Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lincoln's Choice GE2017: Why I Will Be Voting For Karen Lee And Labour On Thursday 8th June

Sometimes making a final decision can be surprisingly easy. I was in Lincoln's Primark last Friday shopping with my Mum (she'd not been into town for nearly 2 years and was dead excited to check out the latest styles) and we came across this amazing pair of denim hotpants, which had embroidered detail, paint and slogans all over it. For me, it was love at first sight- I grabbed the Size 20 faster than the Jamaican relay team grasp their batons in an Olympic Final. My Mum took much longer to convince-"oh the fit isn't right.....they're high waisted.....I'm 59 I can't carry off a punk look". 5 minutes later and me and Mum both had a pair in the basket and had moved on to look at a Sex Pistols tee. Although it took a while for my Mum to make her final decision, she made the right decision in the end. Politics wise, that's how I really am feeling at the moment. For weeks I hesitated, I read the manifestos, watched the debates wondering who'd make the best Prime Minister for the UK. There was no danger of me voting for the Tories.....hell no, not after the way they've conducted the Brexit process so far. Who wants to vote for someone whose primary response is to fear our European neighbours, throwing a wobbler over whether Spain will annexe Gibraltar (totally false by the way) and not stand up to the nincompoop President that is Donnie Drumpf when he slandered the Mayor of London by stating that "nobody should be alarmed" when in fact Mr Sadiq Khan was asking London residents to not be alarmed at the increased police presence on the streets and ridiculously pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, an agreement that even Russia remains signed up to. Yet after all the hesitation and analysis, I feel that I have reached the right decision to vote Labour and I'm going discuss why in this blogpost.

Nationally:

At a national level, the main choices for PM seems lacklustre for those amongst us who consider themselves centrists and moderates. Theresa May has got very few leadership qualities of note and her questionable record as Home Secretary is being exposed for all to see. Jeremy Corbyn has been portrayed by the mainstream media as a Marxist, "terrorist apologist" when he can only really be accused of possibly being too much of an ideological dreamer, choosing to pursue expansion of trade union powers and mass renationalisation in what still strikes some as a attempt to bring back 1970's style socialism. Now I certainly have not been a super Corbynista (I have more affinity with the Harriet Harman/ Jess Phillips/ Yvette Cooper side of the Labour party) but I've read the Labour manifesto (evidenced by the number of blogposts I've recently done on manifesto comparisons) and I'd say that the majority of it doesn't strike me as being particularly radical. I may not yet buy into the virtues of mass renationalisation yet (especially with regards to utilities) but even I agree that there is a need to review Sustainability and Transformation Plans and reduce the amount of privatisation in our NHS by repealing the Health and Social Care Act. The NHS was designed to ensure that every person in the UK could receive free treatment at the point of use. As investment hasn't kept up with an increase in population, this aim has been increasingly difficult to achieve. We need more funding, we need more staff and we need to ensure that the NHS is accessible to all and I believe Labour's plans, including pumping in an extra £30bn of investment, scrapping the public sector cap and reinstating the Nurses Training Bursary will help to address issues of under resourcing and help recruit more UK nurses.

Yet the Labour manifesto isn't just strong on the NHS. Some policies that never get any attention on the national news have convinced me to consider voting Labour beyond tactical reasons. For example, Labour have pledged to bring in a Commissioner to ensure that the police, local authorities and organisations adhere to at least a minimum standard to tackle domestic violence and sexual violence. Funding will be made available through central government to help stabilise the budgets of women's refuges and rape crisis centres. Although I'd have liked to have seen a general commitment to helping all survivors of domestic abuse, violence and coercive control, regardless of their gender it is a promising start. This policy has not been discussed in the Sun, The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail but it's one that makes me believe that a Labour government will truly work towards improving the lives of the majority of people in this country and not the few. Plus Corbyn has done extremely well with his campaign, making the effort to meet voters of all ages and talking about the need to foster creativity amongst young people. He has a message of hope that is resonating widely amongst the electorate and we still do not truly know what the effect on the vote will be on June 8th.

Locally:

At a local level, my choice has even more difficult but for positive reasons. We've been fortunate in Lincoln to have had two talented, amazing, progressive women running in this election both of which deserve recognition:
  • Caroline Kenyon, a successful businesswoman (running a food photography business) and who worked as a journalist and magazine editor and PR guru who has worked with homeless charities and food organisations has truly inspired me to think about what more I can do to help fellow residents in my ward. She's organising a Food Summit that aims to look at sustainably providing food for Lincoln residents who find themselves in difficult circumstances that will take place regardless of whether she wins the election or not. Equally Caroline is working with the University of Lincoln to help establish a Primary Schools programme designed to help lift the aspirations of working class children in Lincoln. I know that it's incredibly important to have access to positive role models who can encourage children to think about their future in an age-appropriate way. I was fortunate to have teachers who saw through my Dyspraxia and encouraged me to read widely which fostered a love of books, especially History books that has never left me. Without that early intervention I would not be writing the blogposts like the one I am writing today. And I want other children, especially those with disabilities, to benefit from positive reinforcement technique and having access to role models they can identify with in the educational sector. 
  • Karen Lee has been involved in Lincoln politics ever since 1994, when she became a Labour party member. She was elected as a City Councillor for Carholme Ward in 2004 and has successfully defended her seat at every local election since then. Karen served as Mayor of Lincoln in 2012-13, the 12th woman out of 13 in 811 years. Karen is a nurse and has worked diligently and passionately for Lincoln County Hospital for many years. Karen wants to increase the number of affordable homes in Lincoln by securing additional funding to expand the planned housing programme as well as fully supporting Labour's plans to bring in safe staffing levels in NHS wards and reintroduce Nurses Training Bursaries. Karen is described by the City Council's Labour Leader Ric Metcalfe as a "tireless and passionate local campaigner", which is true given as she was part of the successful campaign to save Lincoln South Fire Station from being downgraded.
Having read the key campaign leaflets (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/parliamentary-party-candidate-leaflet.html) and 
 listened to both the Bishop Grosseteste Hustings (http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/thoughts-from-listening-to-bishop.html) and the joint Lincolnite and BBC Radio Lincolnshire Debate I feel that our city and surrounding villages of Skellingthorpe, Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East need a real progressive vision in place to improve the lives of all residents who live within the Lincoln Constituency boundary. What does a progressive vision involve I hear you cry? Well, it starts with an understanding that cross party collaboration is key to helping solve key social issues that affect our communities. It's clear to me that Caroline Kenyon's Food Summit project that she has outlined effectively during her campaign is one that the City of Lincoln Council, Lincolnshire County Council, the District of North Kesteven Council as well as the Lincolnshire Association of Parish Councils should get involved in and I have suggested Caroline gets in touch with my local City Councillor, Rosie Kirk because I believe that she'd be happy to participate. Lincoln's MP, regardless of who gets elected on June 9th should commit to working closely with Caroline and certainly attend the Food Summit when it is held. If they really care about reducing poverty levels in Lincoln and ensure that our foodbanks are stocked with healthy food to help disadvantaged families, signalling an intention to attend would not be a difficult act and I get the sense that Karen would be happier than Karl McCartney, our current MP to collaborate on the Food Summit project. Karen has also signalled a desire to work with the Green candidate, Dr Ben Loryman to scrutinise the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust's Sustainability and Transformation Plan (all STPs are to be halted and reviewed under a Labour manifesto commitment) and examine how best to recruit and retain high quality staff at Lincoln County Hospital. I'd also like to see close collaboration on animal welfare and LGBTQIA+ rights, two areas that have been rather noticeably neglected during Mr McCartney's tenure.

Another key aspect of a progressive vision is a firm commitment to stand up for all constituents, regardless of an MP's own personal views. Now I'm a Lutheran and I believe that my faith should never be used in a negative way to demean people who are members of other Christian denominations or followers of different faiths or who are atheists. Karen on the Lincoln Labour Party website (http://www.lincolnlabourparty.org.uk/karen-lee/) espouses a similar sort of approach to me which was pleasing to see: "I do hold my own views on religion, I was brought up a Catholic and feel that some spiritual belief is a priceless thing, but I think that it is essential to respect the right of individuals to practice their faith in their own way, whatever their religion might be." I get the sense that this means that Karen would be willing to solicit the opinion of Lincoln constituents before voting on an important moral or ethical issue, for example voluntary euthanasia. Unfortunately Mr McCartney used his personal Christian views to denigrate LGBTQIA+ people whilst acting in a professional capacity, stating in a letter to a constituent in 2012 that LGBT people "had exhausted the cause of equal rights" (http://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/lincoln-mp-karl-mccartney-defiant-views-sex/story-15918962-detail/story.html) and he had the audacity to put same-sex marriage on the same level as "bigamy and child marriage". Even though same-sex marriage is now legal, there's no indication that Karl has changed his views towards LGBTQIA+ people. In fact, when asked questions on LGBTQIA+ rights during this 2017 Election cycle on Twitter, he has consistently ignored questioners which is extraordinary rude. LGBTQIA+ people in Lincoln are his constituents and most of them and their friends and family will have the ability to vote on Thursday; I have a sneaking suspicion that he won't garner many of them; serves him right! A progressive MP embraces change and accepts people's right to express themselves openly provided they adhere to the laws of the land. I'm all for "following the dictates of one's conscience" but when in public office, you have the thoughts and views of constituents to consider as well as your own and sometimes you have to put your personal views and opinions aside and vote in the best interests of your constituents. Karl just doesn't have a great record of doing that.

There's a number of policies in the Labour manifesto that could directly benefit Lincoln constituents in a progressive way. There's the obvious pledges of abolishing tuition fees and reintroducing the Educational Maintenance Allowance and university maintenance grants that will help students attending Lincoln College, my old sixth form at the Priory LSST Academy, the University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University but there are less well known policies too; the banning of unpaid internships that last more than a month, the protection of funding for libraries with money available to upgrade computer software that would benefit Lincoln Central Library and my local Birchwood Library amongst others. There's also a promise to look at accommodation standards for those in Armed Forces accommodation as well as extending the Forces Help-to-Buy scheme and insulating the homes of disabled veterans for free. Labour would ensure every school has access to a counselling service to help students deal with exam stress and anxiety and long term mental health conditions and that would help students who attend Lincoln schools.

Karen mentions specific Labour policies in her campaign poster leaflet, including:

  • the proposed rise in Carer's Allowance that would directly  benefit 1,629 carers in Lincoln, giving them more than an extra £500 a year to spend on helping them and their dependent(s) with food, heating and clothing bills. 
  • scrapping the bedroom tax which will help 749 people in Lincoln and insulating homes may help some of the 5,089 homes who are classed as being in fuel poverty. 
  • protecting the Triple Lock because getting rid of it would affect 17,919 pensioners in Lincoln, one of which would probably be my Dad. 
  • reversing cuts to Universal Credit and stopping other tax changes proposed by the Tories so that working families do not need to worry about losing £1,400 a year or have to prove that their third child was conceived as a result of rape through the despicable Child Benefit "rape clause". 
Strangely enough these issues are not mentioned in the Tory leaflet and they haven't been particularly addressed head-on by Karl. Instead, his leaflet focussed on transport infrastructure, apprenticeships and being a part of the "Keeping Sunday Special" campaign, which never really bothers my Mum, who's a care assistant working at least one weekend night a fortnight on her shift pattern and who has colleagues who are more worried about their residency status and wage growth under a future Conservative Government than about whether Sunday is kept special for managers and bankers. It's good that apprenticeships have increased by 6,960 since 2010 but how many of them have gone to those aged 25 and over? How many of them have been available in the creative industries? How many of those places have been filled by LGBTQIA+ Lincolnites? It seems to me that Karl is prepared to only talk about the successes and can't be bothered to put forward a truly coherent progressive plan for the future. What a shame.

An issue that I've heard discussed in the pub and around Lincoln generally is that of funding; funding schools, funding social care, funding recycling services, funding leisure centres and sports facilities, funding libraries and funding Lincoln County Hospital. What has been clear to me over the past few months is that Lincolnshire County Council needs more funding from local government. According to (shock horror) a UKIP leaflet that I received during the Lincs CC elections in May 2017, I found out that Lincs CC is the third lowest funded council in the country. £88 per head (the figure given in the UKIP leaflet is not enough to deliver the services we need as our population begins to age. Council Tax had to go up in Lincs (http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/01/council-tax-rise-proposed-as-lincolnshire-police-face-10m-funding-gap/) to help pay towards policing (1.97%) and the Police and Crime Commissioner's Office (we have a Conservative PCC here, Marc Jones) stated that we'd need to see an increase in funding from central government otherwise we'd have a gap in the budget of £10m between 2018 and 2020. This demonstrates to me that Labour are right to highlight that there is a need to increase policing budgets generally to help pay for equipment and the pledge to fund a police officer increase of 10,000 will probably mean that Lincs will see an increase in frontline staff which would be welcome! Yet another reason to consider voting Labour. The total Council Tax rise for those in Lincoln has also included a 1.91% rise in Council Tax precept for the City of Lincoln Council and 3.95% for the Lincs CC precept, estimated to be an extra £53 a year (http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/03/council-tax-rise-approved-for-lincoln-residents/). Let's hope the increase may go towards turning the streetlights back on our street or providing decent social care for disabled young adults (that's what a Labour controlled CC would have done).  In his time as Lincoln's MP, Karl has been very quick to ask for money to help complete transport infrastructure projects but has been unable to secure more funding for local government services such as for our police force. Instead Karl blames the lack of influence on being a backbencher and because we rejected a devolution deal Lincoln has harmed its chances of receiving more government investment. In his The Linc interview, Karl said:"it (the devolution deal) will not be quickly forgotten in Westminster and I think we'll be forced to the bottom of the pile for it in the future" (http://thelinc.co.uk/2017/06/the-lincoln-candidates-karl-mccartney/). Such a statement comes from a man who says in his leaflet that  Lincoln is "the most loved City and jewel in the crown of the East Midlands". Does Karl think I and other voters and constituents were born yesterday? How are we going to improve local services with an MP with such a defeatist attitude? I want to see an MP who will fight for us and not moan about being a backbencher.

Equally in The Linc interview I can still see that Karl remains as gender stereotypical as ever: "give a boy a solder and iron and he can do anything"...what about if that boy wants a thread and needle? Doesn't look like Karl believes that creative subjects are good enough for men does he? Epic facepalm moment once again for an MP who says that he cares about education but is far too quick to play into gender stereotypes and offers few concrete policies to help disadvantaged boys. I mean he talks about establishing a vocational scheme but would that be in addition to Conservative plans or a part of them? There are schemes out there which can help young boys foster a love of reading and writing; perhaps Karl if he's returned as our MP (somehow) could look into getting more Lincoln fathers to read to their sons like my Dad did with me and my brother. Has has he spoken to The Fatherhood Institute directly about their Fathers Reading Every Day Scheme? I'd like to see Karl promote awareness of it  (see more here: http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/training-and-consultancy/fathers-reading-day-training/). 

I also have something to say about the derogatory comment about parenting Karl has made in the interview because it's an important issue for me. As a dyspraxic person, it took me years to learn how to carry out daily tasks like tying a shoelace or holding a knife and fork. My parents certainly were not guilty of not teaching me how to do it. Sometimes it is the case that school students with learning disabilities need tailored support to help improve their hand-eye coordination skills to the point where they can use a knife and fork properly, hold a pen properly or even tie their shoelaces. I'd even go as far as to suggest that teaching nursery and reception pupils how to hold a knife and fork properly is an inclusive activity and helps students bond with one another. Dentists have also highlighted the fact that teaching pupils how to brush their teeth properly can help to reduce tooth loss and if less children face the prospect of having to wait till their adult teeth to come through to feel confident enough to smile because they've learned how to brush their teeth properly then I'm all for it. Those might seem like "parental issues" to Karl but teachers also care about the welfare of their pupils and they wouldn't have entered the profession if they didn't.  Karl's comments about free school meals in general indicate that he'd like to see them reduced to a bare minimum or even scrapped in the future because he asks the question:"is it the role of the state to feed young people?" Well I'd rather see primary school children have a guaranteed meal whilst at school rather than risk the chance of them not being fed at all whilst at school because their parents cannot afford to provide them with a meal (Karl may say that meals will be there for those that need it but he doesn't seem happy about it) and that's what Labour have pledged to do. Perhaps I'm more of a socialist than I thought and that might not be a bad thing! 

I mean Karl's voting record is embarrassing (voting for the bedroom tax and against same-sex marriage included) but I'd argue that his lack of policy proposals that specialise on helping Lincoln constituents is extremely disappointing and has to be pointed out. Karl's been in office since 2010 and yet he has had very little to say on the Environment, disability rights, renewable energy schemes, Sex and Relationships Education that is LGBTQIA+ inclusive or reducing instances of domestic violence, domestic abuse and coercive control in Lincoln. These are the issues that matter to me as a constituent and will get me to the polling station on Thursday. Yet Karl admits in his The Linc interview that the Conservative manifesto promises (which I've read) wouldn't appeal to a young voter because it's not their "core demographic". Well I'm 28 so I don't think I can be considered particularly young anymore but I believe that once a candidate admits that their manifesto cannot appeal to a particular demographic, they're asking voters in that demographic to vote en masse against them. What a shame that would be! ;) ;)

Whatever happens at a national level when the results are announced on the morning of Friday it is absolutely clear to me that Lincoln deserves a progressive, positive, polite and engaging MP in office; one that will stand up for all constituents regardless of their age, class, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religious or political belief and one who isn't afraid to work cross-party on issues that matter to constituents. I'm putting my trust in a candidate who can do this and so much more who has a proven track record in campaigning and local politics and really cares about our city. I'm voting for someone who isn't afraid to defend Remain voters and understands the importance of preserving EU export jobs in Lincoln. I'm voting for someone who knows their manifesto inside out and will try and ensure Lincoln benefits from as many of manifesto policy pledges as possible. That person is Karen Lee and I will vote for her unashamedly on Thursday.