Five key policy areas and long term priorities
Below are some bite-size summaries of my views on five key policy areas and on why I believe that politicians need to focus more on long-term issues.
You can find out more about what I think about these and other issues by following me on Twitter at @northislington. I’ll be tweeting and blogging throughout the election campaign.
Education: if a genie appeared out of a bottle and granted me one political wish, I’d create an education system in which there was no attainment gap between rich and poor. We should live in a world where everyone has the chance to make the most of their lives, and where how you do isn’t determined by who your parents were. But we’re a million miles away from that at the moment. We need a lot more investment in early years’ education – like this and this. And we need to build on the Pupil Premium, the extra money which the Lib Dems won to support children who might otherwise fall behind. This has provided Islington schools with an extra £40m over the last five years, and the Guardian has reported on some innovative ways in which schools have been using the extra cash.
NHS: I owe my life to treatment received at our local hospital, so I’ve got a very personal reason to want to protect the NHS! I campaigned against the 2013 proposals to close parts of the Whittington Hospital, and also against the attempt by certain sections of the Tory party to privatise health services. The NHS is one of our most treasured institutions. It must remain free at the point of use and be properly funded. I strongly support the Lib Dem’s commitment to give the NHS the £8bn which the head of the NHS in England has said that it needs over the next five years – a pledge which the Labour has so far refused to match.
Mental health: I’ll admit that I had never given much thought to mental health problems until my mother began to suffer from them – at which point my life turned upside down and I had to learn a lot very quickly. It was one of the hardest periods of our lives, and we couldn’t have coped without the amazing support provided by her local GPs and psychiatric doctors and nurses, to whom I remain extraordinarily grateful. We need that level of support everywhere, and especially in Islington where mental health issues are common – a recent survey suggested that it was the unhappiest borough in London.
Housing: I spent more than 12 years renting in London, and know how astronomical housing costs are in Islington for both renters and buyers. I’m not sure whether those who were lucky enough to buy before the property market went crazy – which includes almost all MPs – appreciate how much of an impact high property prices have on people’s lives. Lots of people love living in London but will never be able to afford to buy here, and even young couples with two incomes are choosing to put off having children until they have managed to save a deposit – which with rents as high as they are can take years. I think it’s time for national and local government to start looking at some more radical solutions, and I’ll be setting out my ideas over the course of the campaign.
Protecting our rights: In part as a result of my legal education and work as a barrister, I am a strong believer in human rights and equalities legislation, privacy rights, and also aware of how the UK benefits from being part of the EU. It is a concerning time for anyone who holds these views. The two main parties both have strong authoritarian elements within them. And, while everyone knows that many Tories are Eurosceptic, the Labour party remains conspicuously silent on why it is in our national interest to remain in Europe – no doubt because it is fearful of losing votes to UKIP in its northern constituencies. Our human rights should be championed as an important part of our national identity, from Magna Carta down to the Human Rights Act today. And in a world where we increasingly require global solutions to our most pressing problems, such as how to reduce carbon emissions and address international terrorism, the idea that the UK would be better off acting on its own rather than in conjunction with its European partners is, frankly, ridiculous.
We need to be more long-term: one of my main gripes with modern politics is that too many people have a short-term perspective. Many of the policies that our country would most benefit from, including further investment in education, housing and infrastructure, involve spending money now but only reaping the benefits several years down the line. In part because that timeframe is longer than the electoral cycle, but also because we all have a tendency to prioritise today over tomorrow, these areas have been perennially under-funded by all governments. We need a way to encourage politicians, and also the media, to focus and prioritise these and other longer-term issues. Perhaps the way to do this is to dedicate a period of time within the parliamentary calendar for MPs to debate only long-term issues, and encourage the media and public to do the same during those weeks. I’ll be tweeting more on this during the campaign from @northislington.