Now I know what you think; I’ve got red on me, politically speaking. Really! I’m just trying to know what’s best for everyday people, and my family. Truth is I could clash an orangey colour (no, not skin tone, do I look like Trump?!) I’ve added a hint of yellow in the past but they sold my vote to the Tories! It’s unforeseeable today the Lib-Dems would form a coalition with the blues, being their opposite position on Brexit; which blows my primary concern, and angle of this interview. Do I care? I’m going to ask about coalitions anyway, intending to question the name “Democrats,” when their stance on Brexit is to remain, and well, that’s hardly democratic being the slight majority voted to leave, but most importantly, the scope and support for this middling party in a left-right divide epoch.
Yep, I’m having a cuppa in New Society again, politically flirting with another candidate. This time I’m somewhat cagey, considering the Nick Clegg era, only to find myself thoroughly supportive of another pleasant, and local lady, Jo Waltham. Meanwhile pressure amounts in messages about interviewing Danny. He seemed up for it via email, so I fired some questions and await his response. Though have you noticed a fantastic number of little yellow signs this election, perhaps more than usual, and on land too? It’s getting exciting, as far as politics does, when our landowners seem keen to make a change.
Rurally then, does Jo think they offer the best deal for small local businesses and agriculture, as generally they’re the safest Conservative slices in previous years.
“In previous times yes, I think they would have been,” Jo stated, “but I think the Conservative Party of 2019 is very different from previous years.” She suggested there was, “a lot of in our manifesto for small businesses.” Jo herself runs a small website design business in Marlborough, “so I certainly understand the sort of issues small businesses have. I know the changes in the IR35 legislation are creating a lot of concern, and trading with the EU. The power of the internet means it’s been easier to trade internationally, so leaving the EU will impact small businesses as much as bigger companies.”
“With regards to rural affairs, I think for the farmers, naturally they’re equally concerned about leaving the EU and losing the funding they rely on. They worry about lowering of food standards in a trade deal with the US, and how that might impact them,” she expressed, and I had to drone about the dreadfulness of that outlook. “It is a major concern, so obviously the Lib Dems are fighting to stop Brexit.” Jo predicted at tomorrow’s NFU hustling the majority of questions will be what will happen when we leave? “My simple answer is let’s not leave!”
It all boils down to Brexit doesn’t it, the anger in confusion when we should really be prepping for joy to world and the peacefulness of Christmas. I stressed purposes of being here was to keep issues local, but suggested we get the big one out of the way. “I feel there’s two big ones, or maybe three,” Jo interjected, “it is about stopping Brexit, it is about climate change, and it is about investing in public services.” Time then to throw in my sold my vote to the Tories whinge and see if Jo thinks the Lib-Dems would consider a coalition with anyone else. “Andrew Neil was pressing Jo Swinson on this point again and again, and I think she was incredibly clear, that if we end up in hung parliament territory, we will vote on those policies that we agree with and won’t on the ones we don’t. So, we would vote on for any policies that come through, like the people’s vote, votes for sixteens, allowing EU nationals to vote, all of those things we agree with we would vote with, whatever party get them, but I don’t see us in a formal coalition with Boris or Jeremy Corbyn.”
Here’s the point in our nice chat when I questioned this “democrat” namesake hardly being democratic when the slight majority voted to leave. I’m asking for it, I know; time to munch the freebie biscuit! “It’s a fair question, lots have been asking it, it’s absolutely fine,” Jo laughed it off. “Basically, when you write a manifesto, you’re writing for what you’re going to do if you win a majority government. If you don’t win you can’t do those things. If we won, we would take that as a mandate to do what is in our manifesto, that’s why we revoke, because we’d take this new mandate as being acceptable to do that. Obviously, it’s sadly unlikely we’d get a majority government, but who knows? Still a week to go, otherwise we continue to campaign to get a people’s vote. We would have to think what would we do if we did get a majority government, would we then go back to negotiate a new deal, which we don’t believe in, and don’t want, we couldn’t, it’d be a mockery of the whole system. So, the idea is if we did win, we would need fifty percent of the vote because the first-past-the-post system and that would be a mandate to do what we said in our manifesto. Any majority government would.”
“Also,” Jo snapped, “I find it frustrating it’s regarded as the remain parliament which is stopping Brexit, when isn’t it the ERG who voted against Theresa May’s deal, isn’t it even Boris Johnson himself who voted against her deal? If they voted for it way back when, we’d be out by now! It’s not the remain parliament, you can’t expect people who don’t want to leave to enable leaving, but you should expect people who do want to leave, to enable leaving, and they didn’t!” She is critical of this first-past-the-post system and used the confused reasoning behind the referendum result as an example, stressing a key Lib Dem policy is to change to a proportional representation system, “so every vote does matter, and people will be engaged with the process.”
I have to wonder if the importance of Brexit to the masses or to the party is the reason why it’s above environmental issues on the manifesto guide on the menu of the Lib-Dem website, but it’s time to quote our previous interview with Emma Dawnay, who said no mainstream party is doing enough to tackle the issue. Jo agrees with this, so I asked for the party’s stance. “We need to get started now,” she expressed, well, we needed to get started thirty years ago, but c’est la vie!
“There’s talk about the Conservatives saying 2050, Labour is saying sometime in the 2030s, and Lid Dems are saying 2045.” I had to chuckle despite being the fate of the planet we stand on, as it’s symbolic of this straight down the middle approach. I mean, I like if it’s multiple choice on a TV quiz show to opt for the middle question, but this is a smidgen more serious. There is no date, there is only speculation and scientific evidence, and it’s not good news. Much as I’m enjoying our chat, here’s the issue, just as Labour and definitely Conservative, where I quiver at pondering the divide between talking the talk and walking the walk.
“What is critical, the Lib-Dems have introduced some interim targets,” Jo explains, “because it’s not only about how much CO2 emissions we have each year, it’s the cumulative total. So, since the industrial revolution we have emitted about 1,500 billion tonnes of CO2, which has led to 1% of warming. Which means if we want to limit it to 1.5% warming, we’ve got about 750 billion tonnes of CO2 left to emit. We’re currently emitting it at about 50 billion tonnes globally. So, if we rapidly start reducing that now, get it down to say, 30, even, that gives longer before we get to that 1.5. So, that’s why it’s about the cumulative total, and getting started is more important than that net-zero. By reducing now, it gives longer to solve the things which are more difficult to solve. One simple Lib-Dem policy is to have 80% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030. That will be challenging, but it’s doable. It’ll make a huge difference because if you think about our energy, everything else comes onto it, like electric cars, the only point in switching to them is if we getting electricity by the renewable sources. Then there’s also reducing the gas and electricity we’re using to heat our homes and public buildings, so we’d retrofit insulation, particularly people on income support.” Jo suggested it’s a win-win, for environmental and poverty issues.
Jo stressed encouraging more to use public transport is tricky, locally, “but there’s things we can do to improve that, Lib-Dems are investing to improve our bus and rail networks, we’ve a fund earmarked for it.” It’s a point I need to return to, but Jo continued about encouraging local government to take more action. Proudly she cited Wiltshire Liberal Democrats who implemented a zero-carbon strategy together, and who proposed a climate emergency motion to the oppositional Wiltshire Council, “and much to our surprise, it passed! But they’ll need money to implement the changes we need, and a Lib Dem government would help fund local councils to take part in those local initiatives.” This led onto us both criticising the Conservatives for lowering buying tariffs, signing of fracking, “they’re doing the wrong thing about climate change,” Jo exclaimed.
Locally, I asked about the tactical vote being a grey area, being while Lib Dem come second more regularly, Labour did last time. Why would anyone risk their vote on yellow? “If you take Wiltshire as a whole, we have twenty-two Lib-Dem councillors and three or four Labour ones. So, there is a strong Lid-Dem vote in Wiltshire, you only have to look at the five 2019 local by-elections, Labour stood candidates in only two, Lib-Dems in all five, Conservatives won two, Liberal Democrats won three. Where Labour did stand, they came fourth. The Devizes Town Council election in February, won by Conservatives, we lost by something like seventeen votes, it was quite close, then Iain Wallis, then a tie,” she contemplates, “wasn’t it, between The Guardians and Labour, but the main point was, they were fourth or fifth.” If your response is voting is different in general elections, Jo offered, “Yes, they do, but we can only go with the information we’ve got.”
More stats about EU elections followed as I refilled my cup! Given these, Jo pondered, “I think, we’ve got a good bit of data which suggests Lib-Dems are the tactical vote here. I was encouraged to look closer at the local demographic, and who we need to change their vote, suggesting they need to switch the Conservative voters. “Moderate conservatives, probably voted that way all their life, are remainers, and actually have a lot of liberal core values; who are they most likely to vote for, Labour or Lib-Dem?” Yet Jo stressed their growing numbers include some who switched from Labour, which was fortunate as her campaign manager joined us moments later, who I happen to know was a former Labour supporter!
I asked about the Lib-Dem stance on our gypsy and travelling community, after Priti Patel’s recent proposals to criminalise unauthorised encampments which to me, sounds like legislative cleansing. Plus, of course, would put further strain on housing. Jo stressed she was unaware of a particular policy, and although she circled the question, the result expressed a Lib-Dem vision of tolerance and equality for all, “helping everyone live their life in the manner of how they want to live it, regardless of race, gender and sexuality.”
This point brought about discussing the LGBTQ community and the terrible trend in opinion regressing to abhorrence, generally. I asked how they’d deal with making them feel safer and more respected. Jo was firm on this, “we don’t tolerate it. We should not tolerate the intolerant, at the end of the day.” This change in values, which we both saw as corrupting raised Jo’s thoughts of the 2012 Olympics, “how as a nation we felt so different, to how we feel now, and that’s due to Brexit, and popularism and hatred coming into our politics.” Interestingly, and allowing a little background on our Lib-Dem candidate, Jo expressed this was her reasoning for coming into politics. “I’m standing because I’m standing up for the reasonably-minded, ordinary person. If you’d asked me five years ago if I’d stand for parliament, I would have really laughed, really laughed!”
“Basically, it’s a case of I can’t stand what’s happening, not just Brexit, it’s about the tolerance, openness. Therefore, I find myself standing in what seems to be the craziest thing for me to do, but here I am. All it takes for evil to flourish is for the good people to do nothing.” I agree, it was an eyeopener for me to read right-bias critical of the celebration of the NHS portrayed in the opening ceremony. See, I like Jo, I like the way she opened up about her motivation; all three candidates I’ve talked with have convinced me politicians are human. I confess, if many see me as a leftie, as I begun this article, I’m just hunting for what’s best. I accept conservative theory has its place in the debate. That there’s nought wrong with upholding the pleasanter sides of tradition and hierarchy, but I honestly cannot see this ethos inherent in the current cabinet.
Then I suggest, if you cannot stomach leftism, you could at least meet in the middle, a Conservative-lite! Rather than this far-right leaning, of which I challenge you to find me an example, historically, where its ever done anyone any good, ever. And that’s reason to consider yellow this Christmas, I think.
In this middle-ground defying moment, I returned to the notion of Devizes Parkway train station, which all parties seem in agreeance in supporting. Reason being, Labour manifesto calls for scrapping the HS2 in favour of fixing and opening local lines, and nationalisation would make it rail travel affordable, while the Conservative are gung-ho on HS2 and give little response to improving local lines. The Lib-Dem manifesto states they’d cap ticket prices, which would retain price, and support both the HS2 and the repair of local lines. I find it symbolic of this middle-ground ethos, and question the expression; you can’t please everyone. Where would the budget come from to go ahead with both rail propositions? “We had this £130 billion budget which is coming from borrowing, because interest rates are low, we may as well do the investment. As long as you’re borrowing to build something it’s okay, so we’ll use the money to invest, because we need to; to negate climate change, to boost the economy.”
We certainly do, and with the election date coming upon us like the speeding train that never was here in Devizes, Jo Waltham and the Lib-Dems thoroughly deserve your consideration. I sincerely thank you for your time Jo and Lisa, it was a pleasure to meet you and wish you the very best of luck.
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