Questions for (and answers from) candidates in Councillor elections to federal committees

The Principal Councillor elections for membership of the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee are now open.

In order to help Liberal Democrat Councillors decide who to support, candidates are invited to submit their answers to the questions below to admin@socialliberal.net – the answers will then appear, unedited, below.

1)      The SLF exists to “promote social justice and actively narrow the gap between rich and poor” and supports candidates for party committees who share that aim. In particular it “works to help the party develop, as a matter of priority – a distinctive, radical and progressive set of policies and manifesto for the next election.” Do you support this aim and will you work with SLF to argue for such policies in committee? If yes, please outline your position on the following policy areas – introduction of a living wage, tax, welfare and Trident? Also, if you believe there should be other priorities for the party, what should they be?

2)      SLF also seeks to “oppose the adoption of any non-progressive or illiberal policies by the coalition.” If you are seeking re-election please detail how you have sought to do this during your term of office. If you have not served before please outline how you will seek to do this if elected.

3)      SLF “campaigns to maintain the internal democracy, transparency and vitality of the Liberal Democrats as an independent party.” If you are seeking re-election please detail how you have sought to do this during your term of office. If you have not served before please outline how you will seek to do this if elected. For example, what are your views on the presumption of confidentiality in committee meetings versus openness (unless there is a good reason, accepted by the committee, for something to be kept confidential)?

The Social Liberal Forum takes no responsibility for the content of the answers, and as such any answers must comply with the election regulations (available from the Returning Officer). Answers should be submitted to admin@socialliberal.net. Please include the following information – name, council seat, committee(s) you are standing for.

*Updated 11/01/13 – other candidates are welcome to submit answers*

*Updated 14/01/13 – further answers posted below*

Answers received from the following candidates:

Cllr Helen Flynn, who is standing for Federal Policy Committee:

1) Yes. I already work with the SLF to promote this aim, as an elected SLF Council member. For me the living wage is essential. Tax is about fair redistribution of wealth, and I am very interested in developing a fair property tax. As regards welfare, we need to protect those who really need state support, whilst providing the right support and incentives to get people into work, as I believe that all who can, should contribute to society. It is better for them as individuals and for society. As for Trident, I support the policy of no like-for-like replacement. Two other priorities should be: clear and distinct education policies for schools, FE colleges and universities—one that particularly addresses the changing world of work, and enables and promotes skills appropriate for our times; and I also believe we should have much clearer policies on transport to enable sensible infrastructure and pricing, to promote more sustainable forms of transport.

2) I think it is vital, if elected as a member of the FPC, to develop distinctive policy that can clearly communicate to voters what we as a party stand for. If we can develop and communicate such liberal and progressive policies , then despite what parliamentary colleagues may have to do by way of compromise in Government, we should be able to deliver a consistent narrative that people can understand and hopefully vote for in 2015

3) Since my election in May as a Harrogate Borough Councillor, this is one of the main issues I have been focussing on. I believe there should be as much transparency in matters of government—local or national—as possible. We are there to serve the voters and taxpayers: confidentiality should be limited to the essential, and “behind closed doors” deals should simply not be allowed to happen.

Cllr. Mathew Hulbert, who is standing for Federal Policy Committee and Federal Executive:

1)

Yes, I very much agree with and support this aim; helping to ensure the gap between rich and poor is narrowed is one of the reasons I entered politics in the first place. I joined the SLF shortly after joining the Party in 2010 and am now on its Executive and, last year, was elected to its Council.
I very much support the introduction of a Living Wage and, indeed, was proud to vote for it when my own Council, Lib-Dem run Hinckley and Bosworth, was one of the first LD majority run Councils’ to introduce it.
On tax, I believe the heaviest burden should be on those who can afford it most, the richest. I’m very proud that we’re taking millions of the worst-off people out of tax altogether.
On Welfare I didn’t support the real-terms cut which was voted on in Parliament this week; I fear it’ll hurt those who need it the most. I also don’t like the rhetoric deployed by some of the Tory and Labour front benches (‘shirkers vs workers’ etc) and we should be condemning such derogatory language being used.
On Trident, I don’t support a replacement and am pleased the Lib Dems appear to have ensured any decision on one has been pushed well into the political long grass.

2) I have a strong progressive and liberal record; On the progressive front I voted against the Health and Social Care Bill at last year’s Spring Conference, as I felt it was part privatisation of the NHS through back door (though I backed the SLF amendment.)
On the liberal front, I voted against ‘Secret Courts’ at last year’s Autumn Conference. We should not be supporting-or even considering supporting-such illiberal nonsense.
I will continue, strongly, if elected to FE and/or FPC, to fight for progressive policies and ones which ensure our hard-won civil liberties are protected and to oppose those that do not. 

3) In terms of openness v secrecy of committee meetings, whilst I would never breach a confidence shared with me and whilst some items on an agenda may have to be considered, for legal reasons or otherwise, in ‘secret,’ I would expect the vast majority of business to be as open and transparent as possible.
We are, after all, a Party with ‘Democracy’ in our title and we also have a duty to those who elect us to be transparent where possible. 

Cllr Chris White, who is standing for Federal Executive:

1) Yes: we need a radical, progressive and also liberal manifesto at the next General Election and in other elections (eg European). I am willing to work with SLF (and others for that matter) to this end.
Living wage: surprisingly a new issue but we need to move towards enforcing it, for reasons of social justice and in order to save on the country’s welfare bill – currently we are subsidising some employers excessively.
Taxation: the burden must be spread more fairly although arguments about the top rate of income tax somewhat miss the point. While avoidance is a problem that must be tackled there is too little attention paid to evasion – the cash in hand culture must be challenged.
Welfare: the number of scroungers and crooks in the system is far less than the public believe and we must not pander to a tabloid agenda. We can only cap welfare if we are making sure the income tax burden is more farily shared.
Trident: can’t use it, should never use it, can’t afford it.

2) I have challenged Government ministers in private on their approach to schools and the diminishing role of local authorities.
I have frequently written (eg in Lib Dem Voice) condemning the behaviour and policies of Eric Pickles.
I supported the challenges to the NHS bill – indeed appearing with others for SLF at an appeal over a decision taken by FCC.
I spoke and wrote an article against the Government’s Digital Economy Bill.

3) I have always made it clear that as a councillor representative I had a duty to report back to and consult with ALDC and the LGA Lib Dem Group.
The normal presumption must be of openness although it is reasonable

(a) to apply ‘Chatham House’ – which does not mean confidentiality but the protection of the identity of individual contributors

(b) to prevent the release of materials which could reasonably be expected to be used by opponents in other political parties.

I have within SLF and ALDC/LGA opposed subjective endorsements of candidates and am glad that SLF is now using a questionnaire approach – clearly objective – rather than unclear, unpublished criteria as happened in the previous set of Federal elections.

Cllr Neil Hughes, who is standing for Federal Policy Committee:

1) Yes. A living wage is especially relevant in times of recession accompanied by rising inflation.  Tax should be largely redistributive  with high earners paying proportionately more. Mansion tax also just, albeit posing collection difficulties. Contrarily however tax cuts for earners at any level will not alone address economic underperformance.

Welfare reforms as proposed likely to alienate middle-class  recipients of universal and/or  previously non means-tested benefits (e,g. child benefit).  Rigid one per cent capping is also too process-orientated  as benefit recipients are not – by that very token – ‘earners’ in that capacity but individuals or families in financial need who additionally input into ,local economies.

Trident – like-for-like replacement not needed in an increasingly diplomatised & financialised world where the main enemies are poverty, climate change and ignorance, not super-powerful political megalomaniacs.  I am also unclear whether the mildly toned-down version of Trident replacement currently mooted by one or two cabinet ministers will really be much of an improvement on full replacement.

My main priorities for the party: sustainable growth paralleled with continuing tackling of deficit by Keynesian rather than monetarist measures., major infrastructure improvements (esp. in transport & broadband) & enabling as many as possible to seek & find work through a healthy economy, information and a stable benefits safety net.

2.       Lib Dem Coalition ministers do have a number of  possible & real allies on equality measures even amongst senior Conservatives (e.g. May & occasionally also  Cameron); amicable discussion should be retained in this dimension. Links also need to be kept open with Labour where applicable  & where likely to yield results but most particularly with our party’s own activists who shape our own emerging policy (esp. via current working groups).

 

3.       I invariably favour openness where possible unless there is a strong likelihood  of highly sensitive information being used fraudulently by external sources. I have unwaveringly maintained such a line throughout my thirteen-and-a-half years in local government. It is especially important during any coalition or period in sole l office that those involving in either preparing/making legislation or in making public statements designed to catch the attention of the media liaise first with the party’s wider membership and relevant SAOs first wherever practicable. We have seen a number of poor-quality gaffes recently on free schools, welfare reform and police commissioners which might not have happened had wider membership views been taken intelligently into consideration.

Cllr Stan Collins, who is standing for Federal Policy Committee and Federal Executive:

1)    I support fully the aims of SLF in narrowing the incomes gap and developing radical and liberal policies to deliver a fairer society and economy.  I support the call for a living wage in all employment.  Tax should be progressive – it should be greater on higher incomes.  It should be simplified and apply to all residents and businesses operating in the UK.  There is also a strong case for a US style income tax: a US citizen can’t get out of US income tax by moving abroad, they still have to pay the difference between local income tax and US income tax.  I support simplification of the welfare system provided it continues to provide a good safety net for all and a decent level of support.  There should be no like-for-like replacement of Trident, if any at all.

Housing is a critical issue for for a great many people in Britain.  Some can’t find anywhere to live.  Others can barely afford the cost.  Still others are in negative equity.  Housebuilding is at a low not seen since the 1920s.  And many more problems.  We have new housing policy which has moved us forward but there is still lots to do.  Above all ministers must be constantly reminded that housebuilding is not just a means of getting the economy going – a decent affordable home is an essential of life.  I wrote the preamble to the housing consultation paper for March 2012 conference.

2)    I have challenged ministers on a variety of issues in meetings of FE, FPC and the Lib Dem CLG parliamentary committee.  I have concentrated on issues which relate to or impact local government such as the localisation  of council tax and housing benefits.  I also constantly nag about housing matters but you might have guessed that already.  When I get the opportunity, I lobby ministers about the government’s economic policy.

3)    My first campaign on the district council was to open up meetings to the public, that went on from 1979 until we got an agreement in 1982 to open up most council business.  When legislation was going through to force this to happen three years later, I spotted that the rules proposed by civil servants would have prevented councils’ keeping security measures for rent collectors and children’s homes confidential.

I believe that ‘daylight is the best antiseptic’ and need a good reason to keep something confidential.  The main question should be “will this give ammunition to our opponents or give them a real advantage?”.  Usually this will mean keeping a matter under wraps until it is made public by the party e.g. a new campaign or policy initiative where timing is critical.  Individual personnel matters should be treated as long-term confidential.

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