On the morning of Thursday 14 May Maria Caulfield MP shared a post on her twitter account showing an apparent video of an interview with new Labour Leader Keir Starmer. Within hours this video was shown to be deliberately edited to give the appearance of almost the opposite point of view from the one that was actually presented in the full video and may be libellous.
The Lewes Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson, Oli Henman said:
“Maria Caulfield has shown a very serious error in judgment here, this video was heavily edited to paint a misleading picture of the views of the Leader of the Opposition and undermines trust in politics as a whole. At a time of national emergency, when the country should be coming together to support the whole community, it is shocking to see our MP engaged in political point scoring of the most cynical kind.
Unfortunately this behaviour seems to be part of a pattern of half-truths and downright misinformation from this government. Ms Caulfield herself has previously suspended her social media account during the General Election and has blocked opposition party representatives from asking her tough questions on social media, now more than ever we need representatives who tell the truth. Maria Caulfield must resign.”
The Liberal Democrats are leading a cross-party campaign calling on the Government to support local and independent media through an increased share of public health communications spending.
Writing to the government, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael had warned that although the "All in, All together" campaign had provided public health information as well as advertising revenue for major media groups, local press organisations and individual journalists had raised the Government's lack of support for them.
In a letter to the Government, the cross-party campaign is calling for the Government to pledge a proportionate share of public health advertising spend to local press, meaning both a short-term boost to the Government’s public health communications as well as a long-term investment in protecting and maintaining local media across the United Kingdom.
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said:
"Local press are some of the most trusted sources of news for our communities and we must support them in this challenging time. They are vital to our efforts to respond and recover from the coronavirus and yet they are facing significant financial difficulties.
“This letter is about getting a fair share of government advertising spend for local and independent press, to reflect both their importance in our communities and their financial needs. The Secretary of State for Health has an important role in deciding where these advertising funds go.”
Local campaigner and Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson, Oli Henman said:
"Local journalism is an important part of the community in our area. Local outlets such as the Sussex Express and the Argus play a crucial role in not only keeping us all informed about the news in Lewes and the surrounding areas, but they also play an essential role in ensuring accurate information is available locally on the fight against coronavirus and the incredible community response.
"The Government must take action in pledging a proportionate share of public health advertising spend to local media. This will not only provide financial support so that these outlets don't go under during this crisis, but will also ensure that they can continue to provide timely information to the public, which is imperative to slowing the spread of the virus."
Liberal Democrat councillors are calling for safe space to be created for cycling and walking during the lockdown. Many cities across the world have already put in place measures to address the transport implications of the pandemic such as closing roads to motor traffic enabling people to make sure they keep a safe distance.
Cllr Carolyn Lambert says:
“I fully support the need for safe space during the lockdown so that people can get the exercise they need without putting themselves or others at risk. It should be possible to create barriers using existing road traffic cones and so on, just as supermarkets have cordoned off areas of their car parks to allow people to queue safely. I have raised this with the Leader of the County Council and hope that he will feel able to respond positively to this suggestion”.
Councillor Philip Daniel adds:
“It would be really good to put in some measures now to help everyone. If it works successfully, it may be possible to extend this beyond the lockdown period.”
Pictures of the empty streets of Lewes during rush hour courtesy of Tony Parker
Councillor Carolyn Lambert says:
Here is some information for those of you who are self employed:
The Government has announced a new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. It will pay a taxable grant of 80 per cent of average annual profits over the last 3 years up to £2,500 per month.
The scheme will be open for at least three months, backdated to 1 March 2020. The scheme will provide targeted support for self-employed people with profits up to £50,000 per annum.
The scheme will be for those who earn the majority of their income from self-employment and have filed a tax return for 2018/19. According to the Chancellor, 95 per cent of self-employed people will benefit from this scheme. Those self-employed workers who have not yet submitted their tax return will have four weeks to do so. The scheme will be administered by HMRC and it is expected that businesses will be able to receive the grant in early June.
All the Government’s support, and associated guidance, for businesses can be found at businesssupport.gov.uk.
The Money Advice Service also has a helpful list of financial support available to people, which may be of interest to your residents and staff.
Conservative councillors, backed by Labour, voted through a budget which will mean East Sussex residents paying more for County Council services including roads, adult social care, and education. Cllr Philip Daniel, Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson, explains:
“The Liberal Democrat budget amendment meant charging residents a lower rate of increase in regular council tax for ESCC: 1.50% instead of the Conservatives’ 1.99%. That’s on top of the 2% rise by which the government asks local people to pay the County Council for Adult Social Care. We recognise that many people in the county are in financial hardship. Council Tax rises over five years have been almost double the rise in earnings. They are having to absorb the impact of the cuts made to council services by the Conservative government over the last ten years, are paying increased fees and charges for services and now are facing yet another increase in council tax.
Our budget amendment supported spending on capital projects by capital finance, so that work on roads and buildings refurbishment could go ahead funded from the capital budget not from revenue as the Conservatives have now agreed. This would free up more money for frontline services. Altogether, we proposed £2,523,000 of savings and changes to funding which could be used to support our hard-pressed services, slow the Council Tax increase and start to restructure the Council”.
Councillor David Tutt, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, comments:
“We have consistently put forward budgets that propose a transformation of the way the council organises itself, including putting the emphasis on staff delivering front-line services rather than on highly paid managers.
We are very concerned at the fragility of the County Council’s finances. Services will now be funded almost entirely from council tax and from business rates. We know that businesses are already struggling. The business rate system needs to be reformed to create a level playing field between High Street stores and on-line traders. One-off pots of money from central government are simply putting a sticking plaster over the gaping holes that the Conservatives have made in local authority services – our roads are not the only thing with huge potholes.
East Sussex County Council already has the 4th highest council tax of any shire county in England (2019/20). £134 million has already been taken out of County Council funds over the last ten years and council tax set by the County Council has risen by 36.92% since 2007 compared with Liberal Democrat run Eastbourne Borough Council where the tax rise over the same period has been 21.07%. We have to ask how long residents can continue to pay for these taxes imposed by the Conservative administration?”.
Oli Henman's letter to the Sussex Express, Jan 2020.
The December election marked a challenging time for our country, for accountability and for democracy. Why would I say that democracy is under threat? Let me explain.
Democracy is about dialogue, it is about listening and engaging, it is about being publicly accountable and being true to your commitments.
As the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Lewes constituency I made it my priority to engage with a wide range of voters, to participate in public debates and to respond to questions via email and social media. I took time to reply and to ensure that my views were accountable to a wide range of fellow residents and I was glad to take part in interviews on the radio and television. This is what democracy means - it is about dialogue and a willingness to listen and respond to other points of view. It is also about being open to finding compromise.
But Conservative candidates did not respond to public scrutiny, they did not take part in key hustings, they did not join debates and they were not accountable to the people they serve. The Lewes candidate withdrew from debates and suspended her social media accounts. Why would she do this if she is keen to champion real democracy?
The Conservative Party across the country adopted similar tactics to reduce public debate and to focus on short populist messages with little real substance behind them. This was not about informing the public or about listening to other points of view. But what is worse is that we have been witnessing cynical misinformation combined with a cavalier disregard for parliamentary conventions and an apparent appetite to limit the independence of the judiciary. This is when we start to understand how our democratic system is being bent out of shape. The British system has always relied on ‘gentleman’s agreements’ and unspoken rules but these rules are increasingly being disregarded by those in power.
Furthermore, in terms of the democratic mandate, our ‘first past the post’ system does not provide a proportional number of seats to the actual number of votes cast. In this constituency the Conservatives won with less than 50% of the votes cast and nationally their vote share was more like 43%. This is not an overwhelming democratic mandate to enact such far reaching reforms. Instead the government should be open to listening to other points of view and recognising the need for inclusive decision-making, if it is truly concerned with bringing the country back together.
It is high time the Conservatives acknowledged that real democracy is about actual dialogue and informed debate not just simple soundbites.
Following last week’s election the new Conservative government held its first Queen’s Speech on the 19th of December. The Conservatives look set to push forward a damaging and divisive approach - pushing ahead with an extreme version of Brexit, undermining the independence of the judiciary, reducing our social rights and failing to tackle the climate emergency.
Lewes Lib Dem Parliamentary spokesperson Oli Henman says “Only a few days after the election, Boris Johnson’s bleak vision for Britain is already becoming apparent.”
The Conservatives are now wholly consumed by Brexit and its consequences; but the Liberal Democrats will continue to oppose this damaging approach and hold the government to account. Brexit is a smokescreen to allow the Conservatives to strip away our hard-won rights and reduce our essential environmental protections. We will fight for the best possible result of next year’s negotiations: a close relationship, preventing tariffs and other trade barriers, protecting our jobs and manufacturing; and we will fight to maintain our key rights.
By pushing ahead with this extreme version of Brexit, the UK government will be free to force through major legislative changes which reduce our core rights and undermine our public services. Ending free movement is bad for public services and employers, and will expose millions of EU citizens to a hostile environment. Proposed changes in sentencing laws make good headlines for the Daily Mail, but the evidence shows that they will do nothing to reduce crime. Meanwhile the proposals to politicise the judiciary threaten the very basis of the rule of law. And perhaps the greatest omission is the lack of any real steps to deliver climate action; by not setting out an ambitious plan, the Conservatives are giving away our future!
We will do all we can to hold the Tories to account, to defend our democracy and our public services, to fight climate change and to keep alive the UK’s true character as an open, inclusive, internationalist and compassionate country.
Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign to win the Lewes constituency. This has been a huge campaign and we can be proud of our result. While we did not win this time, we increased our vote share and halved Maria Caulfield's majority. We have turned this constituency into a much more winnable seat next time.
But the most impressive achievement is the determination and collaboration that I have seen over the last few weeks from all of you. This has genuinely been a team effort, whether you helped with stuffing envelopes, putting up posters, delivering leaflets, calling people or knocking on doors; all your efforts have been vital and your time and dedication are much appreciated.
We may not have won this time, but we have established a base from which we can win the Lewes constituency. In the meantime, we must continue to fight against the forces of populism. We must not cease in our demands for a fairer, more sustainable and democratic future. We must not step back from community activism or from holding the government to account. Our time will come!
Last Sunday I was invited to share my views on the BBC South East Sunday Politics - you can watch the full discussion here.
We will be in touch in the New Year with plans for our next campaigning activities but in the meantime I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
The general election battle in the Lewes constituency is now one of the closest races in the country, with the numbers showing this is neck and neck and Lewes is one of the seats on which the outcome of the General Election will be decided. Comedy star and Labour supporter, Steve Coogan, visited Lewes on Sunday to show his tactical support for the Liberal Democrats in Lewes and urge voters across Lewes constituency to back the Liberal Democrats in the General Election on 12 December.
A large crowd of well over 100 residents and supporters were on Cliffe Bridge to hear Steve Coogan put the case for tactical voting and defeating the Tories across the country. Former Liberal Democrat MPs, Norman Baker and Evan Harris were also in the crowd.
Steve Coogan spoke on Cliffe Bridge, a traditional political rally point in Lewes,
“I’m here today as a traditional Labour supporter. In this constituency where I live and across the country, we need to defeat the Tories by any means necessary. I’ll be voting for Oli on Thursday because that’s the smartest thing to do.
“To defeat the Conservatives in this election we need to box clever and I include in this one nation Conservatives like John Major, Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clark, who we all know, even if we disagree with them, that they have integrity. They themselves have suggested that they are not going to vote Conservative. Even Michael Heseltine has said he will be voting Liberal Democrat because the stakes are so high.
“People who have spent all their lives with one party are looking at their constituency and thinking what’s the best tactical choice and I urge everyone here to vote Liberal.”
Oli Henman addressing the crowd said,
“We are fighting a very close battle to take this seat from the Tories. We are fighting for a fairer, more democratic, more sustainable future. I have been incredibly humbled and grateful, that so many of you have been out with me over the last few weeks.
“This election here could go down to the wire. So, I’m incredibly grateful that we have Steve Coogan here with us. People in our constituency who are thinking of voting Labour or voting for the Greens, can now see by voting Liberal Democrat, we have a real chance to get Boris Johnson’s Conservatives out on 12 December.”