An open letter to the candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats

Dear Ed & Jo,

In just a few short weeks, one of you will be taking on the mantle of leadership of a Liberal Democrat party with its highest ever number of members, and which appears to be on the cusp of something special.

In the last few weeks, we have seen some truly phenomenal results for our party, cementing our place as a liberal alternative to the inward-looking Conservative Party on the right, a divided Labour party on the left and Nigel Farage’s populist Brexit Party.

At the beginning of May, we saw our largest ever increase in seats in the local elections, while in the European elections we won more votes and seats in the European Parliament than ever before. Our message was unequivocal and resonated up and down the country.

I am one of those members who joined in the aftermath of the EU referendum. After some time in the political wilderness, and some time wondering whether I even wanted to be a member of a political party, it was clear to me as a liberal and a democrat at heart, there was only one party which represented me.

Continue reading

Singing the post-vote blues

I have a confession. Shortly before Christmas, I was on the verge of leaving the Liberal Democrats.

At that time, there were a number of issues locally which were causing me great concern, and it got to the stage I was just about ready to walk away. But then one of the primary drivers of many of those issues left the party, and I became determined to stay and help the local party move forward, as treasurer.

The Liberal Democrats, after all, used to run Gillingham Borough Council, and were the second largest party when Medway Council was created. Losing our last 3 seats in 2015 was an injustice which needed to be overturned.

I therefore reaffirmed my commitment to standing as a paper candidate in Gillingham North and helping the party campaign in its target wards as much as I could.

Then, towards the end of February, as it became clear that we only had one target ward, I was asked whether I would like to stand as one of the party’s candidates there, filling the void left by a departing candidate. I gave it some thought and accepted fairly quickly.

I should point out for context that, at that stage, I did not expect to win. Putting the groundwork in and building a reputation for hard work and action – one of the primary drivers for electoral success for anyone other than the Tories and Labour at local elections – was impossible to do in the space of two months. My expectation was that we would hit the ward hard and regain some of the ground lost in 2015, but that we and Labour would cancel each other out and let the Tories win both seats.

My starting point for our base in the ward was Paul Chaplin’s result in 2015. Diana Smith had a huge personal vote which had helped her to buck the national trend and beat Labour, but Chaplin had polled behind both Labour candidates in a ward they did not seem to have taken seriously, except as far as the general election was concerned.

I was not concerned about the Conservatives, although they were, as the incumbents, our primary opposition. From day one I knew our problems would be caused by Labour. For many years the Liberal Democrats had won with the support of Labour voters who knew Labour could not win in Watling, and lent their votes to hard-working Liberal Democrats against the Tories.

The result in 2015 showed that was no longer necessarily the case: if they could beat a Liberal Democrat candidate, they could beat the Conservatives, too. And they knew it. Labour selected two strong candidates for the ward last year and they campaigned hard from day one. Winning back Labour voters would be an uphill battle.

But from the off we threw everything we had at the ward. During the campaign we delivered over 8,000 leaflets, knocked on over 2,800 doors and had over 900 conversations with residents. That was, without a doubt, more than I thought possible at the beginning of March, and I owe an undoubted debt of gratitude to every volunteer who played their part, however small, in making this possible.

It wasn’t, however, enough. To their credit, Labour threw the kitchen sink at the ward and managed to take one of the seats from the Tories on an otherwise mediocre night for them. The national trend of Labour and the Conservatives losing to the Liberal Democrats and others seemed to have passed Medway by, with only two of the Council’s 55 seats not being from either of those parties.

Overall in Medway, we increased our share of the vote by just 1.3%. Progress is progress, and it has shown that we are not entirely down and out, but it was still clearly an outlier in a nationwide Liberal Democrat surge.

So what next for the Medway Liberal Democrats? Well, that is for the party to decide together, and I look forward to working with my party colleagues on a plan for where we go from here. What I will say, however, is that no one individual is more important than the party, and our decisions will be taken, as they always have been, with the liberal and democratic values of our party at heart.

With apologies to my running mate Martin, who it has been an absolute pleasure to work with these past couple of months, and every other Liberal Democrat candidate across Medway, on a personal level it gave me a small boost when it dawned on me that I had received the highest number of votes and the highest share of the votes of any Liberal Democrat candidate in Medway. It was also a pleasure to beat UKIP in Watling when they had over 10% more of the Medway-wide share of the vote than I did.

So what next for me? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

Four years ago I vowed never to stand for election again. A lot happened in the intervening years: I moved to Barcelona, moved back, got married, got divorced, changed jobs twice and much more besides. I’m hoping the next four years will bring perhaps a little less excitement, but who knows.

In the short term, my focus will turn back to the political situation in Catalonia. Last night I spent the evening sharing Tapas with the wonderful Foreign Friends of Catalonia, and I am looking forward to returning to campaigning for Catalonia’s democratic and fundamental rights in earnest.

I will not, for many long and complex reasons, be campaigning for the European elections. I don’t even know if I’m going to vote in them yet. But that’s another story for another post…

In the long-term, who knows! Without going into detail, my present personal circumstances are not sustainable and require drastic change. I don’t know how or from where that change will come, but I know with certainty that, if it doesn’t, I won’t be here to fight an election in four years’ time – and it won’t be because I’ve moved away again!

I put that, and many other things besides, on hold to focus on the election campaign. Now it’s over, I need to focus on salvaging what’s left of my life, if it’s even still possible.

And that is a process which will take several months to complete…

Ciudadanos versus freedom of expression: the story of #RiveraQuitameEste

On Wednesday, the leader of the centre-right Ciudadanos party took to Barcelona to remove yellow ribbons from the streets. The social media response became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. This is why.

Ciudadanos (in English, Citizens, or simply Cs) is a party which presents itself as the party of the Spanish political centre, a more progressive alternative to the established Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP). In Europe, it sits in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group with the UK’s Liberal Democrats and, ironically, their ideological opposites in Catalonia, the Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català, (Catalan European Democratic Party, PDeCAT).

It’s liberal credentials have been questioned, however, by analysis of the party’s policies. Originally designating itself as a centre-left party and, more recently, centrist, analysts have variously described Cs as a centre-right or even right-wing party. For the purposes of this article, I will, where necessary, use the term “centre-right”, whilst acknowledging that a precise location on the political spectrum is a matter for intense debate.

Cs was born in Catalonia in 2006, originally in response to Catalan nationalism, among other social issues, but soon became a significant force in Spanish politics. They currently have 32 of the 350 seats in the national parliament, the Congress of Deputies, after winning 13.1% of votes in 2016, and sought to use their influence in a failed attempt to oppose the confidence vote against Mariano Rajoy and his PP government in June.

Whilst they are the fourth largest party nationally, in the elections to the Catalan Parliament in December they topped the poll, winning 36 of the 135 seats and 25.4% of the popular vote. However, they still sit as an opposition party against the votes of the Catalan nationalist groups Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia, JuntsxCat), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC) and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP), with a combined total of 70 seats – an overall majority – and 47.6% of the popular vote. The perception of winning an election but remaining in opposition clearly irritates Cs’ leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, who believes she should be the region’s president instead of Quim Torra, the compromise candidate from the JuntsxCat parliamentary group.

Torra’s election did not come easy. In fact, he was the fourth choice for president. The first was Carles Puigdemont, the leader of PDeCAT and incumbent president, until he was deposed by the Spanish government when they invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, sacking the Catalan Government and calling fresh elections. That, in turn, was in response to the Catalan Government’s decision to press ahead with a referendum on independence on 1 October 2017, which the Spanish Government and Constitutional Court ruled was illegal, and subsequent declaration of independence following a 92% vote in favour of secession (on a 43% turnout). Puigdemont’s decision to seek exile in Belgium rather than face (as he and many Catalans see it) a political prosecution caused complications and his bid was halted in favour of building a workable government in Barcelona. To many Catalans, though, he remains the legitimate president. Continue reading

Medway Messenger: Thursday, 25 May 2017

Over the past 12 months, I have used many more NHS services than most 27-year-olds, including emergency care, routine investigations and invaluable support form my GP.

I have accessed help from both a physical and mental health perspective and the care I have received has always been first class.

However, my experience has also allowed me to see first-hand just how stretched the NHS is.

For the service to survive into the 21st century without risking back-door (or even open) privatisation, a serious increase in spending is required.

But that increase must be sustainable against a fragile economy facing the uncertainties of Brexit.

Adding additional borrowing puts our nation’s financial security at risk, and cutting funding from other vital areas such as education or welfare would lead to separate funding crises in those departments as our population continues to grow.

I would, therefore, fully support the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to a 1p increase in personal taxation, providing the additional £6bn generated is ring-fenced for health and social care expenditure.

Adding 1p to personal taxation would have little impact on most people’s disposal income but it would make a huge difference to securing the future of one of the country’s most-loved – and most-needed – institutions.

Alan Collins Pérez de Baños
Goudhurst Road, Gillingham

Battlefield Medway 2015: Too Close To Call

In the run-up to the 2010 General Election, I developed a computer model to project the vote share among the four main parties in Medway, which was largely accurate.

On the eve of polling day, I published my final projection results via Twitter, then sat through the count watching with interest to see how accurate my computer model had been.

The results were impressive:
 

Chatham & Aylesford
Party Candidate Projection Result Margin
Conservative Tracey Crouch 46% 46% 0
Labour Jonathan Shaw 36% 32% -4
Liberal Democrats John McClintock 15% 13% -2
UK Independence Party Steve Newton 4% 3% -1

 

Gillingham & Rainham
Party Candidate Projection Result Margin
Conservative Rehman Chishti 47% 46% -1
Labour Paul Clark 29% 28% -1
Liberal Democrats Andy Stamp 19% 18% -1
UK Independence Party Robert Oakley 5% 3% -2

 

Rochester & Strood
Party Candidate Projection Result Margin
Conservative Mark Reckless 50% 49% -1
Labour Teresa Murray 35% 29% -6
Liberal Democrats Geoff Juby 14% 16% +2
UK Independence Party Did not stand

The model, which combined local and national polling to provide a local picture, was, in most cases, correct within a reasonable margin of error. The only exception was in Rochester & Strood, were UKIP’s decision not to field a candidate against Mark Reckless made projecting the vote share there a little more complicated.

Over the weekend, Liberal Democrat blogger Chris Sams released his predictions for Battlefield Medway 2015. His analysis is quite detailed, and I would urge readers to take a look for themselves, but in essence he claims Rochester & Strood will be a Conservative hold, Gillingham & Rainham will be a Labour gain and Chatham & Ayelsford could go either way.

I thought this a little optimistic, and couldn’t see Chatham & Ayelsford being too closest to call, so I resurrected my computer model and updated the figures to calculate projections on where the votes currently lie:
 

Chatham & Aylesford
Party Candidate Projection Margin
Conservative Tracey Crouch 41% 38% – 44%
Labour Tristan Osborne 42% 39% – 45%
Liberal Democrats To be confirmed 4% 1% – 7%
UK Independence Party To be confirmed 11% 8% – 14%
Projected Result Labour Gain

 

Gillingham & Rainham
Party Candidate Projection Margin
Conservative Rehman Chishti 41% 38% – 44%
Labour Paul Clark 43% 40% – 46%
Liberal Democrats To be confirmed 4% 1% – 7%
UK Independence Party To be confirmed 9% 6% – 12%
Projected Result Labour Gain

 

Rochester & Strood
Party Candidate Projection Margin
Conservative Mark Reckless 42% 39% – 45%
Labour To be confirmed 40% 37% – 43%
Liberal Democrats To be confirmed 10% 7% – 11%
UK Independence Party To be confirmed 5% 2% – 8%
Projected Result Conservative Hold

The results speak for themselves. Rochester & Strood is projected to be a Conservative hold, Gillingham & Rainham a Labour gain and Chatham & Aylesford closest to call. Mr Sams, I eat my words!

The projection shows that the Liberal Democrat vote has virtually collapsed in Chatham & Aylesford and Gillingham & Rainham (as evidenced in both the national opinion polls and the 2011 local election), but has been largely resilient in Rochester & Strood. Conversely, UKIP has surged in Chatham & Aylesford and Gillingham & Rainham, but remained static in Rochester & Strood (they achieved only 4% of the vote in 2005) – perhaps largely due to the anti-EU nature of the incumbent Tory.

Of course, these projections are based, partly, upon mid-term opinion polling, and the political landscape may change dramatically between now and 2015. However, when you consider the figures involved, and particularly the margins of error included in the tables for information, one thing is clear:

At the moment, Battlefield Medway 2015 is too close to call!