You Deserve Better

About Last Night…

Last night we had the main Uxbridge and South Ruislip hustings, organised once again by the Hillingdon Chamber of Commerce. It was a relatively sparse event, with maybe 80 people in the audience, something of a shame given the size of the constituency but a reflect of how disillusioned people are with politics. I wanted to talk a little bit about last night and what some performances indicated. I don’t intend to spend much time at all on my own performance largely because much of what I said has fled my memory, but the time I got to listen to the other candidates is still fairly clear. So here’s some of what I remember of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip hustings. Steve Tuckwell Those who have read my page before will know that I do not hold Steve Tuckwell in particularly high regard, and yesterday’s performance from him did nothing to change my opinion.  He interrupted repeatedly, often completely pointlessly. For example when I said that inflation was 24% over the past 5 years he interrupted to say that it was 2% now – this added absolutely nothing to my point, nor did it contradict anything that I was saying, it’s clearly just a talking point that he has been blindly told to repeat without context. I have a chart demonstrating this (see across).  The recent figure of 2% only takes into account the last 12 months, but focusing only on that ignores the huge impact that the years of extreme inflation have caused, and this is a price that all working families will be paying for decades. In short, the figure of 2% might be technically true, but it is highly misleading to try  to  distract people from the  fact that prices have in fact risen by nearly 25% in 5 years. Tuckwell also repeated his claim that Hillingdon Hospital is fully funded. This is a falsehood – whether it is a lie or him failing to understand what most people define “fully funded” to be, I genuinely don’t know.  I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is just  clueless, but the weight of evidence about just how much he has spread falsehoods on behalf of the Conservatives make me believe that he knows precisely what he is doing. For the avoidance of doubt, the hospital is not fully funded.  It has the funding it needs to carry out the  establishing works – site clearance, installation of utilities, etc, but the actual build costs have been deferred to the next Parliament or beyond. This means they are not fully funded, because the likelihood is that there will be no Conservative government to hold to account for such promises, so in essence the commitment has been handed to the next government, likely Labour. This is not full funding a projects.  This is deferring the problem until someone else fixes it for you.  I can predict exactly what this is going to look like, though.  Tuckwell is hedging his bets, working on the assumption that he is going to be voted out, and he is starting to lay  the groundwork for claims that “the hospital was fully  funded when I left, why is it not fully funded now?”  The answer is that it is not fully funded. It has never been fully funded. The fully funded status of this hospital is identical to the 40 that were promised by Boris Johnson in 2019, none of which have ever seen the light of day.  This is not “fully funded” by any rational definition, because “fully funded” means that the money is in place, and that the works will happen regardless of changes in  government.  People will eventually start remembering the lies, and I am fairly certain we are near that  point in Uxbridge – enough is enough. Interestingly, although he repeatedly commented about being a hard working MP who has put the constituency  first, Tuckwell was very reluctant to highlight any of his voting record in Parliament. This was perhaps not too surprising give one audience member had to remind him that he had in fact voted against calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Aside from that, Tuckwell has also voted to suppress the school safety report that would allow parents to be aware of whether their  children’s schools were built using RAAC, a substance now known to be crumbling far faster than anticipated.  Definitely not an action in the interests of local people, and something I sincerely hope he is ashamed of. At the Uxbridge and South Ruislip hustings last year, Tuckwell claimed not to be Boris Johnson. I ask you, is this an improvement? Danny Beales Beales once again made it very difficult to say anything negative about him, because he remained calm, answered points rationally and generally came across as very statesmanlike. I will say this, however.  An audience member asked him what his views on Proportional Representation are, and he said that he supported them.  I pointed out that in that case he was in the wrong party, because Labour’s 1997 manifesto included a commitment to Proportional Representation, which they reneged on, and their 2010 manifesto included a commitment to Alternative Voting (not Proportional Representation, but a step in the right direction).  We Liberal Democrats fought hard as a party and secured a national referendum on electoral reform with Labour’s preferred system as the one that would replace the archaic First Past The Post system we currently have, and half of their MPs at the time campaigned with the Tories against the system, meaning the referendum ultimately failed.  Labour are absolutely not the party of electoral reform, to the extend that they have kept any promises to reform our broken voting system out  of this manifesto, which is arguable the best opportunity we have ever had as a country to push for real, lasting change to our politics. This is a truly sad state of affairs for Labour because

Uxbridge & South Ruislip: Your New MP

Well, the people have spoken. 46% anyway (where were you, 54% – let me know on Twitter). And you have selected as your next MP Steve Tuckwell of the Conservatives. I thought it would be useful to document some of the things he promised and did as part of this campaign. Hustings Remember the hustings on 13 July 2023? Steve Tuckwell doesn’t, because he didn’t go.  Didn’t send a proxy, didn’t turn up late, just didn’t go.  The next day his team started showing recordings of the council meeting that he attended instead, and frankly it seems like a very poor excuse for missing a fundamental part of the democratic process. Frankly Steve Tuckwell is either afraid of the electorate or holds them in contempt. ULEZ The core of Steve Tuckwell’s campaign was opposition to London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone expansion into Hillingdon. Clearly it makes sense to listen to local issues when campaigning, but Tuckwell deliberately ignored several key points: The MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip has absolutely no power over ULEZ. This is a devolved Greater London Authority power, therefore it sits with the Mayor’s office, not parliament. ULEZ was first rolled out by Boris Johnson while Mayor. For those that don’t recall, Johnson was a Conservative. Hillingdon was included in a letter that Grant Shapps sent to Sadiq Khan requiring the expansion of ULEZ.  Grant Shapps was at the time a Conservative Transport Minister. In short, this entire promise was a lie built on a foundation of lies.  Steve Tuckwell has done the political equivalent of promising voters a unicorn each, and he will have as much success delivering the herd of unicorns he now owes. Importantly, the Conservatives might apply pressure on Sadiq Khan to slow or mitigate the expansion of ULEZ. It is vital to remember that anything they do at this point is something they could have done with or without Steve Tuckwell as an MP. This was a truly disgraceful campaign, and I hope that voters remember these promises and omissions when Tuckwell campaigns to keep his seat at the general election, whenever that is. Uxbridge Police Station Throughout this election, Tuckwell claimed that Sadiq Khan was closing Uxbridge Police Station. This of course glosses over the fact that the partial closure of the station was down to – you guessed it – Boris Johnson, the serial liar and regular absentee from Uxbridge. Not as an MP, but as Mayor. Which, like the ULEZ issue above, is where the powers for policing lie, not with the local MP. As such, this is another example of Tuckwell making promises that he does not have the power to deliver. Hillingdon Hospital A recurring theme through the campaign was the state of Hillingdon Hospital, famously referred to as a monstrosity by Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary. The issue here is not the staff – though the Conservatives are responsible for the repeated strike action – but the building itself.  In short, it is dilapidated and needs a very significant investment to modernise the building and upgrade the services that the wonderful staff have to help us with our health needs. Sadly, no mention was made of the fact that the former MP – one Boris Johnson – supposedly secured funding several years ago for much-needed upgrades. Ground has not been broken, contracts have not been agreed, funding has not been released.  In short, the Conservatives have absolutely no progress to show after 13 years in government. Given this, it was depressing to see Tuckwell running on the promise to help the hospital, as Conservatives have had ample opportunity to help the NHS in the last 13 years, and have failed to do so at every turn. Conclusion It feels very early to be making a prediction for what pledges a politician will keep and which they will break. In this case, though, I am confident that I can predict which promises will be kept – none of them – and which will be broken – all of them. This is down to the fact that Tuckwell’s main priorities of ULEZ and Uxbridge Police Station are entirely outside his control.  His other priority of getting an investment for Hillingdon Hospital is, I suspect, doomed to failure based on how the Conservatives have treated the NHS to date.

My First Hustings

OK, a slightly misleading title in that this wasn’t my first hustings as a candidate nor was it technically my first hustings as a spectator.  In my defence, the last one I attended was for my student union presidency in about 2003, so it’s fair to say that it has been a while.  It’s also fair to say that this did not disappoint. You can see the whole proceedings here (as embedding has been disabled, you have to click on the link). Elephant in the Room This hustings events got off to an interesting start, when noted conspiracy theorist, Piers Corbyn, loudly asked why only four candidates were on stage of the seventeen in total.  The (rather sensible) answer was that having all candidates on stage would be bedlam, while only having the parties with the four largest predicted vote shares made a sensible compromise between information and time commitment. Sadly this was not the end of the saga, as Corbyn and his acolytes insisted on interrupting loudly and regularly, to the point where the moderator had to say that “this isn’t going to work” and he was threatened with removal if he didn’t let the candidates speak freely. The culmination of this abysmal behaviour was a woman who stood up to screech all sorts of conspiracy theories about vaccines, Kier Starmer and his supposed paedophile ring, chem trails, 5G, etc.  Frankly this was an unwelcome addition to an event with limited time, so I and others were very happy to see her ejected by security. After this, Piers Corbyn tried to rabble-rouse further during the candidate Q&A, but everyone was by then completely fed up of his group’s antics and rightly ignored him. Now on to my thoughts on the actual candidates (Piers Corbyn is listed as a candidate, but his behaviour really solidifies the view in my mind that he is a joke candidate, nothing more). Steve Tuckwell My impression of Steve Tuckwell was one of a defeated person trying to make the most of the situation he finds himself in.  He was unable to answer the simple question of “Is Boris Johnson a Liar?” with a simple straight answer, and he seemed desperate to conflate this by-election with ULEZ, something over which the local MP has no direct power, only some influence (ULEZ is the purview of the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor of London, not local councils or MPs).  More to the point, three of the four candidates on stage for this hustings were opposed to the current ULEZ plans, so I am at a loss as to who he thinks this would be a winning strategy against. Overall, Steve seemed like a nice guy, but one who has been conned into thinking that the Conservatives are the answer.  Unfortunately I think his party have put him into place purely to be a scapegoat, in that they know that the seat is lost to them due to Boris Johnson’s behaviour, and they know that whoever they put into the candidacy will bear the brunt of the ill-will that should rightly be directed at Johnson himself. In short, Tuckwell did not come across as a credible candidate with any real ideas beyond “keeping going with Conservative plans” (loosely paraphrased based on his responses to various questions – he didn’t actually state that this was his position). Sarah Green Sarah Green came across to me as very well informed and caring.  She generally gave very considered answers to questions put to her by the moderators or audience, and I genuinely got the impression from her that she cared not only about the science but also the people. My concern about Sarah Green is that her party is starting in a distant fourth place, securing only 2% of the vote in 2019.  Given my counterpart, Blaise Baquiche, is starting from over 6%, he is the most likely progressive candidate to actually win. Green spoke on the subject of HS2 a few times, including a very interesting figure that a mere 7 weeks of HS2’s budget in 2023 would be enough to close the funding gap for Hillingdon Hospital, sorely in need of renovation.  She also mentioned something that I was not previously aware of, namely that Hillingdon is the only London Borough that does not regularly supply data on air quality and water cleanliness to the central data amalgamators, which seems to be a huge oversight by the Council (on which Steve Tuckwell currently sits, incidentally). Danny Beales Of all the candidates, I thought Danny Beales had the most polished speaking skills and stage presence.  He held some fairly popular views on Heathrow’s third runway (opposed), ULEZ (opposed in its current form), and fixing Hillingdon hospital (for), but there was little said here that made him stand out from the other candidates. I did ask a question – I believe the final question of the hustings – on what democracy meant to the candidates and how their parties supported democracy in getting them to where they are.  This was a bit of a low blow, because I happen to know that Beales does not support Proportional Representation – the only form of election that actually results in true representative democracy – and was placed there by his party after they overruled the democratically elected candidate in Uxbridge & South Ruislip.  As such, Beales is only here because his party deliberately decided to ignore representative democracy, which in my view tarnishes any good he might otherwise want to do. Blaise Baquiche Cards on the table, I went to the hustings as a supporter of Blaise Baquiche.  Indeed, I was sitting in the front row with his brother and Jonathan Banks, the leader of our local Liberal Democrats.  Nevertheless, I was impressed by Blaise in terms of both public speaking skills and stage presence, and thought he did an excellent job of getting his points across. Certainly he managed to get a round of applause from the audience for

Face Masks and Personal Responsibility

I had to go into a hospital today (nothing major for me, in case anyone wonders!) and I was genuinely surprised by something. Only around one person in every five was wearing a face mask, despite these being given out for free at every entrance. This really made me think about personal responsibility and how that would be applied to face masks. Personal responsibility is central to a number of political stances, not least libertarianism, which seems to have been wholly embraced by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng (disastrously so). So how might or should this principle apply to wearing a face mask? What is Personal Responsibility? (NB, this gets a bit deeper into the philosophy of ethics than I originally thought, so feel free to skip to the next section for the meat of the argument). It might be an obvious question with an even more obvious answer to some, but it is an interesting philosophical point. In my view, it is about taking ownership of decisions or actions you make and agreeing to help if your actions cause negative consequences. In other words, if you harm someone whether directly or through inaction (thank you Isaac Asimov) then you indemnify the victim for that harm and adjust your behaviour to minimise future harm. This becomes a little more difficult when you have a cost to mitigating your current behaviour and you need to compare that cost to the harm that you do. At that point you would need to assign relative costs to both the actions you take and the harm that would be done as a result. This ends up being hugely subjective and has been the subject of endless debates between ethicists for millennia. Personal responsibility is a balancing act In my view, though, the moral position can be reduced to: Within most moral systems there is the idea that causing harm to others is generally worse than minimising a loss for oneself. In other words, one could be better off by stealing from someone else, but unless that theft is necessary to preserve life or reduce harm to others, it is genuinely hard to see how this could be considered moral. What are Face Masks? Face Masks – what do they do? This might fall into the category of blindingly obvious, but it might be worth revisiting what these are for. Masks aren’t just for virtue signalling or decoration, after all. They provide a tangible benefit in the control of infections. Importantly the main benefit isn’t to the mask wearer. Instead the mask helps to stop the wearer from passing on their germs to others. It’s a little like sneezing into a tissue – that action isn’t for the sneezer, but for all the people around them that might otherwise be sneezed on. When it comes to certain pathogens (viruses, bacteria and fungi), airborne transmission is the primary means of infection. Sometimes you can be a carrier of an infectious pathogen without displaying any symptoms, so simply “feeling fine” is not a guarantee that you aren’t carrying an infection that could be lethal to someone else. I mentioned cost above as a reason not to do something, so it’s worth revisiting the costs of wearing a face mask: This is obviously different for people that cannot wear a mask for medical reasons – clearly the cost for them is insurmountable. For most of us, though, wearing a mask is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Personal Responsibility and Face Masks Here we come to the discussion of how personal responsibility and face masks intersect. When it comes to personal responsibility, I summarised that it would be immoral to do something that caused harm to others if the cost was negligible to not do that. Under the topic of face masks, I concluded that, for most of us, the cost of wearing a face mask is negligible. I therefore think that the conclusion is inescapable. Wearing a mask has minimal or no cost and potentially saves lives. As such, it certainly seems to me to be entirely moral to wear them where there is likely to be a positive effect. Hospitals are likely the place most likely to result in deaths if infections are allowed to spread uncontrolled, and they are the place where masks are still provided free of charge for everyone. Possibly more importantly, in most hospitals there is a good chance that there will be some patients there who did not make a choice to go there – instead they are there because of an illness or injury that they certainly would not have chosen to acquire. As such, there can be no use of the “they chose to go there and accept the risks” type of argument that could be used to oppose mask mandates. My conclusion is not to suggest that a mask mandate should be reintroduced nationally. However, I genuinely feel that those who turn down free masks in hospitals run the risk of killing someone else by accident, and personal responsibility should make them pick up face masks and wear them with pride.

Scandals

A brief look at some of the recent scandals of the Conservative government.

(Yet) More Conservative Lies

Apparently the Conservatives have released yet another poster filled with lies. As before, I have marked the claims with red crosses to show where there are either factual errors or misleading statements. This doesn’t leave a lot of content on the poster which is both factually accurate and a fair representation of those facts. These Conservative lies make us all worse off, and as a result I wanted to dissect their claims. I will address each of their claims below under their own headings. Once again, it is disappointing that the Conservatives reach for such outright lies after 12 years of government. Their record is frankly atrocious, and one they should be ashamed of. The only thing they could do as a consequence right now is to call for a general election in the hope of letting someone more competent and less ideologically-driven run the country, as their policies have made life worse for everyone but the ultra-wealthy. The Conservative Party’s latest work of fiction. Saving £900 off energy bills What the Energy price cap actually means This is a genuinely bizarre claim to make. Yes, the government introduced a cap on energy costs, but that same government also presided over unprecedented increases in costs for energy. In fact, the £900 saving mentioned here only partially offsets the increase that we have seen to our household energy bills. As you can see from the chart here, the expected energy price is due to skyrocket from £1,138 to an estimated £3,615 from next month. Compared to this, an annual saving of £900 is meaningless. On top of that, this annual saving isn’t a gift, it’s merely a deferment of cost to future years, meaning the Conservative “gift” is actually just a debt to be repaid in future years. This is one of the Conservative lies that negatively impacts us all. Increasing NHS funding This is an outrageous misrepresentation of the truth. Yes, the Conservatives have technically increased the funding this year, but the reality is that this increase in funding is well behind the increasing costs due to inflation. On top of that, we already know that nurses and paramedics are currently striking for fairer pay, with junior doctors likely to join them in 2023. As such, we know already that the NHS is not being properly funded. Nurses striking, courtesy of the BBC What does £6.5bn look like to the NHS? Well, the annual NHS and social care budget is around £180bn, including care costs. Of that, some £153bn is passed to the NHS. Simplistically, that £6.5bn therefore represents 4.2% of the annual budget. Worse yet, this is spread over 3 years, so the actual annual increase is under 1.5%. Considering the current rate if inflation is likely over 10%, this represents a real loss of value of over 8.5% each year. Calling this an increase to NHS funding is frankly an insult to our intelligence as voters and to the staff of the NHS currently struggling to make ends meet because of Conservative incompetence. Recruiting 20,000 police officers This was a pledge, not an actual delivered target. That said, with three months to go before the deadline, the government has made steps in the right direction, recruiting some 15,000 new officers. Unfortunately for them: As such, this claim can be restated as “we have nearly undone the damage that we caused earlier during our tenure”. Not exactly something to brag about, in my opinion. Boosting school budgets Similar to the NHS claim above, it is useful to look at what this means in real terms. In terms of education funding, the budget is around £116bn, the increase in budget announced by Jeremy Hunt was £2.3bn next year and a further £2.3bn the year after that. For next year, that means the increase in budget is anticipated to be 2.0%, which again represents a huge real-value loss compared to an inflation rate of over 10%. Summary Once again, this poster is filled with Conservative lies and misrepresentations despite being pretty short. The fact that this is all they have to show for over a decade in power is genuinely pathetic, and any Conservative supports reading this blog should ask themselves why on Earth they support such blatant incompetence and dishonestly. For an alternative in the Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner constituency, try me. For all other constituencies, look at your local Liberal Democrat party.

A Moan About Mone

Lovely poster of Michelle Mone from @pennyamott I suspect everyone has already heard about Michelle Mone and her alleged involvement with the PPE scandal that has come to light at last. In this case, Michelle Mone, a Tory peer, seems to be inextricably linked to PPE Medpro, a company that, until the pandemic broke out, didn’t exist. The main contention here is that Mone specifically lobbied using the government’s “VIP” lane to get PPE Medpro awarded a contract for providing PPE because they could do so quickly. As such, I thought I would have a Moan about Mone and PPE Medpro. So far, sounds good – we were in a crisis after all, so why is this a problem? Well, the problems start to arise when you look at the details. PPE Medpro Experience As mentioned above, PPE Medpro was a brand new company. In fact, they had no history whatsoever of manufacturing and sourcing PPE. One would therefore be forgiven for completely discounting them as a potential supplier because they just didn’t have the track record to back up their proposal. One might also be forgiven for taking a look at their proposal and arguing that – despite their lack of track record – they were well placed to provide said equipment. Value for Money One of the greatest arguments for government procurement is to be able to show decent value for money for the taxpayer. If PPE Medpro had approached the government with an excellent deal, this would be a good reason to bypass the usual tendering process, as the taxpayer would ultimately be better off. Example of PPE being worn In this case, however, the underlying items in the contract were purchased by PPE Medprod for far less than they were then sold on to the government for. In fact, the Guardian reported in March 2022 that the items sold to the UK government for £122m were actually bought for £46m. It is genuinely hard to believe that a new small company would be able to achieve such favourable terms compared to the entire UK government, so that markup of £76m comes across as frankly greedy profit-gouging. Quality of PPE The above might be excusable if this particular source represented the best quality PPE known to man. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The gowns making up a good proportion of this order (£122m) were never used, as the quality was deemed to be below acceptable standards for frontline workers. In fact, the government has had to pay more to store these useless items since the provision. You might think that failing to come up to code would be grounds for the contract to be voided and the payment returns, but apparently not. The government is still in mediation with PPE Medpro to get money back for these useless items that were specifically bought at the insistence of a Tory peer. A Genuine Mistake? Did Michelle Mone make an honest mistake here? Did she really think that this company was best-placed compared to existing providers of this type of equipment? In short, no, she was not that stupid. Instead it seems she was greedy. Recent reports show that, of the c. £200m paid to PPE Medpro, some £65m was paid out to Douglas Barrowman, Michelle Mone’s husband. From that, he then made a payment of some £29m into her personal control. This brings the whole issue to a close in my eyes. In essence, Michelle Mone did not make an honest mistake, she deliberately recommended a firm that she and her family would personally benefit from and since taking taxpayer money has so far refused to give it back despite the products purchased being defective. In short, she is a great example of why the House of Lords is utterly unfit for purpose. She is entitled to sit there for life and will never be subject to an election, but will have influence over the UK and its finances for years to come. For this reason, part of my personal manifesto is the abolition of the House of Lords*. * incidentally my goal to abolish the House of Lords predates Kier Starmer’s announcement this week to do the same. However, his plan is to replace the House with an elected body, while my own view is that we should still fill a second chamber with experienced experts, but we should almost completely eliminate their actual political power. This would put the power in the hands of a single elected chamber, with some form of oversight or expertise from a fairly academic chamber with minimal actual power.