Lib Dems Come to Liverpool

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As the Lib Dems gather in Liverpool the media are once again trying to write us out of existence. Well they have been doing that for the 48 years that I have been a Party member and for a lot longer than that. On May 8th when the dust settles there will still be a Lib Dem Party. We will lose some seats but not as many as the media are predicting on crude swings which take little account of local circumstances and the hard work of our gallant band of MPs.
I don’t agree with everything that the Party has done in coalition although I accept that they have had to spend as much time stopping things happening as making them happen.
I think that the so called bedroom tax was a correct principle but put in place by Tory ideologies who have no concerns at all for the practicalities of life in disadvantaged areas. I am pleased that we prose major revisions to this regime which would help people to downsize rather than force them to. But let’s not forget that the first bedroom tax was that imposed by the Labour Government on the 30%+ tenants on benefits in private rented accommodation.
I think that they way that we handled students fees was an exercise in how not to do things. This exercise is now being enthusiastically followed by the Labour Party who are proposing a £2 billion a year subsidy which will only favour those graduates who earn more than £35,000 per year. New Bankers will be delighted with this largesse. New social workers will not benefit at all.
I think that local government, that part of the public sector who delivers most right up at the front line has taken too much of a hit because it was an easy target for Ministers who could not trim their own budgets. I think that major urban areas like Liverpool have had too much removed from the reduced sums available to all. Of course it is true to say that Liverpool gets more per head from the Government than almost any other council but that is because we need it. Liverpool is a major source of the wealth of the City Region but still has a higher proportion of dependent people as it has done since the 1930s.
But there are many things that I am very pleased about. Let’s take pensions. First of all for the first time for 25 years pensions are actually catching up with wages. Under both Tory and Labour Governments pensioners slipped further and further behind. But there is also good news for those with private pensions. For years pensioners have been ripped off by very high charges from the financial whizz kids. Now there is much more freedom to look after their own cash and make more from their own investments.
Let’s take the Health Service. Decisions about local priorities are now being made in local committees which are open to press and public. Strategic Needs are set by accountable local councils working with local clinicians. Threats that this would mean the privatisation of the NHS have been proved to be rubbish. There was more privatisation of the NHS in the period of the last Labour Government than this one.
Let’s take schools. Things like the pupil premium and free school meals for those under 11 have ensured that services have improved although is some areas the rise in the birth rate has not been fully accounted for. Our Universities are booming. Liverpool alone has more than 10,000 foreign students in addition to the 40,000+ UK under and post graduates.
And all this was done in the worst financial circumstances possible. Remember the simple but true message left to the incoming Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury by the outgoing Labour one? Just four words summed it up – “there is no money”. And we could see that immediately. In Liverpool the claim quickly went up that the coalition had slashed the Building Schools for the Future Programme. This, of course, was totally untrue. There was a programme but there was no money to pay for it. I suspect that the reasons that Labour really didn’t want to do a deal with the Lib Dems is because this was a truth that they were well aware of. The capital money put into the medium term financial statement proposed by the Labour Government in 2009 simply did not put the cash in that was needed to sustain the BSF programme. An independent review then found that a staggering £2billion had been wasted on this programme – enough to complete it in its entirety! The money wasn’t put in for other programmes either.
As we look round the City of Liverpool now we can see that the economy is growing. It’s interesting that in the first decade the Labour members of the City Council told us all that the growth in the Liverpool economy was nothing to do with the Council but the national government. Now they say it’s the other way round!
But Liverpool is doing well and, in fact, it’s the work of both central and local government because the work of the two must go hand in hand. For example almost £1 billion has been found by central government to build entire new hospitals at the Royal and Alder Hey. Both projects that were well overdue as was the need for a fully renovated A and E at Fazakerley Hospital.
Transport links are being improved with a major investment at Runcorn on the new bridge and the HS2 and Cross Pennine rail services being improved. It would be good if the last 20 miles of the HS2 would bring it straight into Liverpool but even if not the improvements of the West Coast Main Line.
The future is worrying for all. What we are all agreed on privately if not publicly is that there will not be a one party government in place on May 8th. Everything points to Labour and Tories getting between 270 and 280 seats well short of the 325 needed. These polls will not change much between now and the election in spite of all the leaflets and door knocking that we all intend to do. UKIP and the Greens will get votes but not seats. The wild card is the SNP who look to be knocking out any chance of a Labour Government and the chances of that were already slim.
So batten down the hatches. Block up your letter boxes, turn off your door bells because some of you might be getting the first visit you have had from a politician in decades! I will do what I have been doing for the past 48 years. Calmly and collectedly standing on my record as a local councillor and the fact that I knock on doors and deliver leaflets all year round – not just at election time. I may win – I may lose but I will stay a member of a Party which has tried to do its best for our Country in incredibly difficult circumstances. Win or lose I will be out on the streets of Church Ward doing my best for the people of the community in which I live and which I currently have the honour to serve.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. . Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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