Thursday, May 07, 2020

GUEST POST Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England

Michael Mullaney on a new group to champion the Liberal Democrats in the Midlands - and the Midlands in the Liberal Democrats.

The cry often goes up from people living in the North of England, in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Devon and Cornwall that they are forgotten by a London and South East centric government.​

Here in the East and West Midlands many of us feel that too. We feel our services and infrastructure in the Midlands are often far down government's priority list.​

Whilst for Liberal Democrats in the Midlands, having had some tough general election results recently, we may sometimes feel we are a forgotten part of the party.​

To try and address these issues, a group of Lib Dem activists in the Midlands have come together to found Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England. This new group has the twin aims of championing Midlands issues within the Lib Dems and building support for the Lib Dems in the Midlands.​

I serve as a county councillor and opposition finance spokesman in Leicestershire. I see first hand how we are often a forgotten part of the country for the Tory government.

All the Leicestershire County seats are represented by Tory MPs and have been for some years, yet Leicestershire is about the worst funded county council in Britain. It means people here in Leicestershire see their council tax soar year on year while their local services, such as Sure Start children's centres abd support for rural bus services, are cut right back.

For years there has been a campaign for fair funding for Leicetershire, but we don't see any changes from government. The Conservatives pocket Leicestershire votes at election times then fail to deliver the funding our area needs.​

Similarly, a number of other counties across the Midlands, such as Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, are among the worst funded in Britain despite electing new Tory MPs in recent years. Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England will fight for a fair deal for councils, and the people they serve, in the Midlands.​

Here in Leicestershire we also have among the worst funded schools in Britain. This has an effect in limiting opportunities, with social mobility in places like my area of Hinckley and Bosworth being among the lowest in Britain.

If a young person grows up round here in poverty, they are very likely to stay there. Championing the funding of our local services, such as education, to give everyone a fair start in life is a key cause for the group. ​

Equally, our infrastructure is often given low priority. See the failure by the government to deliver electrification of the Midland main line through all of Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire up to Sheffield.

This was a cause pursued by Lib Dems during coalition but then paused and delayed by the Tory-only government. Our region deserves the cleaner, greener, faster trains that other parts of the country enjoy. ​

As for our party, the East Midlands in recent years have been tough. Having the two biggest Leave voting regions in Britain in the referendum, nearly 60 per cent Leave vote in both the East and West Midlands, made the 2017 and 2019 elections difficult for the party here.

With the party dropping the "people's vote" position and adopting a hard-line revoke policy in September 2019, which sought to overturn not only the national result but also the local vote in about 90 per cent of the areas of the Midlands, it has been difficult to maintain our support here.​

In the future years, Democrats need to be the champions of industrial areas like the Midlands, particularly as they may well be facing tough economic times as we emerge from the Covid-19 epidemic and, as seems possible, the Tory government delivers a Brexit that will harm people's standard of living in the Midlands.​

Liberal Democrats have shown we can still represent people and champion communities at a local level in the Midlands. The party has won local elections in the Midlands: in 2019 Liberal Democra's held Oadby and Wigston Council with a massive majority.

Here in Hinckley and Bosworth, we gained the Council from the Tories with our biggest ever majority. Elsewhere across the Midlands we gained many councillors in places like Chesterfield, Malvern Hills and Stratford-upon-Avon.​

We have shown that we can win parliamentary elections in the Midlands. In the recent past we have elected Lib Dem MPs in the East Midlands. The excellent Paul Holmes represented Chesterfield from2001-2010., and Leicester South was represented in 2004-5 by Pramjit Singh Gill. n the West Midlands  we have held a number of seats in recent times: Hereford (1997-2010) Ludlow (2001-2005) Solihull (2005-2015) and Birmingham Yardley (2005-2015).​

Whilst in 2019 Lib Dems came 2nd in just 4 out of the 105 seats in the Midlands (4 per cent) we have been able to poll very high votes in many seats across the Midlands in elections not that long ago. In the 2010 general election the Lib Dems were 1st or 2nd in 35 seats in the Midlands (34 per cent of all seats).​

So Lib Dems can win locally and at parliamentary level in the Midlands. And we can do so again. I've gone into more detail on this in a paper "Liberal Democrats must be a party for the whole of Britain" just published by Liberal Base.

Liberal Democrat colleagues in the North have rightly been pointing out how their part of the country is often overlooked and have set up the Northern Liberal Network.​

Here in the Midlands we hope our group can help highlight issues of concern to the Midlands, develop policy ideas for the region and help get more Lib Dems elected to take up the causes of people living here. ​

We are keen for interested Lib Dem members to get in touch if they want to get involved in Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England. You can follow the group on Twitter or contact me or contact me or Mathew Hulbert if you are interested in getting involved in the group.​

We plan to launch it formally with a committee and organisation later in the year. The group's aim is to campaign on issues that affect people here to raise the profile of the Lib Dems in the Midlands and the profile of the Midlands within the Lib Dems. We also aim to publish papers and articles promoting the issues in the Midlands and the solutions Liberal Democrats can offer to them.​

Michael Mullaney ia a member of the ruling Lib Dem group on Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and has fought Bosworth at the last four general elections.

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