To say that 2015 was an interesting year to be a Liberal Democrat would be an understatement.
January – March: IN GOVERNMENT
Liberal Democrats in the Coalition continued to deliver right up to the end of the last Parliament, including:
- Securing an increase to £10,600 free from income tax for everyone.
- Passing the modern slavery bill, to protect victims.
- Delivering voters the right to recall their MPs, and securing the power to suspend or expel members from the Lords
- Guaranteeing that Britain will continue to meet the international standard of giving 0.7% of GDP in aid to some of the most needy countries in the world.
Our time in Government cost the Party dear, but it was worth it for delivering bold liberal policies like the Pupil Premium, Apprenticeships, same sex marriage, and Norman Lamb's bringing mental health to the forefront of the debate, while also stopping the massive I.D. card database scheme and ending detention of children at the Yarlswood immigration centre.
April to May 7th – THE GENERAL ELECTION
Many of us from Tower Hamlets went to campaign for Lynne Featherstone in Hornsey & Wood Green or Simon Hughes in Bermondsey; our own Elaine Bagshaw was one of the leading lights of the Team 2015 team and Head of Candidate and Customer Support at HQ.
Sadly, we couldn’t save them.
It's fair to say the Liberal Democrats took a hammering on Election Night. We got 8% of the vote and 8 seats. Which would be fair enough if the Tories had got 30 instead of 300.
May 8th – SOMETHING AMAZING STARTS TO HAPPEN
Everyone in the Party was devastated.
And a lot of people in the country looked at the results and thought that it wasn't fair. That wasn't what we deserved. That wasn't what they thought they'd voted for.
They listened to Nick Clegg's fierce, dignified, resignation and they thought something they hadn't thought in five years. They agreed with Nick. They looked at the Liberal Democrats again and they thought: Britain does need a Liberal voice. Britain needs the Liberal Democrats.
And they started to join us.
May to June - #LibDemFightback BEGINS
Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats were immediately faced with by-elections for the Mayor and the council seat of Stepney Green. Our candidates, Elaine Bagshaw and Will Dyer, and other activists were out knocking on doors again on May 10th, just a couple of days after Nick's resignation.
And people were listening to us.
In the mayoral election, we were the only party to increase our number of votes and increase our share of the vote.
July to September – THE #LibDemFightBack TAKES FLIGHT
Membership of Tower Hamlets Lib Dems doubled over the summer.
We continued campaigning building on what we learned in the Mayoral by-election and collected petition signatures on London's housing crisis.
In September, Elaine was selected to fight to be the City & East Member of the London Assembly.
We went to Bournemouth to the Lib Dems' Autumn Conference. Elaine Bagshaw & Chris Walts delivered a fringe about our Tower Hamlets campaign. Building on that we have been working to share our ideas and knowledge across the Party, and helping other London Liberal Democrats in local by-elections. We also were Runners Up at the ALDC Awards for Digital Campaign of the Year.
Tim Farron is the first British politician to demand that the UK do more for the Refugee Crisis, visiting camps in Calais and the island of Lesbos to talk to refugees.
October to November – TAKING THE FIGHTBACK TO THE LABOUR ONE-PARTY STATE
At the end of October, a by-election was called for the Boleyn ward around the West Ham stadium in the middle of Newham. Led by the brilliant Sheree Miller, our incredible campaign to give local people a voice saw us win 9% of the vote and go from never knocking on a door to second place.
The still-growing number of supporters meant City & East could support the setup of a new Newham, Barking & Dagenham local Lib Dem party – which was inaugurated at a meeting in November, and becomes official from 1 January.
December and 2016 – THE FUTURE STARTS TODAY
In 2016 we face the first big test of the #LibDemFightback: the London elections. After that, the there’s the Tories' Europe referendum that we simply must win.
We’ll be campaigning in our target wards every week across City & East.
And we want to deliver more for our City & East members with monthly social and policy and campaigning events, including a reward scheme for the local parties.
Tower Hamlets Council voted on November 3 to go ahead with disgraced former Mayor Lutfur Rahman's plans to move the town all to the former Royal London Hospital site in Whitechapel. Labour's Mayor John Briggs had previously described the plan as "a bit of a palace".
The move comes as neighbouring Newham Council is considering moving out of its own centralised Town Hall only 3 years after the moved in at a cost to taxpayers of £110 million.
Speaking while campaigning on London's housing crisis, Lib Dem candidate for City and East Elaine Bagshaw said:
"I am strongly against this move. At a time when Londoners are desperate for properly affordable homes, Tower Hamlets Council is going to spend millions on itself. This will move services further away from people who need them, in spite of the evidence coming from Newham that shows it's a bad idea.
Whitechapel should be a centre of affordable homes and space for local businesses, not a hub of paperwork and bureaucracy."
Sheree Miller, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Boleyn Ward, Newham, said; 'At a time when Newham council are warning residents of their need to cut £50 million from their budget, it is galling that they now realise their mistake and the subsequent waste of money incurred to the tax payers. Services have therefore been affected twice over. Should I be elected, I would demand greater scrutiny and accountability for decisions like these that have a huge affect on local people.'
People still remember the Liberal Democrats' Local Neighbourhoods which made Council services closer and more responsive to people. This would be at the heart of a Liberal Democrat-run Tower Hamlets.
Notes to editors
Newham considers leaving its Town Hall after three years: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/deprived-newham-watches-bemused-as-council-ponders-move-from-110m-building-after-just-three-years-8836972.html
Newham and Tower Hamlets are the two most deprived boroughs in the country for housing and services: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-indices-of-deprivation-2015
Elaine Bagshaw has called onTower Hamlets to join the fight to improve local mental healthcare services.
It is part of an initiative led by Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb, working together with Alastair Campbell and Andrew Mitchell, which calls for the Government to improve mental healthcare.
As Tower Hamlets conducts its budget review. Local Liberal Democrats urge the Council to protect funding for mental health services, and to ensure it is treated in the same way as physical healthcare.
Mr Lamb has led a cross party campaign to put mental health firmly on the agenda ahead of theGovernment’s spending review later this month.
More than 200 leaders from politics, business, the arts, sport and faith groups have signed an open letter calling on the Government to end the “historic injustice suffered by those who have mental ill health”.
Elaine Bagshaw said: “The Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats are proud to say that we wholeheartedly support this important campaign.
“The Lib Dems will continue the fight for better mental healthcare both nationally and locally. The Council is currently doing its budget review and looking to save money from targeting mental health services better. I worry that this could leave people without the help and support they need, so I urge the Council to protect the current levels of funding for local mental health services.”
Mental health services suffer from underfunding and lag behind in comparison to treatment for physical health problems, yet one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year.
The open letter highlights 10 major concerns, including lack of access to treatment, long waiting times and a 20 year gap in life expectancy between those with mental health problems and the rest of the population.
Signatories include Delia Smith, Richard Curtis, Danny Boyle, Annie Lennox, Graham Norton, Steve Coogan, Frank Skinner, Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew and Sir Steve Redgrave.
Norman Lamb said: “It is simply not good enough for people with mental health problems to be treated as second class citizens. It's a huge injustice which I am determined to end.
I wanted to see if we could get together a stellar list of leaders from across society to come together to call for equality for those who suffer mental ill health. We have been amazed by the response. Virtually everyone we have asked, agreed to sign. Now we must build a movement across the country demanding an end to this historic injustice.
“I am very proud of the work Lib Dems did on mental health in Government. We secured additional funding for mental health and introduced the first waiting time standards for mental healthcare, but the battle for true equality is far from over.”
Hundreds of properties in Tower Hamlets could be sold off under government plans to reduce the number of council homes.
Liberal Democrats have criticised the move as “irresponsible” and said it would ramp up demand for housing and increase rents.
It comes despite figures from homeless charity Shelter which show there are 20,425 families on the housing waiting list in Tower Hamlets.
The Housing and Planning Bill - debated in the House of Commons on Monday - includes plans to force councils to sell low rent homes in high value areas, as the Conservative Party rolls out its Right to Buy scheme.
Elaine Bagshaw, London Assembly candidate said: “The Tory plans are irresponsible and will mean even less cheap to rent and social homes where we need them most.
Once sold off to the private market, we lose them as affordable homes forever. It means more families on low to middle incomes will struggle to get a decent home.
The Liberal Democrats will fight to defend social housing. The Tories should not be forcing local councils to sell off homes Tower Hamlets needs. Our local Labour council can always find room for luxury flats and pet projects like a new Town Hall - it’s time then found room for decent homes for local families."
On the 26th of October, the Liberal Democrats tried to stop George Osborne's unfair and economically unwise cuts to people's tax credits by voting for an amendment – the so-called "fatal motion" – that would have killed off the cuts altogether.
In Government, Liberal Democrats blocked these cuts and we continue to oppose them now. We said it was not fair to make savings by cutting the support for people on low and middle incomes. In City and East the cuts would have affected 52,000 families and 96,000 children. Instead, we believe that people who earn more should bear a fair share of the cost, and that cutting the money people have to spend on everyday items risks hurting the economy too.
During the election, Danny Alexander warned that the Conservatives were considering the cuts. Prime Minister David Cameron even made a promise that tax credits would not be cut. We think it is only fair that he be held to that promise.
Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour peers chose not to vote on the Liberal Democrat motion, just like Labour MPs abstained on the welfare bill in the summer.
As Liberal Democrats we would rather see the best result for people, so we supported the weaker amendments even though it means the cuts are only delayed and not stopped, and that they start immediately for new claimants, hurting young people the most.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are trying to cover their embarrassment by calling this a "constitutional crisis". But what the Lords did was correct. It was the Government's choice to avoid the scrutiny given to a Parliamentary Bill by sending these measures to the Lords as a ‘Statutory Instrument’, which the Lords can only say yes or no to. Many moderate Conservatives were already calling on Mr Osborne to think again about these cuts, so the Lords have actually done their job of calling on the Government to think again.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century there were four great issues of policy: home rule, free trade, the welfare state and votes for women. And this is the one that the Liberal Party got wrong.
Liberals in government do better these days, from Lynne Featherstone championing equalities and taking a stand against FGM to Vince Cable pressing for women's representation in the board room. The election catastrophe tends to disguise that in seven out of eight seats where a man was retiring we stood a woman to replace him. But the arguments for equal representation, for and against women only shortlists and how women are treated and represented within the Party continue to this day. So this is a timely reminder that we could still do better.
"Suffragette", directed by Sarah Gavron, written by Abi Morgan and staring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff, does not focus too heavily on the political angle – Lloyd George appears briefly, early on, seemingly sympathetic but then letting the women down – instead following the human bravery of some of the women who in spite of a system already grinding them down with labour and unfairness, stood up for the right to be treated equally. The film never dwells on violence but nor does it shy away from the beatings, police assault and force-feeding which we know to be part of the story.
The "enemy" is not so much a government that fails to do the obviously right, but a more general patriarchal establishment that sees men have the upper hand at all levels of society, whether it's in the Home Office where the minister implicitly equates the women to the "Fenian terrorists"; at work, where the odious boss exercises his droit du seigneur; or in the home where a husband expects to get paid more, do less to take care of his child and above all not to be embarrassed in front of the community.
As Maud, an everywoman character, Carey Mulligan progresses from onlooker to sympathiser to supporter to activist, often because she's just the "one who is there", in little steps that will be familiar to anyone, woman or man, who has been encouraged into politics. While who cannot have sympathy for Anne-Marie Duff's character Violet for whom the compromises of real life get in the way of her idealism?
For the men, Brendan Gleeson plays the police inspector who eventually disgusts even himself with the lengths he goes to to silence the women's protest. And Ben Wishaw plays Maud's husband whose cruelty and complicity are shown to be born out of his weakness.
For an historical drama, much remains highly topical: from the way the police discuss surveillance techniques with the new compact cameras (hilariously not compact); to the way that Meryl Streep's Mrs Pankhust is smuggled in and out of public meetings like a corseted Julian Assange or Edward Snowden; to the way that casual abuse of women for voicing an opinion remains normalised from the slums to the Twittersphere.
If you want a shot of Downton-era costume drama without the twee complacency and deceptive nostalgia, then this is the film for you. Or if you want a thriller with gadgets, explosions and Ben Wishaw, then see this before you see SPECTRE.
“The Prime Minister’s apparent 11th hour conversion to social justice is welcome but it will fool no one.
“If you want to understand this Tory Government you have to look at what they have done and not the promises of a seasoned PR man.
“This, after all, is from a Government that has already scrapped the child poverty target, demonised refugees, cut benefits for asylum seekers and slashed housing benefit for large families.
“It is the most extraordinary chutzpah for Mr Cameron to claim to be a poverty champion at the same time he is picking the pockets of the very poorest workers by slashing their tax credits.
“The Prime Minister might spin a decent line about prison reform too but this is from a party that banned prisoners’ reading books.
“And if he was really concerned about racial discrimination he would publicly denounce his Home Secretary’s shameful attack on immigrants yesterday.
“The Liberal Democrats welcome the Prime Minister’s change of tone but it has to be backed up by actions – not just easy words.”
“At last Cameron has woken up to the crisis under his nose and started talking about the lack of affordable housing.
“Liberal Democrats have long been calling for swift and serious action to tackle the national housing emergency.
“But typically the Conservative focus is on helping the few not the many. They seem only interested in helping better off renters and not the 1.6 million people on waiting lists for a home of any sort.
“Starter homes may sound promising but this announcement will only make a dent in the housing crisis and we must do much more.”
A few weeks ago, I went to Calais. I talked there with about 20 refugees. I heard their stories of harrowing risks, dangers fled, and desperation for their children.
I have to tell you, not a single one of them mentioned benefits.
They wanted to come to Britain to be safe, to work, to contribute.
They see our country as a place of opportunity, a place to make the most of yourself, a place where you can be the best you can be.
Because you don’t risk everything clinging to the bottom of a truck if you’re looking for an easy life.
I met a 14 year-old boy who had broken both of his legs trying to board a lorry, he was in a wheelchair pushed by a boy who was 11. Both had lost their parents, both were alone.
After the second world war, Britain offered homes to up two thousand children whose parents had been murdered in the Holocaust. I know this because around 300 of them came to my constituency to recuperate and became known as the Windermere boys. In all the UK provided homes to 700 such children.
That was all who were left alive to take up our offer.Read more
I'm sure you, like many of us, have been moved by the pictures of people fleeing Syria, and appalled by David Cameron's response.
Here are some practical things you can do to make a difference:
- Sign the petition demanding that our Government takes in more refugees: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105991
- Drop off some of your unwanted clothes; tents; pots and pans and other things at one of the drop off points on this map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?usp=sharing&mid=z0IlKDKjh8U0.kynDNxGpqDP4
- Donate something from this Amazon wishlist: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/1P2RJO27Q6N2T/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_v
- Offer to help resettle refugees through Citizens UK: http://www.citizensuk.org/save_lives_by_helping_resettle_refugees
- Join us on September 12th as we march in solidarity with refugees: https://www.facebook.com/events/1047978998546751/