The Haringey Indepedent asked me to outline reasons why people should vote for me… Here’s my response!
“Starting with the very basic – I am local! I grew up in Haringey, went to Highgate primary, and still live in the constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green today.
“It’s so important to know the area you want to represent.
“I also have a 20 year record of working with residents and campaign groups to protect and improve our local services.
“If I had to pick the single most important campaign – it would be saving the Whittington A&E from the previous Labour Government’s closure plans. The second I got wind, I posted the information on my website (where it remains today!) and kicked off a massive campaign.
“Joining forces with local residents and campaign groups – I marched, I petitioned, I secured a debate and asked questions in Parliament, and together we were successful and Gordon Brown’s Government backed down. If we hadn’t saved it – I don’t think we’d still have a hospital.
“Nationally, I’ve fought for policies that benefit our borough. The Lib Dems in parliament have taken the lowest paid workers out of paying tax, and introduced the Pupil Premium to get extra money to schools in more disadvantaged areas.
“These measures mean that thousands of low-paid Haringey workers have be taken out of paying income tax altogether, and £13 million extra has been given to our local schools, teachers and pupils.
“In Government, I’ve used my ministerial positions to push a progressive agenda. As Equalities minister, I was the originator and architect of equal marriage. I then moved to the Department for International Development, where I announced a £35 million programme to end FGM within a generation, and protected the aid budget.
“Finally, I would like you to vote for me because there is still more that needs to be done – for all the reasons I got into politics. We need stronger public services. We need to continue to promote fairness and equality. We need to fight for a community where we take care of those less able than ourselves. I’d like to be a part of that work for the next five years.”
Here’s my latest Muswell Flyer article, also available here. Nb – since the time of writing – the campaign for fairer health funding has been successful, and we’ve secured an extra £23.5 million for our local health services!
As a Liberal Democrat, I believe in creating a fairer society. And in a fair society, rail services should be accessible for everyone – including the elderly, the disabled, and those with heavy bags or pushchairs. That’s why I started the campaign to make our local stations step-free and accessible (which I wrote about in the last edition!)
Almost 800 local residents agreed and signed the petition. I met with Network Rail, Department for Transport ministers, and anyone I thought might be able to help.
And I have some great news – we’ve been successful in securing the extra funding for improvements at Alexandra Palace. The station will be step-free and accessible for all by 2019.
Of course, there are a number of other local stations – both rail and underground – which also need improvements. But this is a great step in the right direction, and hopefully a sign of more to come!
In other campaigning news – local residents and I are also working hard to secure fairer health funding for Haringey’s health services. At the moment, Haringey unfairly receives less funding per person than boroughs like Islington and Camden.
This is unfair and really has a negative impact of Haringey residents – increased waiting times, limited access to services, the list goes on. That’s why I exposed the unfairness and launched the campaign years ago – and I will not stop until the problem is fixed!
Last year, our campaign secured an extra £7.6 million for Haringey’s health services – but we are still underfunded compared to other boroughs.
I recently met with NHS England to put forward the case for Haringey. Good news – they agreed there is a serious problem – and they will meet with local health chiefs to try and move some money from other boroughs to Haringey.
I’ve also collected some evidence on hidden populations and mental health service funding to support our case and help secure more funding for our services.
I am confident of getting a result for Haringey – particularly as the Government has just announced an extra £2 billion in funding for the NHS – with a huge chunk earmarked for frontline services.
Just before Christmas I also launched a campaign to save Muswell Hill Library. Budget documents revealed Labour-run Haringey Council’s plans to close the current service and spend £30,000 on relocating the service (possibly away from Muswell Hill). I think they should keep the service where is it, and spend a smaller amount on making the library accessible. Over 1000 local residents agree.
I hope, by the time this is printed, Haringey Council will have scrapped the plans. If not – you can join that campaign here.
The news is currently dominated by reports of hateful actions, terrorism and conflict. Radicalisation and the rise of far right movements – these are happening in our society and it is terrifying.
And the emerging ‘dialogue of division’ from some media outlets and parties like UKIP is not helping – it’s pushing communities apart and will make the situation worse.
Please do watch this video, to see what Paddy Ashdown and counter-extremist Maajid Nawaz have to say about the situation:
As Paddy says, the Lib Dems are uncompromising when it comes to standing up to UKIP and the dialogue of division.
We are the polar opposite of them, and we will continue to search for solutions to extremism by having tough conversations. We’ll also tackle racism and hate crimes by promoting unity within our communities.
On Wednesday, look out for a post from me. It will contain another video showing the work my team and I are doing locally to put these words into action.
In the meantime, can you share this video on both Twitter and Facebook?
Last week was ‘Time to Talk’ week run by Mind and Rethink as part of their campaign to end mental health stigma.
The Time to Talk campaign encouraged everyone to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health.
Ordinary people are the drivers for change – and telling people how you feel, or listening to someone, can make a huge difference.
Mental health is too important to fall off the agenda. One in four will have a mental health condition at some point in our lives – so all of us will know someone affected.
The most recent statistics for Haringey show over 8,000 people have been diagnosed with depression. The real figure is likely to be much higher.
For decades mental health was pushed aside in favour of physical health. Successive governments let the stigma continue, and none of them tried to break down the barriers to treatment.
When the Lib Dems entered Government, we were determined to change this. We’re providing £400 million more for talking therapies, £54 million for children’s mental health, and £1.2 million in staff training.
Perhaps most importantly we’re introducing ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health. This means that mental health must now be given the same priority – fixed waiting times etc – as physical health.
The stigma around mental health must end, and that’s why the Lib Dems in Government will always make sure that mental health is given the attention it deserves.
Here’s my latest Muswell Flyer article – also available here. Since I wrote this article, unemployment has dropped even further to 2.6% – halved since 2010!
Having a job is so important – it gives us a purpose and means we can provide for ourselves and our families. And for Government – helping people into work should always be a priority.
Before 2010, in the midst of the recession, unemployment rose and young people found it difficult to start their careers.
But things are looking up – unemployment in our constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green has now dropped to just 3%. That’s down from 5.2% in 2010.
Haringey’s young people are leading the way – youth unemployment here has halved since 2010. That’s a real testament to the ability and ambition of the bright young people in Haringey.
In August, I held my annual apprenticeship event at the Civic Centre. Just like last year, over 100 young people came through the doors, looking to kick start their career. I was so impressed with the way they approached the organisations at the event, securing interviews and places on courses.
These were organisations such as Barclays, the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation and the National Apprenticeship Service.
One person who came to the event secured an interview at a local restaurant, six people signed up for a stewarding course at Tottenham Hotspurs, and local organisation 5e enrolled 15 people on their ‘skills boost’ programme.
25 of the people who attended expressed an interest in a community cadet course with the London Fire Brigade, and 14 signed up to attend an open day at North London Garages.
Apprenticeships are a great way to learn a trade and gain contacts in an industry. Like jobs, they are becoming more and more popular, and more available to young people.
And the growth in the number of available jobs and apprenticeships hasn’t just happened by accident.
When the Lib Dems entered Government in 2010, getting people into work and increasing the number of apprenticeships was a priority. Since then, my Lib Dem colleagues in Government have worked with businesses to help create a million more jobs and over 1.8million apprenticeships.
The story is the same across the UK – not just in Haringey (though – we are lowering our unemployment at a faster rate than many other areas!)
Employment figures released in October show that 30.76 million people in the UK are now in work, the highest level on record.
The number of people unemployed has fallen below 2 million for the first time since 2008, while youth unemployment has seen the largest annual fall since records began.
It’s really no surprise, with nearly 1.3 million more people working full time since 2010!
There is still plenty more work to be done to build the economy and create opportunity for everyone. But over the coming months and years I hope to see the situation improving even more.
Here’s my latest Ham and High column – also available here
It seems like every time we watch the news, we hear about another conflict or incident. And the awful terrorist attacks in Paris were so close to home.
The whole world felt the impact of the horror that unfolded at the Charlie Hebdo office.
But here in Haringey we have a proud history of uniting against violence, hate, and extremism.
Less than two years ago, the community response to the terrible attacks on the Somali Bravenese Centre was overwhelming. We all came together in a show of solidarity – and helped them to rebuild.
Unity is the best way to respond to the atrocities committed by terrorists, and extremism. It’s so important that we don’t allow the politics of fear and hate to creep in.
To be blunt, those seeking to create division are parties like Ukip, who would use the actions of terrorists to create fear and animosity towards certain communities.
I’m proud that my party, the Liberal Democrats, have stood up to Ukip from day one. Our beliefs and values really are the polar opposite of theirs!
But I know it’s not enough to just say these things – politicians, communities, everyone needs to take real action, and search for the right solutions.
That’s why I’m arranging even more local visits to community groups and religious groups, to discuss how they feel about the current situation; ask what they think can be done to stop further attacks, and how to prevent division in the aftermath.
There are going to be difficult moments, and tough conversations. But it’s what needs to happen for us to find an effective, long-term solution to tackling extremism.
This is the harder path. But it will ensure that the voices of all those in our community are heard – that our youth understand the value of engagement over argument.
This is a conversation that needs to be ongoing. We need to build forums and platforms that allow for a continuing discussion in our community about these difficult issues.
I want to hear as many views as possible – if you have thoughts you’d like to share, please contact me. This is a conversation we all need to be part of.
It’s very rare for me to post about Labour literature that’s delivered in my constituency – firstly because it so rarely happens, secondly because I am a Lib Dem!
But here goes. Over the last few weeks, some Haringey residents have received a Labour leaflet on their doorstep. In it, Labour have outlined their ‘tough new approach to immigration.’
So apparently, under a Labour government – people who come to the UK will be treated as second class citizens. Labour will stop people who come here from claiming any benefits for two years. It doesn’t matter if they are a refugee fleeing violence, or someone who has been made redundant through no fault of their own, Labour will seemingly abandon them and let them fall into poverty.
Bizarrely, Labour then turn their fire on nurses and care staff, implying there is a major problem with their language skills – this is despite proof that the NHS and care system would collapse without migrant workers.
Shockingly, Labour have only put this leaflet out in areas where immigration is higher – Bounds Green, Noel Park, Wood Green and Tottenham. They have decided not to tell voters in the far West of Haringey what they really think. Disgraceful.
Here in Haringey, we have a proud tradition of uniting against extremism and the politics of fear. I have always been so proud to represent such a diverse area – there are about 200 languages spoken in my Hornsey and Wood Green constituency. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But instead of upholding this tradition – Labour are pandering to UKIP and creating division. Even neighbouring Labour MP David Lammy has slammed the approach taken by Labour in Hornsey and Wood Green.
Just like one local resident said on twitter: “Immigrants are welcome in Haringey & this leaflet isn’t.” I couldn’t agree more!
Final blog from my visit to Burma last week – including meeting Aung San Suu Kyi. Also available here.
Last week I spent 2 days in Burma, the last foreign country I will have visited as the UK’s champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. And what a fascinating 2 days it was meeting Burmese civil society groups, women’s rights campaigners, government ministers as well as the iconic Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Burmese women suffer discrimination and violence as the direct result of decades of military rule and conflict, and due to widespread displacement. In Kachin State and Rakhine State in particular, there are reports of women and girls being raped, tortured and trafficked. The restrictions on the freedom of movement put on the Rohingya people in Rakhine means they are even more vulnerable to violence – so not only are they ineligible for citizenship, vilified by extreme Buddhists and kept out of basic education and healthcare, they’re trapped too. And Burmese women have little to no access to human rights protection or justice, and they are grossly under-represented in public life. Only 6% of parliamentarians are women and there are very few women at the top table in the national peace negotiations.
So for me, the big questions I wanted to explore in Burma were these: What hope is there for Burmese women and girls from all ethnic groups? Is there any hope that President U Thein Sein’s reforms will include improving their lives?
No one could answer these questions with complete confidence after just 2 days. But what was clear to me is that right now there is a window of opportunity, a moment that could be seized, that really could make a big difference to the lives of ordinary Burmese women and girls. And here is why.
Since 2011, the new government has signed ceasefire agreements with 14 out of the 16 main ethnic armed groups, released the majority of political prisoners (though not all of them), suspended censorship (though not intimidation of journalists), eased internal travel restrictions and endorsed the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), spearheaded by the UK government. Indeed, on Friday I observed a UK Defence Academy training course for the Burmese armed forces, police and senior civil servants on international law including UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
In parallel, civil society is gaining a greater voice in Burmese society. On Thursday I visited a PSVI-funded legal clinic, run by ActionAid, for women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The clinic is training female paralegals to provide legal advice and referrals to victims, and male youth leaders to influence men and boys in their communities to abandon the old ways and respect the rights of women and girls. I met some of these trailblazing paralegals and youth leaders and was so impressed by their dedication and leadership to change Burma for the better.
I also held a roundtable with women’s rights campaigners, including the Women’s League of Burma and spoke with a group of young female peace activists from around the country about their fight for an equal voice in the peace process and political reforms.
More evidence of the window of opportunity for real change in Burma is that an unusual degree of attention is being paid to the international community and Burma’s reputation within it. And there is a lively debate about how the UK should engage with Burma, among people inside and outside Burma.
This was a major discussion point during my meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s most popular, famous and inspirational politician. She is supportive of DFID’s work in Burma, especially our bottom-up approach on working to strengthen civil society and local communities. But she is concerned that the international community is giving too much leeway to the current Burmese government, and I agree that getting the balance wrong is all too easy.
Nevertheless I ultimately agree with the Commons International Development Committee, chaired by my colleague Sir Malcolm Bruce, which looked into the UK-Burma relationship last spring in light of the recent reforms taking place in Burma. The committee endorsed the Coalition Government’s approach of supporting reformers in the Burmese government to raise the country out of poverty, develop the economy and build a society that moves towards democracy.
Overall, all the Burmese people I met had one thing in common – they are all dedicated to making their country a better place for all Burmese people and they are making a noticeable difference. Even “just” breaking taboos and starting a national conversation about gender-based violence is a major step. In a country where most people would say it just doesn’t exist, a national conversation would be an enormous step in the right direction.