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The Real Alternative

March 7, 2005 1:00 PM
David Goodall at Spring Conference 2005 in Harrogate

David Goodall in Harrogate

At the recent Spring Conference in Harrogate a number of policies were updated and improved this included policy action on affordable housing, tackling crime, employment rights, Post Office closures, improving life for older people, council tax, Iraq, civil liberties, children, education and health.

On affordable housing in safer, greener communities the party supported the three main aims of the paper:

  • To create much more affordable housing in all parts of the country.
  • To build homes that are environmentally sustainable in construction and use.
  • To strengthen communities which are cleaner, safer and better managed, with ready access to green spaces

On action to reduce Crime, where the party supported the following steps:

  • 10,000 more police, greater trust in police with fewer targets less paperwork and reduced bureaucracy, more help for the police with better technology
  • Cutting alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour by more rigorously enforcing the law on alcohol licences.
  • Smashing the criminal drug industry by tough police action against drug dealers and help user the drug users, by providing more drug treatment places in prisons.
  • Strengthening communities by improving local democracy, developing community institutions, and ensuring that all relevant local agencies work together.
  • Tackling anti-social behaviour more effectively using a wide range of measures with the co-operation of all the relevant agencies at community level, including acceptable behaviour contracts and parental control agreements; back ASBOs with measures to tackle the underlying causes of the person's behaviour.
  • Involving local people in tackling anti-social behaviour and low-level offences by establishing community justice panels to rebuild links between law-abiding people and offenders, and save valuable court time.
  • Requiring non-violent offenders to pay back their debt to victims and communities and face up to the consequences of their actions
  • Further helping to rehabilitate offenders and reintegrate them into the community by bringing in compulsory courses in basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills for all prisoners needing them.

On employment the party passed a policy motion on rights and responsibilities at work that would :

  • Encouraging the development of high-quality employment practices through voluntary action and competitive pressures in the workforce market.
  • Ensuring that all employees, regardless of the size of the business or organisation for which they work, receive the same rights and protection from abuse.
  • Managing migration to address the needs of the economy whilst protecting individuals from exploitation.
  • Developing skills through reforms to training.
  • Adopting a flexible approach to retirement.
  • Avoiding more red tape on businesses.
  • Removing unnecessary regulation of trade unions

Post Office Closures is a problem that has hit the whole country and in particular Southampton Itchen this year. The party approved of the following measures to help Post Offices by :

  • Halting the pressure on pensioners to receive their pension payments directly to bank accounts.
  • Retaining the use of the pension book for those who wish to use it.
  • Expanding the range of services available at post offices in order to make them viable businesses, including using post offices to meet the Government's own e-agenda.
  • Encouraging existing businesses in communities without post offices or in danger of losing a post office to establish a post office counter as a service to the local community.
  • Promoting the use of local post offices through a nationwide marketing campaign
  • Exploring the possibility of developing post offices as community banks

Action to Improve Life for Older People is important for Liberal Democrats and the party approved of a policies which focuses on ways to financially help older people both through a better pension and improved employment rights.

  • So Liberal Democrats would introduce a Citizen's Pension, that would giving pensioners a decent income in retirement; set at the level of Guarantee Credit (from April) of £109.45 per week for individuals and £167.05 for couples.
  • This Citizen's Pension would be will be increased annually in line with average earnings and based on residency, not National Insurance Contributions this will benefit women in particular

The policy to scrap the council tax and replace it with local income was restated. Local Income tax is based on ability to pay and such systems operate efficiently in such varied environments as the US and Japan, Switzerland and Sweden. This policy was well proposed with a speech by Edward Davey MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The parties opposition to the war in Iraq and support of the Iraqi people was demonstrated in the policy which has the following main points:

  • Support for the Iraqis in drafting their Constitution and the establishment of a fully democratic and legitimate Iraqi Government, involving representatives from all minorities, including Sunnis.
  • A significant improvement in the delivery of public services, in particular to ensure adequate supplies of food, water, sanitation and electricity and to address high levels of unemployment.
  • Concerted measures to be taken to train and equip Iraqi security forces, to affect a gradual transfer of responsibility for security from multinational forces and to re-establish security, law and order - particularly in the Sunni provinces.
  • The UK Government to produce an exit strategy, which underpins the democratic process, provides for Iraq's security and establishes the basis for the phased withdrawal of British troops by the end of 2005.

To prevent terrorism it is necessary to uphold basic humans and civil liberties, particularly in the area of criminal justice. The government's recent anti-terrorism bill does not do this and so the party policy restated principles that have been part of the British justice system for centuries, namely that a person can not lose their liberty unless:

  • they know the charges against them
  • they know the evidence against them
  • can defend themselves in a law of court
  • a judge or jury finds them guilty of the offence

It is sad that at the start of the 21st centenary a major political party should have the need to re-state principles that are in the Magna Carta.

A range of measures were outline to help put the care of children first and party approved of the following measures :

  • New mothers to be guaranteed the equivalent of the minimum wage of £170 per week, giving them the genuine option of caring for their first child at home.
  • Class sizes to be reduced to 20 at key stage one
  • The creation of a Children's Profession of early years workers
  • Implement key elements of the 10-year Childcare Strategy to improve child car for under fives and wraparound care to all school-age children by opening schools from 8.00am to 6.00pm
  • Reform of the Child and Working Tax Credit system, to improve the system of financial support for parents
  • Workplaces to be more responsive to the needs of a young family, by promoting measures such as flexible working.
  • A Children's Commissioner in England based on rights to defend the interests of children, who will:

Action to Improve Health is also required and a range of measure to improve the nations health were also outlined:-

  • Measures to tackle the causes of ill health, including promoting healthy eating, mandatory food labelling, a ban on smoking in enclosed public places
  • Action to promote swift diagnosis and early treatment, including targeted 'health MoT',ending charges for eye and dental checks, more more tests and scans available in GP's surgeries.
  • Support to give people greater control over their own healthcare and treatment options
  • Doctors, nurses and other health professionals to be freed from meddling ministers by removing central targets, cutting back red tape such as unnecessary reporting requirements, reducing quangos in the NHS
  • Free personal care when people need it with no one forced to sell their home to pay for care, by implementing the recommendations of the independent Royal Commission on long-term care for all of the UK, as we have done in Scotland, funded from our new 50% tax rate on incomes over £100,000.

The conference also saw a number of interesting key note speeches from :

Dr Vincent Cable MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, contrasted Liberal Democrat policies with the other two main parties, he said

  • "We have several clear, straightforward priorities."
  • "The first is economic and financial stability."
  • "Second, our approach to public spending is disciplined and starts from the simple point that for every new spending commitment there has to be an equivalent cut in public spending somewhere else."
  • "Third, we shall be honest with people about tax."

In conclusion Vince Cable said :

  • "The economic policies of all three parties will come under greater scrutiny as we approach the General Election."
  • "We welcome this scrutiny and encourage it because our tax and spend plans add up."

Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, set out why the Liberal Democrats are the real alternative to Labour and the Conservative party are no real alternative.

Norman Baker MP, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, tackled the area missed on Labour's 2005 pledge card and Michael Howard's I believe list i.e. the environment and in conclusion he said :

  • "Our environment simply cannot afford another four or five years of the fudging, smudging and dodging that we have seen all too much of under Tony Blair."
  • "The country needs a party that will put the environment centre stage. A party that will face up to the difficult decisions that are necessary to deal with climate change. That will meet the challenge of action and put a green backbone into government."
  • "That party is the Liberal Democrats."

Phil Willis MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, former local head Harrogate head teacher started is speech with a interesting quote from Nelson Mandela

  • "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world".

And he finished his speech by saying:

  • "Delegates, we make no promises we cannot keep; what we offer to the electorate is costed, affordable and benefits every child."
  • "Maternity Pay Guarantee to give children the best start in life"
  • "Smaller class sizes"
  • "Qualified teachers in core subjects"
  • "A relevant curriculum taught in world class facilities"
  • "An end to needless bureaucracy"
  • "And for students, no fees, no top up fees and fair grants"
  • "Yesterday Charles Kennedy said the Liberal Democrats were the real alternative."
  • "Well, in education the Liberal Democrats are the only alternative."
  • "If Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world then the Liberal Democrats will use that weapon to be ambitious for every child and ambitious for the nation."

Overall I found the conference very interesting and it underlined the strong policy base that the Liberal Democrat has.

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