Friday, 26 May 2017

Thoughts from listening to the Bishop Grosseteste University Hustings for Lincoln GE2017

Hustings held at Bishop Grosseteste University on Thursday 25th May 2017. 

Initial speeches:

Caroline Kenyon- Lib Dems:

  • Caroline talks about her route into politics; Brexit galvanized her into action by deciding to stand as the Lib Dem PPC for Lincoln.
  • Caroline argues that Brexit will change the "tone of Britain" and is an opportunity for people to engage with the political process; "this is your generation's election".
  • Caroline refers to a lot of the sentiments she makes in her leaflet- e.g. "Business drives everything".
  • Caroline does mention the Lib Dem policy on Brexit very well, including mentioning the key values of "open, tolerance".

Nick Smith (represented by Tony Wells)- UKIP:

  • Doesn't like the term "Hard Brexit" but to many Remainers who disapprove of PM May's approach to Brexit, it's the correct term. 
  • Positive "guarantee" by UKIP that Brexit wouldn't be "catastrophic" - mentions UKIP's 6 tests for Brexit, including controlling the UK's 200 mile maritime exclusive economic zone and making sure Brexit is completed by 2019. (see more here: 
  • Tony claims UKIP are not against immigration and doesn't want to use the term immigrant because it's a "derogative term"; would use the term "people".
Phil Gray - Independent:
  • Need to stop continuing to change the education system every 5 mins; argues that comprehensives can be just as successful as academies and grammar schools. 
  • Very empowering and inspirational personal story; a former art teacher who understands the pressures teachers face.
  • "Anti-party" candidate...believes that parties have a "vested interest in maintaining themselves" and become "very inward looking" in times of hardship.
  • Agrees that Theresa May's Brexit is "Hard" and would prefer a "Soft Brexit"; in facts he believes "Brexit means nothing"! 
Karen Lee- Labour:
  • Karen says she has "had enough" of the Conservative Austerity Agenda; rightly identifies that the Conservatives have missed every deficit target they have put in place since they came to power; she says it's "time for change".
  • Has a very good grasp of Labour national policy - e.g. the fact that Labour will abolish the bedroom tax and aim to bring in a £10 an hour National Living Wage by 2020.
  • Karen wants all kids to be given the chance to attend university and believes abolishing tuition fees is the right step forward to achieve this wish.
  • Karen says that reinstatement of training bursaries is a must, pointing out that as a single mum in 2000 she'd have not been able to train without having access to the bursary.
  • Karen wants to see a Medical School established in Lincoln.
  • Karen says she "fully supports Labour's approach to Brexit and the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Deterrent".
  • Karen mentions that she is the first Labour PPC to have been "born and bred in Lincoln since 1930".
  • Karen says that the Tories cannot be trusted on the economy or immigration.
Karl McCartney- Conservatives:
  • Karl claims that all the previous speakers before him had been "negative" - erm no, Phil Gray got a lot of cheers and laughs from the audience when recounting his person backstory and Karen Lee received a lot of applause at the end of her speech.
  • Karl claims that previous speakers only talk about "national issues" but Karen talked about the need to bring a Medical School to Lincoln (that's a local issue!!)
  • The "jewel in the crown" statement from your leaflet was a personal opinion and not from an objective survey....OK!
  • Karl talks about his transport policy record; yes it's impressive but constituents are still concerned about the number of freight trains coming through the City Centre every day...need to sort that out!
  • Karl sees himself as a "liberal Conservative" but I beg to differ based on his voting record! 
Ben Loryman- Greens:
  • Ben talks about the need for a long-term vision that is hopeful and positive and we should stand up for our beliefs. 
  • Ben believes wholeheartedly (as do I) that Climate Change is REAL- e.g. mentioning that the Arctic has warmed up by 4C and we need to take action now. 
Best first impression: KL. 

What would you do to reduce foodbank use in Lincoln. 2,400 children are receiving foodbank parcels in Lincoln:
  • CK: Issue of hunger "utterly heartbreaking". Put together a panel to hold a Food Summit on the 9th June if elected; she says she'll use her food contacts to help support foodbanks so volunteers don't need to buy food. I'm shocked that they have to buy food because donations have fallen due to Brexit inflation! Long term would address low-pay that leads to reliance on foodbanks.
  • TW: States that Labour City Council should be doing more to support those in poverty (money cut to St Mary's project in Lincoln which helped people in "desperate situations"). Says that the NLW needs to be raised and system needs to be changed so people don't fall through the net.
  • PG: Buys food at the "reduced counter" in food stores but states he'd probably have to use a foodbank because his pension isn't much. Need to alter the "overall economic trend" in the UK- stop people getting into debt.
  • KL: Labour Council have had to make cuts because of Conservative cuts to local Government funding. Labour would bring in £10 NLW by raising Corporation Tax (raise £20bn?). Abolish zero-hours contracts & abolish benefit-sanctions so people feel more secure.
  • KC: Labour answer was "prepared". Bitches about Socialists- says that people are keeping more of their money so need to "manage". CT has been lowered but amount of tax has been increased....hmm...
  • BL: Malnutrition cases shouldn't be as prevalent as they are in Lincoln. Low pay needs to be addressed. Areas where Universal Credit (including Lincoln) has been rolled out have seen a huge increase in foodbank use. Need to reduce food waste - change the nature of farmer-supermarket contracts.
Best answer for me: CK. 

What do you plan to do locally to benefit residents over the next 10 years? 
  • BL: Wants to look at improving NHS services in Lincoln; has read the House of Lords' plan for Health and Social Care which includes recommendations to create a tailored workforce plan to improve safe staffing levels at Lincoln County Hospital.
  • KC: Lincoln's a brilliant place but need to improve transport and infrastructure and make Lincoln more attractive to businesses so that job opportunities are created for graduates as well as school and college leavers. 
  • KL: More affordable housing, abolish tuition fees and more investment in utilities  as well as reducing traffic congestion. Supports BL's recommendations on the NHS.
  • PG: Investing in children rather than infrastructure. Work towards scrapping Trident and use the money to abolish tuition fees and find ways of supporting children's learning, regardless of whether they want to attend Uni or not.
  • TW: Create a medical school in Lincoln which would be located alongside Lincoln County Hospital. Offer an incentive by waiving the last year's tuition fees for medical professionals to encourage them to stay in Lincoln on a two year contract. 
  • CK: Can't be complacent about Lincoln. Create a scheme with the University of Lincoln for primary children (Year 3) in areas such as St Giles to inspire and empower them to aspire highly. Wants to attract more businesses to relocate to Lincoln.
Best answer for me: CK.

What will you do to help disabled people in Lincoln?
  • TW:Attacks present Conservative Government's attitude to disabled people. Agrees that abuse of the system was right to be addressed but it's a "step too far."
  • PG: Talks about "model" adult social care facility Ashley Court (run by the Longhurst Group: for disabled residents in Lincoln which has been rated "Good" in their recent Care Quality Commission inspection in July 2016 (yet their safety required improvement: Admits more could be done- e.g. reviewing the benefit changes because at the moment it's target driven.
  • KL: Cuts to disability benefits should be reversed. Wealthier people should pay more tax which would provide the money to improve NHS Services. Brexit needs to be done in a "sensible way" and maintain the protections brought in during our membership of the EU.
  • KC: EU protections will remain in place and none would be negotiated away. Ensure that carers are looked after (yet Govt won't increase Carers Allowance as Labour have pledged to do) and give them more respite care time so carers can recharge their batteries. Agrees with national policy to allow employees to take unpaid time off to care for disabled dependents. 
  • BL: Increase the amount we pay towards Personal Independent Payments; get rid of the Bedroom Tax so that disabled people can still use their spare room for equipment. Change disability assessments; perhaps getting more disabled people involved as assessors as per Adam Hills' suggestions.
  • CK: Make changes to the Access To Work Programme to make it easier for disabled people to access the jobs market. Encourage businesses to change their recruitment processes. 
Best answer for me:CK.

We need to improve disabled people's rights. What would you do to stop disabled people from being pitied and to increase respect for them from society in general?
  • PG: Heard about new rail footbridge on the Brayford Rail Crossing not having a lift/wheelchair access. Need disabled people to speak up and point out where things need to change.
  • KL: Surprised that the new rail footbridge isn't compliant with legislation; would fight to get wheelchair access in place by discussing the issue with City of Lincoln Council.
  • KC: Doesn't know how many disabled people there are in Lincoln but will represent them "to the best of his ability". 
  • BL: Hopes that society is changing due to the Equality Act 2010 being in place and because of the high profile of the Paralympics and disabled veterans.
  • CK: Structural engineers should have understood the needs of disabled people; plans always need to be inclusive of disabled people's needs. Need to respect every disabled person, not just those who are outstanding at sports.
  • TW: Times have changed RE societal perceptions and infrastructure changes to allow disabled access (however, TW, disabled football fans still need more wheelchair spaces and ramps in stands!!!) Disabled people need to represent themselves and push for further change. 
Best answer for me:CK. 

What would you do to help RAF personnel in Lincoln?
  • KL: Give Armed Force personnel a real living wage with a "proper contract" and build 100,000 more affordable homes a year for 5 years (in addition to those being built by the CC) with a proportion of those houses designated for Armed Force personnel. 
  • KC: Labour Government made Armed Force personnel buy their own kit; Conservatives would keep buying the best kit for personnel. "Times have been tough" but the £38bn blackhole needed to be filled and it was.
  • BL: Scrap Trident and use some of the money to fund the frontline Armed Force personnel.
  • CK: Successive governments have "abused the Armed Forces" a "pitiful rag" of what it used to be. Armed Force cuts have been a disgrace. Support a partial Trident but need more funds for the Armed Forces.
  • TW: Need to fund the Armed Forces and should not give up Trident because only France has nuclear weapons and that's to Putin's advantage.
  • PG: Agrees with CK that the Armed Forces are demoralised because they have fought "unjust wars". A lot needs to be done to help them when they come back, including sorting out the procurement section of the Ministry of Defence and reduce the reliance on part-time volunteers. 
Best answer for me: KL.

What will you do about school staff redundancies?
  • KC: Schools have a budget and the school management team have to decide whether they spend that money on staff or other elements to help deliver the National Curriculum. Any schools that have issues with staffing should contact him if he gets re-elected on June 9th.
  • BL: Schools need more investment.
  • CK: The Lib Dems have pledged an extra £7bn for education; Brexit can't be used as an excuse for austerity driven measures in schools. Children are the future of the country and need access to a high quality education.
  • TW: Have a shortage of teachers so wonders why there staff are being cut. Seems unbelievable.
  • PG: Fair Funding Formula means that funding per pupil is reducing (a net reduction in income) and are forced to make staff cuts. Most schools built in the 1990s and 2000s were built using Private Finance Initiative Funding meaning that they are saddled with a large amount of debt. Children shouldn't suffer because of the debt burden.
  • KL: Introduce the National Education Service and need more staff to in primary schools to fulfil pledge of class sizes being under 30 for 5, 6 and 7 year olds. Talks about the costings for free breakfast clubs being three times the amount costed from the Conservative manifesto and that makes PM May look "weak and wobbly".
Best answer for me: KL

How would you represent Remain voters of Lincoln (43%)?
  • BL: Referendum needed to be held to "clear the air". Hopeful that the Brexit negotiations will allow Leavers and Remainers to come together. Remainers have to understand the frustrations of those who voted to Leave-e.g. public services being squeezed and Leavers need to understand the concerns Remainers have about the negotiation process.
  • CK: Need a "Soft Brexit" - Eurosceptic who wanted to Remain but believed that being part of the EU had advantages for us. A Hard Brexit-or "no deal is better than a bad deal" is a terrifying prospect for the country. Cannot walk away from the EU without a deal and need to negotiate in a conciliatory manner. 
  • TW: Passionate anti-EU. Believes there will be more jobs for young people. The £350m for the NHS bus was an exaggeration but would be £500m for the UK that could be put into the NHS. We'd be able to negotiate our free trade deals which will help Lincoln.
  • PG: Brexit worries me. The General Election was unnecessary- £125m to hold it. PM May is pontificating and slagging off EU leaders and it's no way to begin a negotiation. The referendum result needs to be respected and should be getting on with the process now.
  • KL: Very keen to protect the £2.8bn worth of exports made to the EU from the East Midlands annually and protect the 200,000 jobs that depend on those exports. Was a Remainer and need a "Sensible Brexit" - i.e. try and keep close access to the Single Market and Customs Union, protect the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK and seek reciprocal rights for UK nationals in the EU and keep employment directives, consumer directives and environmental protections. Can't go into the Brexit negotiations like a "playground bully".
  • KC: "Some candidates have reverted to type"; blames Remainers for their hostility. We live in a democracy and Remainers must respect the result (someone said they'd ask for a recount if there was 1 vote in it and I completely agree with them :)). Article 50's been invoked so tough luck basically. (I find his attitude reprehensible). 
Best answer for me: KL.

Can you promise not to U-Turn on the policy platforms on which you are standing?
  • CK: Judged by her record; been in business over 20 years and has a strong reputation in the area. Has a business relationship with the World Food Programme (United Nations). She's running for office because she believes in her platform. Judge her fairly.
  • TW: UKIP are a radical party and they do not U-Turn. "Brexit Means Exit" and will hold Theresa May up to the 6 UKIP Brexit tests. We want the country running on "its own steam".
  • PG: Won't U-Turn because he'd offer "strong and stable leadership"- stay independent and remain independent. Represent Lincoln rather the views of a party or a lobby group.
  • KL: Proven track record-been a City Councillor for 13 years, was re-elected 4 times and received the highest votes of any City Councillor in the 2016 local elections. Theresa May's record is dire - "very weak and very wobbly".
  • KC: Need to be pragmatic; have a little influence on the backbenches (unfortunately)- shouldn't toe the party line and "fight for a minority view". Could trust anyone but bigger game to be played if you're part of a party.
  • BL: We live in a democracy and sometimes leaders make a wrong decision and U-Turns are sometimes necessary. 
Best answer for me: CK/KL. 

Sum up:
  • BL: Received a lot of emails from constituents who asked BL about Animal Rights. The Hunting Act should not be debated in Parliament and when we replace the Common Agricultural Policy we make sure that farm animal welfare is central to the new policy. There should also be tougher sentences brought in for animal cruelty as per recommendations made by Battersea Cats and Dogs Home (there should be a maximum of 5 years in place for the most serious offences).
  • KC: People make their decision based on the Economy (Lincoln's doing quite well), Brexit (need to have a very good deal) and Security of our nation (they'll put the X in the box based on that).
  • KL: Make sure you use your vote. Choice between continued austerity or a much fairer country.  Vote to help the many, not the few.
  • PG: Choice between Hard Left and Hard Right Brexit. Parties are not working for the people; need to take back control by not leaving the EU entirely. Need to think about the future and have good relations with the EU.
  • TW: UKIP has inspired people to get involved in politics because they are fighting against the rigged system. Very happy that Lincoln voted to Leave the EU. Made the right decision.
  • CK: Occupying the "Central territory". The Lib Dems have called for a 2nd Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal: "it started with the people and it should end with the people". 
Best summing-up for me (that talked about an issue not mentioned in the hustings: BL).

I learned some very interesting facts about our current candidates (although it was a shame the UKIP PPC couldn't attend the hustings event). I was very pleased to hear  Karen Lee's position on Brexit agree that we must protect the jobs that come from exporting goods to the EU. It seemed to me that Ms Lee had a really good grasp of the Labour manifesto and of current events, criticising PM May for her social care "Dementia Tax" policy and the "Free Breakfast Club" costing shambles. Her answer on disability rights was OK but I'd have liked to have seen her reference Labour's commitment to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into law which the Conservatives have refused to do and perhaps also reference the fact that "Labour will give British Sign Language full recognition as an official language" but perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit here. 

The answer to the disabled questions in general were a bit lapse except for Caroline Kenyon who talked about the need to expand the Access To Work Programme by encouraging more employers to recruit disabled employees based on their own individual merit. I was also intrigued by Ms Kenyon's 
plans for Lincoln; I'd like to hear more about the plan to create a Food Summit and more about the University of Lincoln's possible Aspiration Programme and to see whether the programme will directly benefit children in my local ward, Birchwood. 

I found Ben Loryman very personable and I was very happy to see Animal Rights get a specific mention (albeit in the summing-up stage of the proceedings). He also sounded very pragmatic on the issue of Brexit and is right that both Remainers and Leavers need to find a way to make a success of Brexit, which includes having our say on the nature of the deal through the holding of a 2nd Referendum. 

I was, however, very disappointed by Karl McCartney, especially on his answers regarding schools, disability rights and Brexit. It's alright that he has a strong transport infrastructure record but he has to ensure that he represents all constituents in Lincoln who care about improving equality in Lincoln. I understand that he is "merely a backbencher" but perhaps I want a Lincoln MP to aspire to having more influence in party policy. It was also lamentable that Mr McCartney couldn't reference manifesto policies in his answers; for example, there is a section in the manifesto that addresses disability rights (e.g "giving employers the advice and support they need to hire and retain disabled people and those with health conditions" p.57 of the manifesto). Mr McCartney was also surprisingly weak on his answer to improving armed forces personnel living conditions in Lincoln. The manifesto talks of "protecting them from persistent legal claims"  and "introduce better compensation for injured armed forces personnel and the families of those killed in combat" (p.41) as well as "investing £178bn in equipment over next decade" (p.41). Constituents may not have read the manifesto so may have benefitted from hearing those policies being made clear at the hustings event, especially considering Mr McCartney talked about the past record of the Conservatives when in coalition with the Lib Dems. 

Tony Wells gave a good account of UKIP's position on Brexit which would please voters who may not trust the Conservatives to deliver on their promises. 

Phil Gray I found an absolute joy to hear and was a real breath of fresh air; he made me laugh but also brought up important points regarding school funding which should be taken on board. 

Generally speaking, it was good to see the issue of the Medical School raised by several candidates and I hope whoever the next MP happens to be will take action to secure funding for the Medical School from the next Government. Foodbanks do need to have funding whilst there is a demand for their services and even more co-operation is needed with the City Council to reduce poverty levels in Lincoln. I did get the impression that Ms Lee and Ms Kenyon would be better at this than Mr McCartney has been and would be in the future. 

As a result of the hustings, I feel my vote is leaning ever so slightly towards Labour. I'm reassured by Ms Lee's ability to express herself eloquently and her track record does indeed speak for itself. Whatever happens on June 9th, I know that I'll have voted for a change candidate.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Parliamentary Party Candidate Leaflet Analysis For the 2017 General Election: Lincoln

It's taken a while but this afternoon I finally received the third of the mainstream party candidate's leaflet through the post, which has given me the impetus to analyse and evaluate them in terms of layout, policy ideas/vision, candidate backstory and then see whether it has helped clear up the questions that I posed in my framework for choosing a party and candidate ready for June 8th.

Conservatives: Mr Karl McCartney JP

First thoughts:
Well thought out layout with easy access to contact details and good use of visual media. All focused on past achievements and a shame the leaflet was printed in Sheffield!

Good points:
Nobody can doubt Mr McCartney's commitment to the constituency in terms of improving local transport infrastructure. My Dad is pleased that the East-West Link Road has been completed and as a pedestrian who loves to shop, the High Street Footbridge is a positive addition because it allows me to not have to wait for the train to pass by before I can get into the central section of the High Street where Primark, H&M and New Look are located.

The testimonials offered in the leaflet are mostly convincing, especially from Mrs Barker, who thanks Mr McCartney for resolving issues with her mother's Pension Credit and Disability Living Allowance. Of course it is a shame that the Tories have decided to cut Personal Independence Payment (the new name for Disability Living Allowance) and take away 50,000 mobility cars from disabled people.

The stats used in the leaflet are positive; assisting 18,000 constituents with over 20,000 specific cases is a record most MPs would be proud of. It's also pleasing to see that according to the Tory leaflet 90% of schools in Lincoln are currently rated as “Good” or “Outstanding” by Ofsted and that crime is reported to be down by 19% (although there is a concern that street lighting coverage reductions may have led or could lead to more burglaries.

Mr McCartney's has helped to administer Lincoln Jobs Fair and supports National Apprenticeship Week and it's claimed that apprenticeships have increased by 6,960 in Lincoln alone since 2010. I'm not sure whether those who have been in those apprenticeships have found sustainable long-term employment in the area and also whether there has been an increase in apprenticeships offered to over 25's between 2010 and 2017.

Mr McCartney's does care about his constituents and promoting the constituency which is evident on his back page; thanking every person that has helped him “play a part in Lincoln's continuing success story” is a nice touch but I'd expect it from a candidate hoping to be re-elected on June 8th. 

Iffy points:

I'm immediately struck by the absence of a progressive vision (or any vision) in the Tories' main campaigning leaflet for this General Election. I personally think it's imprudent to rely on the past record of achievements alone. Apart from continuing to be active in trying to ensure a Hard Brexit happens and the declaration that the “funding for the Eastern Bypass is imminent”, there's no indication of what his vision or action plan for the future happens to be. That does put me off as a voter.

There's also no mention in the campaign leaflet of the NHS, the Environment, workers' rights and only a very passing reference to schools in a photograph caption. It's positive to see mention of apprenticeships and jobs fairs but voters in Lincoln care about other issues too.

I do wonder whether being part of the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign is that much of an achievement to me; I didn't mind the suggestion of extending opening hours, especially if it led to more weekend part-time jobs for college and uni students. I also did chuckle when I saw “large brown signs” used to describe heritage signs and wondered whether getting them erected on the A1 really was that much of an achievement. I'd need to see evidence that footfall in Lincoln businesses had improved as a direct result of the signs being erected before I'd classify it as an achievement.

The underachievement of boys in English classrooms is an important issue that we need to address. It's one action “highlighting” the issue in a newspaper and talking a bit about it “here and there” but there needs to be practical policies in place ….policies like perhaps reviewing the English Literature syllabus, encouraging more Fathers to read to their sons whilst they are at nursery/primary school. Instead Mr McCartney used his media opportunity to attack gender equality campaigners, calling them "the shrill equal pay brigade" because they don't celebrate the "traditional masculine roles they were born to do" (see more here: Playing back into gender stereotypes isn't going to solve the issue, Mr McCartney and I'm pretty sure that even intersectional feminists like me still think it's great that boys and girls alike can love cars or want to enter the construction industry when they are older. Boys are not being “mollycoddled” into failure by "denying traditional gender roles"! 

Finally there are some figures and statements on the back page that need to be clarified. Firstly, are there really 70,000 voters in Lincoln? There may be roughly 70,000 eligible/registered voters in the constituency (the recent figures for the 2017 Lincolnshire County Council elections in May showed that 62,557 people were registered to vote in the City of Lincoln itself but in the 2015 General Election 74, 012 people were registered to vote in that general election ... 
but as the 2015 General Election and EU Referendum figures prove, those 74,012 odd registered voters do not all vote. Plus there are constituents, such as my Mum, who cannot vote because she is a Norwegian citizen and 16 and 17 year olds who may have a strong desire to vote because they are politically engaged but cannot vote and will not be able to vote in the future because Prime Minister May refuses to lower the voting age. I also question the objective validity of your claim that Lincoln is “the most loved City and jewel in the crown of the East Midlands”; I'm sure that Nottingham and Leicester MPs might say the same about their cities. It's an emotive statement without figures (e.g. survey data percentages) to back it up.

Overall thoughts:
No progressive vision; a leaflet that demonstrates a candidate who is relying pretty much on their past record alone to win the Constituency for a 3rd time on June 8th.

Lib Dems: Mrs Caroline Kenyon

First thoughts:
Clear headings so very easy to read; good to see a vision laid out for the future. Great to see the leaflet was printed by a Lincoln based firm!

Good points:
Mrs Kenyon presents herself as a personable individual who cares about Lincoln and Lincolnshire. It was interesting to hear that Mrs Kenyon has a brilliant academic background and has changed careers a number of times over the years, building up an enviable portfolio of legal and business skills that would come in useful in politics. Nobody could deny that Mrs Kenyon doesn't have “real-life experience”!

There is a clear mention of Brexit in the leaflet that appeals to me as a Remain Voter. As anyone who's read my blog before or seen my Twitter account, I remain very skeptical that Brexit will be the best outcome for the UK economically or politically but I do accept the result of the referendum and understand that Brexit must go ahead. It's the nature of Brexit that can be changed. I agree with the premise of the leaflet which is that PM May's Hard Brexit approach is undesirable because she is willing to walk away with no deal from the EU and plunge us into a World Trade Organisation rule approach which could weaken the UK economy. We deserve better than a future which would require Austerity Agenda rule for the next decade (and perhaps decades to come) that could erode our NHS and Social Care systems beyond repair. I don't want to see school budgets cut further either. It does feel like “Change Is In The Air” at the moment but the nature of that change (whether based on a conservative or liberal/progressive platform) remains unclear.

I also like the fact there is a clear vision laid out for Lincoln for the next five years which focuses on improving Lincoln's economy. Small creative start-ups get a mention in the leaflet, as does farming, a vital part of Lincolnshire's economy (it is noted that Lincs produces 20% of the UK's food). Very few people would argue with the creation of high quality jobs and I certainly want to see more jobs where people do feel valued as individuals (I'd have liked to have seen the bullet point expanded further to say “regardless of their age, disability, gender, gender identity, sexuality/sexual orientation, race, nationality or religious belief” just to demonstrate awareness of the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics that I'm sure Mrs Kenyon is aware of but that's just me being picky). I also agree with the fact that we do have a “fantastic pool of talent” in Lincoln and we should do everything we can to keep that talent in the local area, including expanding work experience placements/internships in SMEs.

Iffy points:
The lack of contact details is concerning; these days potential voters do like to get in touch directly with campaigns and ask questions that arise from reading their campaign leaflets. Not every voter uses social media and not every voter can attend hustings in person and it's inevitable that canvassing campaigns will not reach every street.

The General Election segment was relatively clear and I do agree there are voters in Lincoln who are disenfranchised and feel no party represents their views but I'd have liked a bit more follow-up in the leaflet on air quality, the NHS and Social Care. The Lib Dems have great policies on these issues and a bullet point to reference this in the Vision section would have been ample to show voters what Mrs Kenyon would do to improve air quality or the quality of Social Care in Lincoln. That being said, what is in the vision section is good.

However the paragraph below the bullet points did make me frown a little. I do not believe that “business drives everything” because public services for example should not be run primarily to make a profit; schools are already seen by some as “exam factories” where students are coached merely to pass exams rather than fully develop their emotional/life skills. I also think that the term “cross-fertilising” should be explained (if to be used in the leaflet at all) as not every reader will have come across it.

Overall thoughts:
A business-focused vision based leaflet that seems a bit vague in places especially on the NHS, Social Care and the Environment but broadly progressive and positive.

Labour: Ms Karen Lee

First thoughts:
Clear headings, with an action plan on the back. Nice to see a page of testimonials and a page for past achievements. The leaflet had a spelling mistake and grammar mistake and again it's a shame that a Lincoln based printing firm wasn't used (but like the Conservatives it might be a regional decision).

Good points:

Ms Lee comes across in the leaflet as caring and someone who does care about Lincoln. Like the Lib Dem leaflet, there's no pretension to claim that Lincoln is a perfect place to live, acknowledging that there are people in the city who do struggle to earn enough money to put food on the table, keep a roof over their hands and keep their children warm and clothed. Ms Lee's record as a Lincoln dignitary is to be commended, having served as Lincoln's Mayor between 2012 and 2013 and being a City Councillor for Park ward, which saw her take an major role in saving Lincoln South Fire Station from being downgraded or even worse, closed. The City of Lincoln's anti-poverty strategy is a brilliant idea and one that could be replicated across the country. The strategy has been put in practice since 2014 and the most recent campaign focused on raising awareness of Loan Sharks, with residents encouraged to phone the City Council if they believe a friend or family member or neighbour may be in trouble with Loan Sharks. Ms Lee is also a nurse and I'm sure that she can bring her specialist skills into the Lincoln MP role. Generally speaking the Labour party in Lincolnshire opposes the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (which is sadly not mentioned specifically in the leaflet) and wants the Government to provide funding to create a sensitive adult social care service for disabled and older residents.

Ms Lee's comments also suggest that she is in favour of Labour's national policy to abolish tuition fees for Uni students and inclusive schools that “educate all children”, regardless of their socio-economic background. I'm sure there are students and potential student voters out there who like the sound of Labour's policy which may bolster the vote on June 8th.

The testimonials are very heartfelt and demonstrate that Ms Lee is an effective local politician. Emma Olivier-Townrow highlights Mrs Lee's “knowledge of Lincoln and passion for a fair and just society” whilst student Madeleine Crossan describes Ms Lee as “a pillar of Lincoln life”. This is backed up by the examples used to show Ms Lee's past achievements, including organising the Carholme Gala, which takes place annually in the west of Lincoln and helps promote local organisations.

The contact details page is comprehensive and inviting; Labour's leaflet is the only one to invite comment directly; hopefully that means I might get some responses to the questions that have arisen as a result of reading the constituency leaflets which is great! I should also add that the Labour leaflet was the only one addressed to me personally!

The back page of the leaflet lays out a 5 point action plan detailing the key pledges that Ms Lee states she will follow-through with if she is elected on June 9th. I think action point 4 on the NHS is the most comprehensive and matches up well with national policy. With Ms Lee's long experience in the NHS, I can trust her judgment in stating that there should be legal “safe staffing levels in Health and Social Care” and I have always backed Labour's call to scrap the public sector pay cap in general and restore bursaries to trainee nurses; it seems bonkers that the Conservatives moan about not being able to recruit enough UK nationals to work as nurses but brazenly take away the incentive for UK nationals to decide to train as nurses.

Iffy points:

Spelling and grammar checks are a must with election communications such as leaflets; opposition parties can take easy advantage otherwise. I'm sure Ms Lee is “consistently” fighting hard for her residents but constituency is an easy mistake to correct, as is the need to capitalise Network Rail (because it is the name of an organisation). There's also the same slogan being used by both the Conservatives and Labour and the “first” isn't capitalised on the Labour leaflet. I doubt that “originality of slogan” is an important election issue but still, it's all about making that vital first impression with voters who may never have met the candidate before in the flesh.

I'd have liked to have seen specific policy detail in the action plan that made some reference to Labour's key policies other than those related to the NHS (although it'd have been good to see a specific reference made to opposition of the current Sustainability and Transformation Plan that has been put forward by United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust which may result in centralisation of most A&E services for Lincolnshire at Lincoln County Hospital without much indication whether funding levels would be increased to provide for the extra doctors and bed capacity needed to deal with increased volume). It's good to see that Ms Lee is looking to help the City Council expand its affordable housing build programme and that jobs should be created as a result but wouldn't there be increased opportunities for construction apprenticeships too? There's also a bullet point referring to a desire to “secure investment for Lincoln's economy to encourage businesses to come to Lincoln”, which is all well and good but I wonder how this would be achieved? Does that mean better collaboration between Further Education colleges, the universities and the City Council to sell the city as a place with a “broad talent pool” with funding provided by central government to facilitate the collaborative process? People do want to see more training opportunities available in Lincoln, especially apprenticeships for the over 25's. Perhaps the investment could encourage businesses in who would be willing to offer such apprenticeship schemes?

Traffic congestion is an issue that concerns voters in Lincoln; the volume of freight trains coming through the train crossing on the High Street frustrates drivers and there has to be a solution that works for all parties concerned. “Further duelling of the A46” is a good suggestion, although I remember that the suggestion made for the Lincs County Council elections was to create a Park and Ride system for the city; they said that it “would also bring major benefits to the local economy”. The omission in the leaflet makes me question whether the Park and Ride system idea has been scrapped or not.

There's also no reference made to Environmental issues in the leaflet; there are Lincoln voters who are concerned at the closure of the Whisby waste recycling facility (in the neighbouring Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency). Labour in the local election campaign leaflet stated that there would be a local facility provided “to prevent a lengthy and unnecessary journey Great Northern Terrace and end fly tipping” and I wonder whether Ms Lee would work with Lincs County Council to try and get another facility set-up.

Overall thoughts:
A good action plan based leaflet that hits the right notes but perhaps a bit generic at times.

Questions arising from my leaflet analysis:

  1. What are your views regarding police and prison staffing levels and funding in Lincolnshire?
  2. How would you help to continue to build community cohesion in the wake of the Manchester Arena attacks?
  3. What are your current thoughts regarding LGBTQIA+ rights in the UK?
  4. What are your views regarding Sex and Relationships Education?Would you back calls to embed SRE into the National Curriculum as a whole (not just PSHE)? Should PGCE trainee teachers study SRE as an essential component?
  5. What do you think needs to be done to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers?
  6. What do you think needs to be done constitutionally to help improve UK democratic processes?
  7. What are thoughts regarding foodbank use in Lincoln? Is it shocking that there are 5 foodbanks in a county that provides the country with 20% of its food produce?
  8. Are there any expected direct benefits to Lincoln you can think of that will help the city to grow after the UK exits the EU?
  9. What needs to be done to help improve the employment rights of gig economy workers? Would you advocate for the extension of Statutory Maternity Pay and Leave, Statutory Paternity Pay and Leave, Statutory Adoption Leave and Annual Leave to gig economy workers (who are mostly self-employed)?
  10. Do you think we need to do more to make apprenticeships more accessible to the over 25s?
  11. How would you help to protect Lincoln's wildlife and green spaces?
  12. Do we need to build more social homes? Who should be primarily responsible for the housebuilding programme; central Government or City of Lincoln Council/Lincs County Council?
  13. What are your thoughts on your party's current mental health policies? What do you feel needs to be proposed to help improve mental health services in Lincoln/Lincs?
  14. Would you support the creation of a University Medical School in Lincoln?
  15. Do you believe that we need to create another waste disposal facility in Lincoln (following the closure of Whisby Waste Recycling Facility that some Lincoln constituents went to to dispose of their rubbish?
  16. How would you make a positive contribution to the tone of debate in the House of Commons? Are you in favour of abolishing the filibustering rules?
  17. What does the term “progressive” mean to you? Would you describe your local platform and your party's national platform as progressive?

A Specific Question for each PPC:
  • Karl McCartney: Will Lincoln's creative businesses would be involved in the proposed “Great Exhibition of the North” pencilled in for 2018? If not, do we need our own “Great Exhibition of the Midlands”?
  • Caroline Kenyon: Your leaflet mentions that if a voter “breathes air”, politics should matter to them. What would you propose to do as Lincoln's MP to improve air quality in the city?
  • Karen Lee: In your action plan you mention the need to help “secure investment for Lincoln's economy to encourage businesses to come to Lincoln”; what specific ideas do you have to try and secure this level of investment?

Who would I vote for at the moment?

Having read the manifestos and perused the candidate leaflets, I'm still at the undecided stage. The Conservative leaflet hasn't done Mr McCartney many favours in terms of improving his chance of me
voting to keep him in office on June 8th. I appreciate his record but I'm looking for a progressive vision and action plan for Lincoln which I'm not sure he can truly deliver on. Both the Lib Dem and Labour candidates seem extremely personable and positive and at the moment I have to weigh up whether I vote with a Lib Dem vision of life post-Brexit or a Labour vision. It looks like it's going down the wire for me but that's what makes election time so exciting. There's nothing wrong with being a floating or independent voter! 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: The Arts, Media and Sport

As a satirist and an Arts graduate, I care deeply about improving access to Arts subjects in schools and preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. I also care about improving pay and conditions for creatives who are employed in a precarious "gig economy" where they do not often receive the support from the Government needed to help grow their businesses to give them enough money to be able to live a comfortable life. Accountability in the media is becoming an increasingly important issue, with voters beginning to notice political bias in our mainstream media outlets that is extremely unhealthy for our democracy. I don't want to censor free speech per se (but free speech always has consequences) but for millions of people living in the UK, they genuinely feel that they see little representation of their views in the newspaper and on news programmes. Sports fans also feel their access to their clubs is reducing, with ticketing prices rising on an annual basis and some of them feeling "ripped off" when they obtain a ticket through a third-party. So with all this in mind, I decided to explore the manifestos of the three mainstream parties in the UK (Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives) and benchmark them against the framework that I constructed a few weeks ago (you can view the framework here:

  • £160m Arts Pupil Premium to invest in projects that support cultural activities -e.g. putting on plays, musical instruments etc. 
  • Labour would review the EBacc performance measure, possibly leading to the addition of a performing arts option alongside the modern foreign language option.
  • Labour would put in place a creative careers advice campaign in schools so that students are aware of the different kinds of job opportunities that are available in the UK's creative industries and the skills required to enter those industries (including costume design, make-up, theatre production and game design). 
  • A £1bn culture capital fund would be established that will fund much needed upgrades to existing cultural and creative infrastructure "to make them ready for the new digital age". The investment would be provided regionally and be administered by the Arts Council, with the fund being made available over the next 5 years.
  • Labour are committed to ensuring that creatives are paid fairly for the goods and services they provide so that working class people can consider a career in creative industries. To achieve this, Labour would work with trade unions and employers to "agree sector-specific advice and guidelines on pay and employment standards".
  • Labour would maintain free entry to museums and a cultural capital fund would focus on projects to help increase income for museums and galleries so they do not need to resort to charging entry fees to pay for running and maintenance costs.
  • Labour would also "reduce the value gap" between those who produce creative content and digital services who may profit from use of that content so that digital artists are rewarded fairly for their work. 
  • Labour is committed to "increasing diversity on and off-screen", with the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport working with the film industry and public service and commercial television and radio broadcasters to improve representation (I hope it includes improving non-binary and trans representation on screen).
  • Labour would continue with events to mark the centenary of the First World War, honouring the memory of all soldiers who served in the conflict, including Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Jews.
  • Labour would give local communities more powers to protect their local amenities, including sports clubs and pubs. Labour would also stop the local authority funding cuts in the budget to "support the provision of libraries, museums and galleries".
  • Labour would "widen the reach of the Government Art collection" so that more people in the UK get to appreciate and enjoy seeing it. 
  • Labour would protect libraries from closure so they are "preserved for future generations" and ensure libraries have wi-fi and up-to-date computers. Library standards would also be reintroduced so that councils receive the advice and guidance from government on how to deliver the "best possible service" to local residents. 
  • Labour would set up a review of local pubs to "examine the causes for their large-scale decline" (such as whether the smoking ban has significantly reduced footfall) and would set up a taskforce to look into providing advice to keep local pubs sustainable in the future.
  • Labour would also support small music venues, with a review into extending the £1000 pub relief business rates scheme to small music venues and the introduction of a "agent of change" principle in planning law that ensures that any new housing developments can co-exist with existing music venues (i.e. they accept that they are building houses near a music venue and that homeowners would need to understand the level of noise may be higher between 7pm and 3am). 
  • Labour would reduce the amount that can be bet on a Fixed Odds Betting Terminal to £2 and "legislate to increase the delay between spins to reduce the addictive nature of the games".
  • Labour would keep the BBC in public hands and uphold its independence. 
  • Channel 4 would be kept in public hands under a Labour Government.
  • The Welsh Language broadcaster S4C would be fully funded.
  • Labour would implement the recommendations from part one of the Leveson Inquiry and also "commence part two which will look into corporate governance failures that allowed the phone hacking scandal to occur" in the first place.
  • A national review into local media and mainstream media would be held under a Labour Government.
  • Ofcom would be given strengthened powers to "better safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership" and have clearer rules in place on ownership credentials needed before you can own a TV station or radio station.
  • Sports club supporters would be given a greater say in how their clubs are run with legislation put forward to create accredited supporters trusts who "are able to appoint and remove at least two club directors and purchase shares when the club changes hands".
  • Sports clubs would be asked to "make rapid improvements" to make venues accessible to fans who have physical disabilities.
  • Labour would ensure the Premier League does invest 5% of its television rights revenue into grassroots clubs and projects to help support the growth of future coaching and player talent and to help improve grassroots facilities. 
  • Labour would "enforce anti-bot legislation" and "implement the recommendations of the Waterson Review" so that fans do have a fair chance of securing tickets to see their sporting heroes. Recommendations include making sure sellers on secondary ticketing platforms fully observe the rules set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (providing necessary information such as the face value of the ticket) and ensuring that traders can be contacted by secondary platform operators providing contact details directly to consumers (see more here: 
Lib Dems:
  • The Lib Dems are committed to reducing the "proliferation of betting shops" and capping the maximum amount that can be bet on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 (same as Labour).
  • The Lib Dems want to ensure that students can still choose to take Arts and creative subjects in the National Curriculum and "remove barriers to pupils studying those subjects" (although no information is given as to what the barriers may be and how they may remove them). 
  • The Lib Dems would support growth in creative industries by continuing to support the Creative Industries Council,  provide tailored industry-specific tax support and provide solutions to address barriers that Creative SMEs face in accessing finance to expand their businesses,. Creative skills would also be promoted.
  • The Lib Dems want to see more modern, flexible forms of patent, copyright and licencing rules.
  • The Lib Dems would maintain free access to museums and galleries.
  • The Lib Dems would encourage football clubs to introduce "Safe Standing" across the board, with the Sports Ground Safety Authority preparing guidance on how best to introduce the policy.
  • The Lib Dems would protect the independence of the BBC as well as setting up a "BBC Licence Fee Commission".
  • The Lib Dems would keep Channel 4 in public hands.
  • The Lib Dems would maintain funding levels for Welsh language broadcasters and respect their editorial independence.
  • All sports and arts funding provided by the National Lottery would be protected.
  • Current Intellectual Property standards would be protected, working with the EU to continue territorial licensing of rights. 
  • The Lib Dems would create "creative enterprise zones" to help regenerate cultural output across the UK.
  • The Lib Dems would "examine the available funding and planning rules for live music venues and the grassroots music sector" with a view to protecting venues from any further closures.
  • The Lib Dems would commence part two of the Leveson Inquiry "as soon as is practicable". 
  • The Lib Dems would order Ofcom to conduct an investigation into UK mainstream media plurality and review the "fit and proper persons test" (like Labour) and see whether "the communications regulator and the Competition and Markets Authority really have the appropriate powers in place to deal with over-concentration of power in the digital economy." 
  • The Conservatives say they want to protect people who are working in the "gig economy" but are awaiting findings from the Taylor Report commissioned to look at changing labour market conditions before they make any firm commitment. 
  • Mobile phone customers will be informed by companies of the date when they have paid off the cost of their handset. 
  • The Conservatives would continue to support S4C because they understand the importance of promoting Welsh language and culture and point out that a Conservative government first protected it.
  • Channel 4 would continue to be publicly owned with the headquarters "being located outside London".
  • The Conservatives would work with "the nation's most eminent museums and galleries to ensure their works and expertise are shared across the country" (does this mean that the Government Art Collection would be made more accessible across the country too?)
  • The Conservatives would "maintain free entry to the permanent collections of our major national museums and galleries". That means local galleries and museums and special collections within major national museums and galleries will still be able to charge an entry fee.
  • The Conservatives would continue to promote British culture around the world by placing the BBC World Service and British Council "on a secure footing" (how much funding would be given to each?)
  • The 2nd phase of the Leveson Inquiry will not take place under a Conservative government.
  • The Conservatives would repeal Section 40 of the Crimes and Courts Act 2014 so that newspapers do not need to pay their opponent's legal costs related to libel and privacy actions even if they win in court if they aren't signed up to an officially-recognised regulator. 
  • The Conservatives would ensure that online content creators are "appropriately rewarded" for the content they put online. 
  • The Conservatives would ensure that most of the funding they provide "is based outside of London" including introducing a "new cultural development fund to use cultural investment to turn round communities" (but there is no idea of how much that fund would be).
  • The Conservatives want to hold a Great Exhibition of the North in 2018 to "help celebrate achievements in innovation, the arts and engineering" (but again no idea of how much it will cost to hold the event).
  • The Conservatives want to help a UK city make a bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 (maybe Cardiff or Belfast?)
  • The Conservatives would "support the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall" to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival.

The Arts do get a mention in the manifestos but there are differences between Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives on how they wish to help protect Britain's cultural heritage and expand the creative industries sector in the UK. The Lib Dems talk about protecting all funding for the arts and sport that comes from the National Lottery as well as setting up "creative enterprise zones" in areas across the UK to help creative small and medium sized businesses to grow. I like the idea of a future Government continuing to work closely with the Creative Industries Council and the proposal to bring in industry-specific tax support sounds great in theory. There's also a proposal to help live music venues and grassroots music clubs that will go down well with independent music venue owners. However there's no funding available to help expand Arts provision in primary schools and no real information given on how they would remove barriers to access to the creative industries for aspirational students (for example, would there be specific careers advice services/work experience placements/paid internships to be made available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds or under-represented groups?)

What's very clear from reading the manifestos is that the Conservatives are more than a little weak when it comes to talking about sport. There's no mention of Safe Standing or asking the Premier League to invest in grassroots football or improving the accessibility of venues to help disabled people. To me that's quite a shocking omission. Another aspect of the Conservative manifesto that seems odd to me is the lack of costing given to key policy proposals. For example, voters have no idea how much it will cost to hold a Great Exhibition of the North 2018 and no idea whether funding for existing arts projects would be squeezed to pay for it. Voters certainly do not know how much it'll cost to create the cultural development fund and whether the Great Exhibition of the North would be paid out of that. I guess the idea of helping a UK city make a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games is a nice one but I wonder whether English cities would get preference or whether Wales or Northern Ireland may be given a chance to take on the bid. The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games were a great spectacle and residents loved hosting the event. 

Another omission from the Conservative manifesto that warrants attention is that there's no talk about the urgent need to address Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Surely it would be better to reduce the risk of addiction and risk of people falling into debt by reducing the maximum they can bet on a terminal from £100 to £2? There are far too many betting shops on our streets and I agree strongly with the Lib Dem's suggestion that there needs to be a reduction, whether that being capping the number of betting shops that can be on one street or in one town or city. The Tories claim they want to help break the cycle of addiction but put no real policies in place to address it!

Labour have the most policies to offer voters who want to see improvements to Arts funding. There's a clear commitment to introduce a £1bn cultural capital fund and I love the idea of there being a £160m fund to ensure that schools can provide primary school children in England with real access to the Arts without having to worry financially. On top of that, providing tailored careers advice to secondary school and sixth form college students could help expand the horizons of working class students who may never have dreamed of considering a career in gaming or theatre production. Labour's promise of banning unpaid internships could help improve access to the creative industries and creative industry Apprenticeships could become more prevalent as our creative industries continue to expand under a Labour Government. There's also commitments to protect local libraries by stopping local authority budget cuts and undertaking a national review into local and national media, along with the guarantee that the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, looking into unethical media practices will take place. Finally, there is a commitment to try and help small music venues by extending the pub relief business rates scheme and changing planning laws. That's before we even get to the possibility of sports fans having more of a direct say on how their club is run (although I am sceptical of whether allowing them to directly appoint or remove 2 directors is practical or a good thing).

On the positive side, all three parties have committed to a publicly owned BBC (with Labour and the Lib Dems stating it will remain independent) as well as keeping Channel 4 in public hands although the Conservatives want to see the studios move out of London. Channel 4's chief executive David Abraham has said that the Conservatives demand would be "highly damaging to their business model" and diminish their investment in creative industries ( Abraham instead suggested that more commissioning of programmes outside of London would help improve representation, yet Channel 4 already has more than 50% of its original programming coming from outside London. All three parties have also committed to funding S4C, which means that viewers will be able to access Welsh language programming.

Have the parties answered my framework questions?
  1. Will you match funding currently coming from the EU (including EU Social Fund) for community arts projects? I still don't know whether funding levels would kept exactly as they are but there are commitments to creating Arts Funds which may be used to help fund community arts projects.
  2. Will you commit to re-staffing our public libraries and ensuring every library has free computer access for 0-18 year olds? Labour are committed to protecting libraries and upgrading computer services as well as providing Wi-fi access (which I am guessing would be free) whereas the other parties do not mention library services directly in their manifestos.
  3. Will you increase funding to Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council? Labour would directly increase funding to the Arts Council but no idea as of yet whether funding would be made available to the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Lib Dems and Conservative funding doesn't seem directed towards the Councils.
  4. Will you introduce an Arts premium for primary school children in England? Labour would introduce a £160m Arts Premium; the Lib Dems and Conservatives would not. 
  5. Will you recognise the importance of Dance and Art to the secondary school curriculum and ensure that arts materials are available to every state-maintained school in England? Labour wants to reform the EBacc performance measure to potentially include Arts subjects as an option and the Lib Dems want to protect access to Arts and creative subjects on the current National Curriculum. The Conservatives do not mention Arts subjects in their education plans; a glaring oversight. 
Based on the manifesto commitments I've seen and the 5 questions I originally had when it came to the Arts, my vote would go convincingly to Labour. The funding commitments are great and there are innovative ideas to try and help the creative industries to grow across the UK. A "Great Exhibition of the North" may sound like a nice idea from the Tories but there's no costing estimates attached and no idea of what types of arts projects would be included. That and the lack of commitment to reforming gambling and improving Arts access in schools and abandoning the second part of the Leveson Inquiry would be reason enough not to even consider voting for them. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Conservatives' Workers Plan: Not Really That Progressive...

Today Prime Minister Theresa May set out a new vision to improve workers' rights in the UK prior to the Brexit process being completed in 2019. It's rather timely that PM May has decided to try and address inequalities in employment legislation head-on given that many Millennial workers and employees are worried about job security and pay; of course she's trying to appeal to centre and centre-left voters such as myself. However, when you get into some of the detail, the plan doesn't look as enticing as it should be. In fact, I'd say that PM May is playing to the gallery without being as as wholly progressive as a forward-looking, positive, progressive party should be.
  • Introducing a legal entitlement for employees to take up to 52 weeks off to look after disabled dependents who require full-time care seems like a good idea on the surface. Employers will need to keep the job open for employees on leave for the full period and provide any training (e.g. payroll updates for HR/Payroll Administrators) necessary to help the employee adjust effectively when they come back from leave. The major problem with this policy is that the leave has to be taken UNPAID. I can't think of many working class people in my local ward, Birchwood, who are subsisting on or earning just over the National Living Wage who'd be able to afford to go on care leave and it's not clear whether they would be entitled to Carers Allowance or any form of financial assistance whilst on this leave (at the moment Carers Allowance is not means tested but if you earn more £116 a week, you are not entitled to it). Plus this policy isn't a "firm" guarantee; the Tories state that they will "consult with carers, businesses and employees" to decide on the "right length and nature of leave". This means that proposals could be watered down if many Small and Medium sized businesses particularly object. We already have 6 million unpaid carers in the UK and they save the UK taxpayers £132bn a year according to Carers UK. Only 800,000 out of the 6 million claim Carers Allowance, meaning that many are juggling the stress of having to bring money into the household to ensure that bills get paid with the stress of helping their disabled partner, parent(s) or child/children with day-to-day tasks required to keep them healthy and safe. What we should be doing as a country is providing adequate resources to support them; there's nothing so far in Tory proposals that would see an increase in the number of carers entitled to the Carers Allowance or an increase in the amount a person receives from the Allowance. Labour wants to increase Carers Allowance by 17% (an extra £10 a week) to bring it in line with Jobseeker's Allowance ( 
  • Improving rights for self-employed people and those in the "gig economy", including bloggers, creatives and consultants is long overdue. Labour had already suggested providing statutory paternity and maternity leave for temporary workers (because they promise in their 20 point plan to give every worker, whether temporary or permanent, full-time or part-time the same employment rights from day 1 of their employment) so the Tories really are playing catch-up. There should be an expansion of rights for temporary workers that includes the ability to take an employer to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and statutory minimum notice periods. As for the self-employed, I would imagine a Labour government would be more than willing to make statutory paternity and maternity leave and pay available. 
  • Not many voters would be against bringing in a statutory child bereavement leave of 2 weeks, provided that the leave was paid (at least 90% of pay should be provided). Introducing such leave IS NOT dependent on us leaving the EU, as PM May seemed to be claiming when she boasts of improving employment rights "thanks to Brexit opportunities" and I can't see any reason why Labour or any other party would not consider introducing Child Bereavement Leave. 
  • PM May has guaranteed to keep all employment protections currently enjoyed by employees that derive from the EU, including the Working Time Directive 1998. Other parties have already committed to such a guarantee so the PM and the Tories are a bit late to the party. Also, remember that May has not yet guaranteed the right to remain for the 3 million EU nationals who work just as hard as British citizens, especially in the agricultural sector, adult social care sector and the NHS. I won't trust the Tories because they are unwilling to guarantee status to all of our workers and employees in this country. 
  • "Returnships" to help mothers and long-term carers back into work sounds like a good idea in principle but how would they work in practice? Would they be fully funded? How would they be structured? Which employers would be able to provide them? Surely the public sector organisations should lead the way and create programmes that allow people to update their skills to get them readily employable, especially in an office environment? Wishy washy.
  • "Time off for training" (which must be requested from employers) again sounds good in principle but most businesses in the private sector already provide time off for their employees to attend mandatory training courses and time off to study and sit key exams and these training days tend to be paid. One question to ask is whether the commitment made here goes beyond industry-specific and employer-related training. Would an admin worker be given time off to study for her AAT qualification or a HR qualification to help expand her skillset, for example? What about a scaffolder who needed time off to study for an ECDL computer qualification? At the moment employers can turn down a request for training time off if they believe such training wouldn't benefit the business, would run up extra running costs for the business or if the employer can't find anyone to cover the employee's workload. That means at the moment it is likely that an employer would turn down the scaffolder's request but perhaps not the admin assistant's request ( Would PM May's guarantee change or remove the training restrictions? Another question is whether May's proposal will actually extend to agency workers and to those employees who have been with an organisation for at least 26 weeks (the current mandatory threshold)? 
  • Workers' pensions should be protected, especially those that come from private sector companies. Nobody wants a repeat of the BHS scandal where it took an enquiry to get Sir Philip Green to provide the money required to secure the pensions of BHS workers and he wasn't even the owner of BHS at that point. There are very few organisations that would have an ex-owner realise his previous obligations to employees and pay up. Introducing new powers to the pensions regulator so they can inspect takeovers to see how it would impact "the sustainability of a pension fund" does sound a bit like Labour's own policy that was announced in their 20 point plan a few weeks back. At least we all seem to agree that reckless company owners should face fines and criminal charges for illegal behaviour though! 
  • The Equality Act 2010 should most definately be extended so that it protects employees and workers who have mental health conditions such as anxiety or bipolar from being directly and indirectly discriminated against, especially if the condition is short-term (less than 1 year). However, there's also a need to extend the Equality Act so that non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer employees are also protected from such discrimination; the way to do that would be to change the protected characteristic from "Gender Reassignment Surgery" to "Gender Identity"and removing outdated language such as "transsexual". Intersex people's rights should also be protected by including "intersex" as a protected characteristic. If you're going to amend the Equalities Act, let's do it comprehensively. 
  • Increasing the NLW "in line with median earnings" for the duration of the next Parliament again sounds OK but it's not a new announcement. The Tories had already confirmed their target for the NLW is for it to "reach 60% of median hourly earnings by 2020", which is £8.75, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast. There is the concern that NLW increases may be smaller than expected if the economy does not grow as we deal with the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Why should those on the lowest incomes suffer minimal wage growth even if they are still working as hard or harder than they did prior to the EU referendum? We need to be paying our hard working cleaners, retail workers and entry-level admin assistants more, not less. That's why Labour's proposal to ensure the NLW reaches around £10 an hour by 2020 sounds extremely tempting. However, I do believe in the need to keep the Low Pay Commission an independent body and follow guidance for rises from them wherever possible but the 1% public sector pay cap is unfair and needs to be scrapped. There's also no commitment from the Tories to bring the Apprenticeship wage or the NMW for under 25's in line with the NLW, meaning that young people continue to face stark choices between heating and eating and cannot save up enough money to afford to get a deposit to rent a flat or house whereas their older counterparts may be able to. We need to end such pay inequality. 
  • The Conservatives keep telling us that they are the party of the working class, yet they seem unwilling to make the changes necessary to create a fairer workplace for all. It seems ridiculous that executives continue to earn vast amounts even when their performance may have been seen to be merely satisfactory at best. Theresa May promised when she took office in July 2016 that she would tackle excessive executive pay head-on. Yet there's no mention of it in her plans. That's despite the CBI suggesting that shareholder power should be strengthened, with CEOs mandatorily facing a binding vote on remuneration policy at the next Annual General Meeting (AGM) if "they lose the vote on pay from the shareholder advisory committee" or "if 25% or more vote against the directors' remuneration report for two consecutive years" ( Labour meanwhile have proposed a pay ratio for firms who wish to obtain or have obtained Government contracts, where the executives can earn no more than 20 times what an entry-level employee earns. That sounds perfectly rational to me, so why are the Cons so reluctant to include a similar proposal in their plans? Are they worried they might get blowback from their multi-millionaire donors? 
  • Employees should have more of a say on how an organisation is run by having representation at board level. They are one of the major stakeholders within a firm and their concerns should be listened to. Listed companies should have stakeholder advisory panels who can then nominate a "non-executive director" or a direct worker representative to the board of directors. PM May has suggested that she would not make employee representation on boards in the boardroom a mandatory requirement yet I believe it is essential that every listed company should be forced to comply. It doesn't matter whether that person happens to be a member of a trade union or not but clearly even listed companies have to liaise with trade union officials when disputes occur and perhaps a worker representative would be able to act as that key point of contact to ensure that disputes were resolved quickly and effectively. Employees should certainly have access to the same level of information regarding the future business activity of their organisation as other stakeholders and perhaps this policy would facilitate that. 
  • Extending gender pay gap reporting obligations to take account of ethnicity does again sound like a plausible policy. Large companies need to do more to improve representation, especially at executive level and to ensure that employees are being paid fairly, so that there is no discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Under this proposal, large companies who employ more than 250 employees would need to provide information about how much they pay workers from each ethnic group, with the findings displayed on the employer's website and on a Government site so they are freely accessible to the public.
Remember, there's nothing in the Conservative plans to:
  • Increase Access to Justice; employment tribunal fees would remain in place and dual discrimination cases could not be brought even if an employee has been discriminated against on the basis of two separate protected characteristics
  • Reinstate Third Party Harassment legislation (because the Tories got rid of them in 2013) 
  • Expand the Access to Work Programme to help more disabled people get into sustainable employment
  • Double Paternity Leave (and no indication of whether paternity pay would be brought into line with maternity pay) 
  • Ban zero-hours contracts
  • Ban exploitative unpaid internships (that means that working class young people will continue to struggle to gain access to the professions, especially in media and the law, without financial assistance)
  • Increase the number of bank holidays (but that's not of vital importance to me....still 4 extra days off is nothing to be sniffed at)
  • Scrap the 1% public sector pay cap 
  • Hold an inquiry into blacklisting so that companies cannot discriminate against contractors, workers and employees on the basis of trade union membership or political party membership or views
  • Strengthen protections against unfair dismissal for pregnant women and mothers
Naturally the Tories have no wish to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 either, which wouldn't win over many trade union members or activists who believe the rules contained within the Act are unfair and designed to restrict freedom of union representation. The Tories hail the Act as a means of protecting "millions of people from the effects of undemocratic strike action" ( Whilst I'm ambivalent with regards to increasing trade union rights (because I'm not a member of a trade union), I do understand the concerns that trade union representatives and members may have. The good news is that the Tories seem reluctant to make any further changes to the Act (such as trying to bring in restrictions that were already withdrawn from the Trade Union Act when in the consultation stage, such as restricting trade union use of social media or picket supervisors being forced to wear an armband to identify themselves which could lead them facing discrimination). Liberty have raised concerns about the possibility of the Tories bringing in secondary legislation as a result of the passing of the Act, including the possibility of allowing employers to bring in temporary staff to cover staff on strike (

Labour have made improving Trade Union rights a significant part of their 20 point plan (see: There does remain the issue of whether Labour's 20 point plan will appeal to as large a cross-section of employees, workers and the self-employed as perhaps the Tory plan may do. For example, SME owners may be far more comfortable with the idea of having to allow an employee leave to care for a disabled relative than having to recognise trade union representation from their employees. Strengthened training rights may sound enticing to workers who wish to retrain or upskill to improve their career prospects. The "iron-clad" guarantee from the PM to protect all EU employment directives may make it easier for Conservative remain voters to stick with the party. However, I'm just not convinced that the policies that will be offered in the Tory manifesto will be progressive enough to enact real change in our workplaces. Employees and workers aged 25 and under will not see a much needed increase in their NMW and Apprenticeship Wage. Unpaid internships will remain in place, meaning that some professions (especially PR and the Law) may remain off-limits to working class graduates filled with aspiration for a productive, happy working life. Zero-hours contracts that leave workers feeling insecure could go up following Brexit as employers struggle to improve productivity levels and secure contracts from EU businesses. Public sector workers will continue to feel the squeeze, even though they are working harder than ever to ensure that every service user has their needs met. The Royal College of Nursing Union has just overwhelmingly voted to go on strike for the first time in their history over the 1% pay cap with a ballot being held soon to guarantee strike action in the summer. When nurses have seen a 14% cut in real wages since 2010 and low pay being given as the reason why tens of thousands of nursing positions are not being filled, I don't blame them. PM May has comprehensively said she will not lift the cap. So why would public sector workers even contemplate voting for the Conservatives when they will continue to face real-term cuts in their wages? Do the Tories think a vague promise on "returnships" and a right to unpaid care leave is going to sway those voters?

Voters have a real choice at this election. They can choose to prop up a Tory party that makes vague promises on improving employment rights but refuses to carry out the actions needed to make the UK workplace fairer for all, including guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals currently employed in UK businesses to remain in the UK or they can take a chance on a Labour party with a policy platform that genuinely aims to improve rights "for the many", not the few. At the last General Election I was very sceptical of the Labour platform to improve workers' rights. I thought that the rights we currently enjoyed were enough. That's because I didn't know much about the true scale of workplace issues in the UK. Now it seems rational to me to that we should see wages improve for those under 25 and to help those in the public sector by scrapping the pay cap. Austerity measures have failed to grow the economy effectively. Improving the pay and working conditions of everyone who contributes to the economy should be a primary goal of any progressive government. Of course that that doesn't just mean focussing on trade union representatives and members. Self-employed people deserve to have more stability, especially when they need time off to have a child or look after them. The Tory promise of introducing Statutory Maternity and Paternity Leave will appeal to self-employed voters who are thinking of starting a family but I believe that a Labour Government may go further and give them access to Statutory Pay and double the length of Paternity Leave at the same time. That's an example of a truly progressive policy. So yes, I appreciate the Tories trying to reach out and soften their image with voters who are worried about their pay and conditions reducing after Brexit but I don't think their platform is likely to win over many sceptical voters over. "Nice try but no cigar" as my Lincoln carpeting small business owning Granddad Albert Colley used to say. 

Monday, 8 May 2017

GE2017: Reflecting on Mental Health Political Policies

Mental Health (MH) is fast becoming one of the most important issues for political parties to discuss in the UK. 1 in 4 of us in the UK will have a MH condition in our lives. A recent MH report conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, which had more than 2,000 respondents found that 78% of 18-34 year olds saying "they have experienced a MH problem" compared to 58% of over 55 year olds. The Mental Health Foundation report has also found that 42% of respondents had suffered from depression and around 25% had a panic attack. 85% of respondents who were out of work said they had experienced a MH problem, compared to 66% in employment and 53% of retired people (see more here: The MH Crisis costs the UK as much as £100bn a year, yet only 25% of people end up receiving treatment for depression. It's important that we begin challenge the stigma that surrounds MH, which includes breaking down stereotypes and encouraging men and non-binary people as well as women to discuss and talk through their concerns and to ask for professional help.  Many voters feel that MH service provision in the UK has been sketchy at best and political parties have realised that voters want to see sufficient, positive changes made in this policy area. I've checked out a few policies on MH from the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens and offer some of my thoughts below:

PM Theresa May has talked over the past few months of the need to end the stigma associated with MH. In January she delivered a keynote speech on the Tory vision for Britain, a "Shared Society" where every person feels valued and receives the help and support they need to live a positive, healthy life. The speech was full of warm, fuzzy sound bites and did contain some policy ideas (most of them based on the recommendations made in the Five Year Forward View For MH.. see my January blogpost:. Yesterday PM May announced a number of new policies in a bid to attract centre and centre-left voters who particularly want to see the Cons address inequalities in the healthcare and education systems and also reduce barriers in the workplace for employees and workers with mental health issues.

The number 1 "headline grabbing" policy announcement was that the Cons have committed themselves to scrapping the Mental Health Act 1983 and introducing a new Mental Health Treatment Bill which would see changes to detention procedures. Currently the police have the right to detain you in a public place under Section 136 of the MH Act (or Section 135 if at home) if they believe you have a MH condition and need immediate care to prevent you from causing harm to yourself or others. Conditions include schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder and dementia. It can also include learning disabilities such as dyspraxia (but only when "abnormally aggressive" or "seriously irresponsible"). The police officer(s) in question will have a conversation with a MH professional (such as a MH nurse) before using a Section 136. Police officers can detain you in a cell where you will be examined by a MH professional. The police can hold you up to 24 hours but can get this extended if further time is needed for MH assessment. After this time you'll either be released or taken to a MH clinic to receive treatment or referred to community services depending on the outcome of your assessment. You do still have the right to ask why you have been detained under Section 136 and for appropriate legal assistance. MH and wellbeing campaigners and charities have called for an end to routine police cell detentions and a new MH Treatment Act which reforms the detention protocol for years but the Cons seemed unwilling to amend or scrap the MH Act during the Coalition Government and during the first months of May's tenure as PM. The Cons have promised that MH professionals would be consulted on plans before the MH Treatment Bill would be presented to Parliament so that it would be truly "fit for purpose".
The MH Treatment Bill would introduce:
    • "Revised thresholds for detention" so that people cannot be detained unless they are deemed a risk to themselves and others (very rare)
    • A new code of practice that aims to address the disproportionate use of MH detention for minority groups (hopefully challenging race and gender stereotyping....The Guardian reported that "black people are detained at 56.9 per 100 patients compared with a rate of 37.5 per 100 patients amongst white people" 
    • A new set of safeguards so that individuals who have been deemed to have the capacity to refuse or consent to treatment can do so without fear of being "treated against their will" (unless they have been deemed a danger to themselves or others). 
As a result of passing a MH Treatment Act in the future, there is a hope that people with MH issues would be treated with the dignity and compassion they need and truly deserve. Reducing the number of police cell detentions and increasing the bed capacity in Mental Health clinics and wards is certainly the way forward. 

The Tories also want to:
  • Ensure 10,000 more MH professionals are employed in the NHS by 2020 (an ambitious target considering that trusts would need to increase recruitment and retention rates against a backdrop of Brexit and NHS pay cap)
  • Improve Mental Health provision in schools by training staff on MH First Aid and appointing a staff member as a point of contact to liaise with local MH services  (reaffirming a previous policy commitment made during the "Shared Society" keynote speech)
  • Introduce cyberbulling and online safety training into schools for all students (something that Labour's Shadow Secretary for Equalities, Sarah Champion, has been advocating for with her Dare2Care strategy)
  • Funding the Samaritans helpline for the next 5 years (good but could imagine every other party making this commitment too)
  • No more charges for people in debt when they provide proof of their mental health condition (no commitment to scrap the Doctor's Note fee though...people are being charged up to £150 for this and creditors will not help debtors without it) 
  • Amend the Equality Act to make "mental health" a protected characteristic and giving employees who have short term mental health conditions (less than 1 year) the same protection as those suffering from long-term mental health conditions (conditions that last more than 1 year). This could benefit employees who suffer from anxiety/depression caused as a result of family bereavement or being in a traumatic accident
  • HR staff in large companies would also be mandated to access MH training to act as "first responders"; this would help HR staff to develop strategies to better support employees with MH conditions. 
The Conservatives' policies look good on paper. I think that very few MH campaigners would argue against strengthening protections to reduce levels of discrimination in the workplace or improving resilience training for students who use social media on a daily basis. However, there is no indication as to how the Tories would pay for 10,000 more MH professionals to help improve MH service provision in England (as health is already a devolved issue). Community Care's 2015 report found that funding for MH services had reduced by 8.25% in real terms during the Con-LibDem Coalition Government. Also it has been shown that MH professional numbers in the NHS has reduced. 6,110 nurses have been cut since 2010 and 23 doctors have gone too (according to the BBC's own Reality Check system). It's perfectly understandable that there is a high level of skepticism as to whether the Cons really will deliver on their promises given that local NHS trusts are struggling to deliver appropriate services. 

Labour have a comprehensive approach to MH which I've already explained in some depth in this blogpost: The question now is how many of these previous policy ideas will pop up in Corbyn's manifesto and whether Labour would be willing to adopt policy suggestions put forward by the Conservatives that would actually help improve MH service provision, especially amending or scrapping the MH Act and scrapping charges for people in debt who have MH conditions, including the Doctor's Note fee.

One great Labour party proposal is to help improve children's and young people's MH services across the UK as part of an overall Child Health Strategy (
 The strategy would include:
  • Introducing a new Index to measure improvements in Child Health provision against international standards which would be collected and collated into a report on an annual basis. The measures are "obesity, dental health, under 5's and mental health". This would provide much needed data and ensure that the Government can be held up to account for failures to address problems. Any areas that require improvement would be delivered on during the following year. 
  • Creating Governmental departmental strategies for Child Health (interesting that Labour mandates this for every department...I wonder how the Department for International Trade or Exiting the EU would contribute here)
  • Providing funding for counsellors to be available to go into every school in England
  • Setting up a £250m annual Child Health Fund to support the delivery of the strategy, which would come from efficiency savings gained from reducing management consultancy costs (sounds great on paper but how practical would this be to deliver on, on an annual basis?)
  • Ringfencing the Public Health budget over the next 5 years, allowing councils to deliver targeted health awareness campaigns and invest more in leisure activities (my local Labour council in Lincoln has announced a £1.4m investment in Birchwood Leisure Centre but it means the loss of a much loved social club and closing of sports facilities, which Labour councillors have suggested could have been avoided had the Council had a pot of funding from central Government to revamp). 
There's also other policy announcements from Labour that would have an impact on MH service provision:
  • Scrapping the public pay cap could help NHS managers to attract and retain talent 
  • Reintroducing the training Nursing Bursary may help to encourage more nurses to enter the NHS and specialise in MH
  • Scrapping the car parking charges will help MH patients and their families spend more time together
  • Not restricting immigration of medical professionals could encourage more MH professionals to consider working in England.
I do like the idea of improving children's and young people's MH services and ensuring there is central funding in place to be able to help deliver those service improvements. However, we need to hear a lot more about how adult MH services will be improved and a firm commitment to addressing MH provision in prisons, including recruiting counsellors and MH nurses and training prison officers as to how to treat inmates with MH conditions appropriately, something MP Luciana Berger has been actively campaigning for over the past few years.

Lib Dems:
The Lib Dems have not shied away from laying out the challenges the UK currently faces when it comes to the NHS and social care. They have admitted that funding needs to be increased urgently and the best way to provide this funding would be to raise Income Tax by 1p in every £1 for everyone that currently pays Income Tax (30 million would pay this). In England, this would mean an extra £4.9bn would be raised (but Scotland has powers to set its own Income Tax). Nobody likes to pay extra taxes but if the money is specifically going towards helping pay for improved NHS and social care services, it does seem justifiable. Lib Dem MH policies include:
  • Establishing a "cross-party health and care convention" which will consult with NHS professionals, patients and care workers to make sure that systems, including in MH are sustainable; this would be very sensible and allow service users to shape future MH policies
  • Establish an Independent Office of Health and Care Funding that would monitor budgets and produce a report every 3 years which would provide recommendations as to where funding would need to be increased in the future, including on MH
  • Providing £250m for the next 5 years to help pregnant women and mothers suffering from depression (strengthening protections in the workplace so that employers cannot discriminate against pregnant women and mothers who suffer from discrimination would help too)
  • Improving access to talking therapies on the NHS for "hundreds of thousands" more anxiety and depression sufferers (as long as access would improved in every NHS trust in England and not just in the South East this is a good idea and to re-commit to ensure that most MH patients can start their talking therapy treatment within 28 days, a commitment that was also in the Labour and Green 2015 General Election manifestos) 
  • Reducing use of physical restraint to an absolute minimum with a view to banning the practice in future (Lib Dem found that there had been an average of 183 restraints a day between 2013 and 2016, with "1,548 injuries to patients and 2,789 injuries to staff" reported over the three year period....
  • Ensuring that homeless people have access to MH counselling, especially to help MH conditions related to drug-use and sex work 
  • Expand the Access To Work programme to properly support potential and current employees with disabilities who may also develop a MH condition.
I'd like to see the Lib Dem proposals for amending or abolishing the MH Act to reduce instances of police cell detentions and a firm commitment to improving MH education in schools across the UK. Having previously read the Lib Dem education policy, it's safe for me to assume that there would be plans to introduce online resilience training and some sort of commitment to provide teaching staff with MH training delivered by MH professionals and campaigners so teachers can develop practical methods to help fully support students in their class who may have a short-term or long-term MH condition.

The Greens have often mentioned the need to ensure that MH service provision is fit for purpose for all service users, especially those from minority groups. In the LGBTQIA+ manifesto released in April 2017, the Greens called for funding to be in place to help provide services to LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers, including giving them access to counsellors on the NHS. In the past the Greens have been focussed on improving MH service provision in local communities, such as encouraging the appointment of local mental health champions who would be able to offer their views as to how to improve MH service provision directly to their local NHS trust management. MH champions could also help to advise and support people in their communities on issues such as housing and employment and be invited to deliver MH training to local businesses and organisations. The Greens have also expressed a desire to improve MH bed capacity so that every patient can be treated in their local area unless they require specialist treatment and care. The Greens also want to end police cell detention under the MH Act for adults wherever possible.

An interesting commitment was made by co-leader Jonathan Bartley on Andrew Marr's BBC 1 political analysis show Marr to introduce a 3-day weekend in the UK. Bartley believed that by reducing working hours for employees to allow them to spend more time with friends and family, there would be an overall reduction in stress levels generally amongst the population. The clear issue with the proposal is that it may only benefit a small percentage of the population on full-time contracts who still work on a Monday to Friday 9am-5pm pattern. Business leaders remain vigorously opposed to any proposals that would mandatorily reduce working hours for employees on this working pattern as they believe productivity levels would fall. Mind you, those same business leaders are opposed to the idea of 4 extra bank holidays anyways! However, there is a need to introduce more flexibility into employment, so that it becomes more acceptable for employees with MH conditions to be able to take the time off they need to recover or reduce their working hours to reduce their stress levels so as to reduce the likelihood of them developing a long-term MH condition. Reasonable adjustments should also become routine in workplaces -e.g. allowing an employee with a diagnosed MH condition to take time off at short notice to see their counsellor and ensuring that all employees have time off to visit GPs for initial diagnosis free from discrimination. Flexible working and other reasonable adjustments may also make employees with MH conditions more productive over the long term too.

Based on current policy proposals, I'd be very tempted to say that no one-party has an edge because they each seem to be addressing different aspects of the MH crisis. Labour seems to focus heavily on funding issues rather than proposing the legislative changes needed to the MH Act to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century. The Conservatives have suggested improving resilience training in schools for teaching staff and students but haven't really set out any extra funding or proposals to help improve recruitment and retention rates of MH professionals in the NHS. It's all well and good reforming detention procedures but there still needs to be improvements to local bed capacity so that people who are detained by police officers can receive assessment in a NHS clinic rather than in a police cell. After all, most people who have a MH condition who may have been "deemed a danger to themselves or others" will not have committed a criminal offence. So why treat them like criminals? The Lib Dems have been very astute in recognising the need to offer a long-term solution for funding the NHS and Social Care in the UK and the Income Tax increase will go a bit of the way to providing funding for MH services. Yet they haven't been clear on whether the £250m to tackle pregnancy and post-natal depression would come from existing funding or from the tax increase. Voters may also be unhappy at having to pay a council tax precept in addition to an Income Tax increase so the Lib Dem proposal to create an all encompassing Health and Social Care Tax that would negate the need for the council tax precept in the future seems to be a good way forward. The Greens have pointed out the need to ensure that MH services are accessible to all and that local MH champions can help in this respect but the 3 day weekend seems impracticable from a business viewpoint and there is still a question as to how they would fund any MH improvements.

What is a clear is that a comprehensive, wide-ranging, intersectional approach is needed to ensure that MH improvements are delivered that benefit the majority of MH service users in the NHS and those who choose not to seek professional help too. That means being bold enough to offer ringfenced funding to pay for an increase the number of MH professionals and encouraging recruitment and retention by scrapping the public sector pay cap and reintroducing the Nurses Training Bursary. Funding needs to be sustainable and there must be a review into how best to provide funding streams in the long-term. The MH Act needs to be either amended or abolished so that detention procedures can be reformed and there should be an end to routine detention in police cells. School staff need training to help them support students and colleagues who may develop a MH condition. Students definitely need to be given online resilience training, given that they are most likely to access social media on a daily basis. HR staff in companies should develop policies that are designed to provide reasonable adjustments such as flexible working patterns to employees who have a short-term or long-term MH condition. There must also be considerations made for MH patients in prison, including training for prison officers to help support inmates in their charge and routine drug-use counselling. I can't wait to see what extra policies are unveiled in the election manifestos over the next few weeks; perhaps a frontrunner will emerge for me then. At the moment, it's all to play for.