Transforming Bristol South

I want to transform Bristol South for the better. I believe that if you want to get difficult things done you have to focus on the core issues rather than being distracted in a scatter-gun approach. Transforming Bristol South will be hard, so if elected, I will begin by focusing on the three biggest issues facing Bristol South: Brexit, fairness, and climate change.

Brexit

The first of my policy position posts deals with the biggest issue in British politics: Brexit.

It will come as no surprise that I oppose Brexit: I campaigned against it in 2016 and believe that re-applying for EU membership should be part of the Liberal Democrat's policy platform should it not be averted. Indeed, a commitment to the European Community (as it was) is part of the preamble to the Party's constitution.

It should also come as no surprise that I regard Labour's attempts to face both ways on the issue as not just disingenuous but damaging to the country's interests. Had Labour committed early on to retaining membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, and sought to work with like minded Tories, then we might not now have been staring down the barrel of a "no deal" Brexit.

And if I were an MP, I'd have been voting against this government at every turn.

But we are where we are.

If selected, I will be an advocate for an "Exit from Brexit" - and will work with others to this end. Whilst I would gladly never participate in another referendum ever, I support having a "people's vote" on the pragmatic grounds; having started this with referendum which (in part) played on a perception of politicians being disconnected the people it would be dangerous, and fuel for the populist fire, for those same politicians to overturn the result. [Unfortunately nuanced debates about non-binding referendums and the meaning of representative democracy would be lost in the resulting uproar.]

I will challenge our MP's record on Brexit: supporting Article 50 and opposing a number of Brexit Bill amendments that would have sought to retain SM and CU membership.

More widely, I will highlight the other damaging effects that Brexit will have on the Constituency, City and Country: whether economic, social or cultural.

Building a Fairer Future for All...

...or, to use the buzz-phrase, "Inter-generational fairness".

We've come a long way from "we've never had it so good" and in many respects it the current generation of young adults is the first in a long time to suffer a dip in living standards relative to their parents.

Yes, they have iPhones, Smashed Avocados, and huge flatscreen TVs (but so do their parents). What they don't have is access to affordable homes, should they choose to buy, or a rental sector which works to the benefit of tenants. Meanwhile, pensioners receive a range of universal benefits, the triple lock for pensions, and are often fortunate enough to have accumulated substantial private pension benefits from "Defined Benefit" schemes that are no longer available to younger workers.

At least, that is the way that this issue is normally presented, reflecting a very middle-class view of the world. And the solutions normally presented do little for those whose outlook is even more bleak. However, there are a number of valid issues here: and there are several nettles to be grasped.

Amongst other measures, I would be in favour of abolishing the triple lock in the next parliament, linking pensions solely to average earnings and inflation - and would review the scale and scope of universal benefits provided to pensioners. We need to reform the private rental sector, with longer leases and greater rights for renters. We need to make pension savings more attractive, and more rewarding - I would favour a flat rate relief that provides a bonus for basic rate savers, whilst reducing the relief to higher and additional rate payers.

And we need to build more homes: not just flats, but houses too: for ownership, private letting and social rent. But we need to build more than just homes - we need to build communities, and to ensure that relevant amenities are provided: schools, doctor's surgeries, dentists, parks, shops - not just for the big developments, but for those where multiple smaller developments amount to the same things. We need to build on brownfield sites, and we will need to build on greenbelt too, and we need to think very carefully before we consider building up as the answer.

More radically, we need to seriously consider the development of a Universal Basic Income - to provide people with greater flexibility of income - and the implementation of some form of Land Value Tax, and a shift to the taxation of unearned income and wealth, and away from Income and Consumption Taxes.

In all of this, though, we need to consider not just the needs of the middle classes, who shout loudest, or the young professionals lunching on North Street, but the folks in Hartcliffe or parts of Bedminster that estate agents don't call Southville.

Climate Change

Yes, yes, I know I said Brexit was the biggest issue, but climate change and the environment will have a much bigger, and wider, impact in the long run. And Brexit makes it worse - impairing our ability to be part of an internationally coordinated response, and potentially putting us at the mercy of those who argue for lower standards.

The science is undeniable (unless you're Lord Lamont) - and the future without systemic change is bleak. Science, innovation and engineering have been the drivers of economic development since the Industrial Revolution: they must now be the drivers of environmental protection.

The challenges that the world faces: reducing carbon emissions, feeding an ever growing population, generating and distributing energy, all require significant political will, research and investment to manage. Building a sustainable future is a problem for the planet - but we require national, local and individual policy responses too.

As well as increasing energy from renewable sources, we need to explore electricity storage techniques. As well as encouraging recycling, we need measures to drastically reduce, and reuse, the materials we use. Investing in research and development aimed at solving these problems will benefit the economy as well as the environment.

There are all sorts of ways to achieve change but I believe it is best done through education and (collective) behavioural changes, rather than coercion. Likewise, we must be wary of solutions that would seek to put the brakes on economic development. Reducing people's living standards, regardless of good intentions, will be counterproductive to the aim.

Politically, and economically, the answer is to change the direction of progress, not reverse it.

Andrew Brown


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