing to those faced by their sisters in other parts of the World. I was talking to one 20+ year old who hasn’t seen her family for 3 years because she refused to get married and have children when she was in her teens. She wants to develop her knowledge and capacity and to make her place in the world. She will marry and have children if and when she chooses which might be never.

Inevitably, my thought processes have turned back to Liverpool and the UK in considering what I have seen in Africa. I think that we must as a City and a Country more rapidly to the position where:

  1. There are more women in positions of power in the public; private and none-profit sectors. It’s not that we need positive discrimination on their behalf. They neither need nor want that. What they want and need is an end to practices which discriminate against them. Women bear children but our system fails to recognise that vital role in a number of ways. They lose out on earnings, promotion, pensions. Assumptions are made that women of a certain age are not worth the ‘risk’ of taking on because they might disappear soon. If we don’t overcome these barriers we are wasting the full potential for our Country of most of the 51% of the population that are women.
  • We start to build the links with Africa based on a mutual respect and a recognition of two-way opportunities which will enable us to develop our markets and they can develop theirs. A common language, legal system and partial culture should make us the Country of choice for links with Africa. Too often our attitude has been of contempt and a false sense of superiority.

Coming to World Merit events helps to recharge my batteries. If I could just capture the infectious energy of these young people, I could make a fortune! Talking with people of different cultures gives me ideas about things I can do in my City as the 6 or 7 recent recipients of my emails will already tell you. It is great to see a truly global community come together. People of different countries, faiths and skin tones working with each other to learn and improve our planet. People who have only met on social media become instant friends because they care enough about the same issues to do things to help their communities and by doing things all over the World will help to save that as well.

Ironically, although the two companies which support this global movement of young people are based in the UK (in Liverpool of course), this Country is one of our weakest! If you want to know more about us log on to If you then want to get involved in action in your own community contact me at

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Six to Fix for a Partnership Parliament

After the General Election we will not see a return to ‘business as usual’. So we need to plan now for the ‘partnership parliament’ that will be needed in a Chamber with no overall control.

A week or so ago I wrote about the needs for the Lib Dems to prepare for a partnership parliament. Since then we have won the Brecon by-election and a lot of the talk, quite rightly, has been about the ‘Remain Alliance’ which helped to deliver victory to the marvellous Jane Dodds. What the by-election has, in my opinion, absolutely demonstrated is that politics has become so factionalised that there will not be a Parliament in which one Party will have an absolute majority after the next General Election whenever it is held.

If we are to have a ‘Partnership Parliament’ then perhaps, we ought to consider a partnership approach to the elections which will precede that Parliament. In many ways the one is clearly the precursor to another. So, in response to the challenges that have been made to me I set out what I think are the key themes on which we should negotiate pre and post-election.

Note that I said themes here. People rarely vote for or against specific policies. They vote for or against beliefs and themes which express themselves by way of high-level principles which they can relate. They then conclude on those themes that such a Party or such a person is the one that most resembles ‘my’ beliefs.

There are two items which seem to be to be redlines which must be a pre-condition of the Lib Dems working with other Parties.

Firstly, we must revoke Article 50. This is a change from my previous position that we must aim for a referendum in which we would put the case for staying in the EU. Things have now dragged on for far too long. The public and private sectors are unable to make key investment or other decisions because there is no clarity about the way forward. The only way to resolve these concerns and protect jobs in places like Ellesmere Port for automotive workers or the hills of Brecon for upland sheep farmers is to have a quick decision.

Secondly, there must be an absolute commitment to electoral reform. The impasse in Parliament has largely happened because too many MPs are calculating their individual chances of survival in a haphazard ‘First Past the Post’ system which has failed to deliver a strong government. Not only does this apply at the election stage but also in the way people behave in Parliament with a narrow tribalism which limits real innovation. In practical terms we need a single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.

Both of these objectives can be delivered quickly in the kind of short-term Parliament which might exist after the next election. Then a General Election could be held in which the elections took place on the new STV system Let’s leave the House of Lords out of this quick fix agenda and return to it later. But there are four more areas where declarations of intent can be made now for wider, more rational strategic discussions but where some things can be done very quickly.

Principle One – Housing.  Housing is a basic human right and we should consider the place we live primarily as our home rather than as a financial investment. Our homes should be appropriate to our needs and should be placed in safe, green clean neighbourhoods. Quick wins would be taking the money away from the calamitously expensive programmes to assist home ownership and putting it into social housing; and removing incentives for buy to let or buy to provide holiday uses.

Principle 2 – Climate Change  – Put remedial and prevention measures into every strategy so that all departments and levels of government take this seriously and think about it in every step they take. Quick wins including reinstating grants at an appropriate level which would encourage investment in solar, wind and water power generation; and putting more investment into bus and rail delivery.

Principle 3 – Education – Make the centrepiece of our policies the belief that the best education systems are ones that ensure that people of all ages want to learn rather than being forced through a sausage machine of tests within narrow disciplines. Quick wins include abolishing regional commissioners and OFSTED and put the money into reduced class sizes and local support mechanisms for schools; and reducing the SATS regimes which cause so many problems to teachers, parents and students.

Principle 4 – Health and Social Care – Make the centrepiece of our policies the prevention of illness and disease rather than the curing of illness and disease. Quick wins include using the 1% on income tax already proposed to create prevention strategies and programmes to keep people fit and healthy; and stronger controls on the advertising of food and drink to limit unhealthy consumption.

Now you might argue that I have left out vast areas of policy from defence to transport to regionalism to employment etc. I’ve done that for two reasons:

  1. We need to get “Six to Fix”, in people’s minds and we do that best by giving a limited number of things for them to think about. We can get all six on a pledge card the size of a playing card that we could give to people as an aide memoire to liberalism
  2. These are the things that most people talk to us about on the door step.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t have a high-quality and precise manifesto which covers the whole gamut of policies. Of course, we should. If I was fighting Portsmouth, for example, I would want to be able to talk about defence. In Wales and Scotland, I would want to talk about devolution.

This approach has three main merits:

  1. We don’t need to establish large amounts of new policies. The ones I have mentioned above are ones where we already have established policy ready to go.
  2. Most people agree with the basic principles outlines above
  3. They act as a useful ‘litmus test’ for parties or individuals that might want to work with us pre-or post-election.

Whether you support the contentions in this article or not it is abundantly clear that all Parties must begin now to think through what will happen in the run up to and after a General Election. It must not be business as usual on the basis that one Party, ours or another, will form a single party majority Government after the election. If Parliament is to be effective it must be prepared for new ways of working and the best way to prepare for those new ways is to test them out by realism in the cauldron of British Politics – the General Election itself.

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Doing things differently to bring down the crime rate

Elected Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy is coming up with some impressive ideas about new approaches to preventing violent and knife crime

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have long advocated a public health approach to mental and physical health issues. Crudely put this means moving the work, wherever possible, from curing ill people to preventing illness. Doing this has huge health benefits and it also has huge financial benefits.

Health prevention saves, over a number of years, £15 for every £1 spent. This is almost as important as the improvement in people’s lives from living better and more fulfilling lives. Unless we do this our NHS will buckle under the strain as we will never be able to put in to the NHS budget the amounts of money that will be required.

This approach is not just for health but could apply to many other areas of life. This morning I have been discussing with our Elected Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and her adviser, Prof John Ashton, the work that needs to be done with public health in the field of crime and especially in the field of violent and knife wielding youth crime.

The simple approach is just to link serious crime with drugs and poverty. There are clear linkages here and these are undeniable. However, most people who live in poverty are not criminals at all and certainly are not serious criminals. The life that too many people in our communities’ face is a grim hand to mouth existence in which there is very little sunshine and very little opportunity.

Such conditions provide the breeding ground in which people can move from despair to crime and from minor crime to major crime. Youth violence breeds on this but there are many more factors in play than money. Chief of these appear to be a lack of self esteem linked with a lack of clear family identity. Young men and women from the age of 12 up move into families composed of gangs, they mark out territory like a pack of feral dogs and carry knives for a sense of swagger and the position that a blade can give them.

For many of these people there is now little hope. Most of them are too old to change and have been caught up in a spiral of violence which only be addressed by appropriate action by the Police and within the judicial system. One can only hope that we reform the prison system to ensure that prisons become places where through education and support people are weaned off crime and instead moved to become good citizens with a role and stake in society.

That leaves us needing practical solutions to stop the movement of young people through the system into a criminal lifestyle. This must be done by concentrating on all those who are disadvantaged but with a special emphasis on those who are most likely, because of their background, to move up the escalator into big crime.

We need to make sure that the homes and neighbourhoods they live in are clean, safe and well managed. We need to expand youth services to ensure that children and young adults are diverted away from bad things into good things. We need to be much more supportive of the work of teachers who struggle to bring both order and education into the lives of too many children. We need to invest in children’s mental health services so that problems can be identified and dealt with early in a child’s life before they become ingrained.

I am sure that there are people who will read this and who will say, “typical bloody liberal. Mollycoddling kids when what they need is a good hiding or a spell with hard discipline”. Guilty as charged! Those who take an evidence-based approach to policy making would not agree with them. The countries with the lowest crime rates are the ones like those in Scandinavia where the most is spent on good quality services and prevention. The Countries with the worst crime rates are the ones like the USA which spend the least on public services and rely on an expensive  justice system which delivers retribution not change.

I was impressed with the sorts of things that Jane Kennedy and John Ashton were telling me this morning. As I understand it there will be a big roll out of conferences and meetings in the autumn seeking to bring all the partners together behind this proactive approach. They deserve to succeed and we should all support their work because we cannot go on the way we are. Given our present national policies from successive governments the thin blue line will crack even if Johnson does give the system the money for 20,000 more police officers. That is an outcome that none of us can allow.

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