Nick Perry, Liberal Democrats
On behalf of Hastings Online Times Sean O’Shea (SOS) asks parliamentary candidates about their image of the ‘good society’, how it might be organised and financed, and what they would do to address some of the specific problems affecting the people of Hastings and Rye.
SOS: Some people have become cynical about the way our society is organised, e.g. finance, education, work, politics, the tax system and legal system, to mention just a few sectors. Furthermore, in the midst of growing inequality many of our core institutions are now perceived as serving a privileged elite, and neglecting or exploiting ordinary people. What is your view on this issue and what might you do to address the problem?
Nick Perry The disconnect between the electorate in Britain and our democratic process is real and widening; the main reason being that the electoral system is no longer fit for purpose. Many feel that they have no say (in part) because their votes don’t count, and often they don’t. That’s why the Liberal Democrats have for so long, and before it was fashionable to do so, championed electoral reform, and have attempted to deliver it in this Parliament (only to be blocked by Labour and the Conservatives).
Many of our core institutions are felt to be the preserve of the elite, and in their service. Of course this is the truth of life in many developed economies, but it remains a blight, and a shackle, on our country’s progress. That is why Liberal Democrats are committed to, and have delivered in Government, policies such as the Pupil Premium (directing money at the most disadvantaged pupils and encouraging schools to support them); free school meals for infants; and extended free childcare in early years. That is why the Liberal Democrats in Government have changed the tax system and taken millions out of tax at the bottom end, and will work towards taking everyone earning the minimum wage out of tax altogether. That is why, despite the catastrophe of tuition fees, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has introduced a new system of financing higher education which is sustainable, and which has started to encourage more and more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply for university. And that is why the Liberal Democrats have delivered more than two million apprenticeships over the course of the Parliament, and helped the private sector to create nearly two million new jobs.
Liberals are optimists, and I am very proud that Britain is such an open, welcoming, tolerant, hardworking, and fun place to live. I don’t seek for us to have a revolution à la Russell Brand. But we do need to make a stronger and more cogent national case for a broad social coalition to eradicate poverty in our country.
A fairer society, underwritten by a stronger economy, with opportunity for everyone.
What is your vision of the ‘good society’ and how might such a society be organised and financed?
I want to share with you a key text (amongst others) responsible for me joining the Liberal Democrats in 2002, when I was studying for my social work qualification. These following paragraphs totally encapsulate my political values; they describe the kind of society that I want to live in, and work towards creating; they explain the need for an internationalist, inter-dependent approach to politics and policy; and they describe what needs to happen to create it, and sustain it. Dear Reader, I give you the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.
“We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. Recognising that the quest for freedom and justice can never end, we promote human rights and open government, a sustainable economy which serves genuine need, public services of the highest quality, international action based on a recognition of the interdependence of all the world’s peoples and responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources. We believe that people should be involved in running their communities. We are determined to strengthen the democratic process and ensure that there is a just and representative system of government with effective Parliamentary institutions, freedom of information, decisions taken at the lowest practicable level and a fair voting system for all elections. We will at all times defend the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely, and we will protect the right of citizens to enjoy privacy in their own lives and homes. We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. We similarly commit ourselves to the promotion of a flourishing system of democratic local government in which decisions are taken and services delivered at the most local level which is viable.
“We will foster a strong and sustainable economy which encourages the necessary wealth creating processes, develops and uses the skills of the people and works to the benefit of all, with a just distribution of the rewards of success. We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary. We will promote scientific research and innovation and will harness technological change to human advantage.
“We will work for a sense of partnership and community in all areas of life. We recognise that the independence of individuals is safeguarded by their personal ownership of property, but that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly. We support the widest possible distribution of wealth and promote the rights of all citizens to social provision and cultural activity. We seek to make public services responsive to the people they serve, to encourage variety and innovation within them and to make them available on equal terms to all.
“Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services. Setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, we will work with other countries towards an equitable and peaceful international order and a durable system of common security. Within the European Community we affirm the values of federalism and integration and work for unity based on these principles. We will contribute to the process of peace and disarmament, the elimination of world poverty and the collective safeguarding of democracy by playing a full and constructive role in international organisations which share similar aims and objectives. These are the conditions of liberty and social justice which it is the responsibility of each citizen and the duty of the state to protect and enlarge. The Liberal Democrats consist of women and men working together for the achievement of these aims.”
How is the tough regime of the DWP (Dept. for Work and Pensions) and their partners ATOS (a French multinational IT services company) and now MAXIMUS (a multinational company who run healthcare programmes in the US, UK, Australia and Saudi Arabia) reconcilable with any concept of a ‘good society’?
It was during 13 years of Labour government that the outsourcing to private companies of assessments and re-assessments for disability and sickness benefits was implemented.
Under the current Conservative Secretary of State for the Department of Work & Pensions this trend has not been reversed.
In my opinion, and from experience as a social worker, a culture has been created whereby default refusal has given rise to a system of endemic appeal and delay.
I have been working at the frontline of mental health care for the past 15 years. When we moved to Hastings in 2007 I worked in the local mental health Crisis Team (based then at Gambier House) and have worked at Westwood and then Cavendish House as part of the community mental health team since 2010.
I spend most days assisting colleagues or clients to achieve the best possible outcomes from statutory agencies.
Whilst I am not in a position to make any comment which is likely to contravene conflict of interest guidance from my employer East Sussex County Council, I am certainly able to say from my professional experience that DWP re-assessment processes and employment pathways have not always enabled people to get the full level of support that they need financially; nor in respect of reaching their full potential.
These are the aims that should direct us as a society. Liberal Democrats have been building, in Government, a stronger economy in order to underwrite a fairer society. But it is also true that the reverse is needed – a fairer society to sustain a stronger economy. It is this virtuous circle that is an imperative for our country.
What do you consider to be some of the specific problems and challenges affecting the daily lives of people in Hastings & Rye and what would your party do to address them?
Liberal Democrats have spent the last five years in Government, often against the odds, securing a stronger economy in order to underwrite a fairer society, so that there is opportunity for everyone.
Nowhere is this political outlook more relevant than in Hastings & Rye.
There are many challenges facing our community. Different sections of the community will prioritise different things. We need excellent schools, excellent job opportunities, excellent infrastructure, transport links, and excellent care for our older citizens. We need to be able to reach many families who have an experience of inter-generational poverty, and give them hope, skills and possibilities.
That is why over the past five years Liberal have delivered in Government policies such as the Pupil Premium (directing money at the most disadvantaged pupils and encouraging schools to support them); free school meals for infants; and extended free childcare in early years. That is why the Liberal Democrats in Government have changed the tax system and taken millions out of tax at the bottom end, and will work towards taking everyone earning the minimum wage out of tax altogether. That is why the Liberal Democrats have delivered more than two million apprenticeships over the course of the Parliament, and helped the private sector to create nearly two million new jobs. And that is why the Liberal Democrats have delivered state pensions that are higher than ever, and why we have committed to spending the £8bn that the NHS needs over the course of the next Parliament.
Hastings is known for its atmospheric pubs and vibrant music scene, yet pub landlords and musicians – not to mention the fishermen – are struggling to make a living, pubs in the UK are closing at a rate of 31 a week (Campaign for Real Ale, CAMRA, 2014) and it’s likely that there will be few left if the decline continues. How would you address this issue?
In February I was asked by The Stinger to answer a similar question and I hope your readers will support the magazine by getting a copy and reading my submission on our unique Hastings & Rye culture of live music and independent pubs.
For the record, I am absolutely committed to CAMRA’s campaign, and I hope that the photo that I have submitted – I am celebrating with my Lib Dem colleague Greg Mulholland MP following his reforming work on PubCos – assures people of my determination to secure a ‘Fair deal for our locals’!
Our towns have some fantastic independent pubs (and unbelievably creative and talented residents) and our commercial centres no doubt have challenges ahead in respect of the potential impact of developments such as the extension of HS1 to Hastings. But we can plan for this together, and if I am elected as MP in May, it will be right up there on my list of priorities.
Many of your readers will know that I have been campaigning alongside the Hastings & Rye fishermen since 2007, passing a 4,000-strong petition on fairer quotas to the Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon immediately after the General Election in 2010. I have worked alongside Liberal Democrat MEPs and others to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, and I take great heart from the changes made on discards. But there is more work to do – particularly requiring the British Government to take a strong position on re-allocating quota from ‘armchair’ producer organisations. This is also something that I will prioritise if elected in May.
Why do you think people should vote for you personally?
From the many, many conversations that I have had on the doorstep in Hastings & Rye it seems to me that people are looking to vote for someone who will not only represent the constituency with passion and skill at Westminster, but also someone who will represent their values too.
It seems to me that voters are looking for politicians who are authentic: people who are independent-minded; rooted in their community; whose values are congruent with the lives that they lead; politicians who have a hinterland, and experience of a working life outside of politics.
I moved to Hastings in 2007. I live here, and work here, in frontline mental health services. Ruth and I have had our children here. They go to school here. As a family we use local public and municipal services; we go to church here and spend our leisure time and money here. We play an active part in our community.
I also believe that voters are instinctively drawn to a hopeful, optimistic message from political candidates. We Liberal Democrats have been working in Government to deliver a stronger economy in order to underwrite a fairer society, so that there is opportunity for everyone. This is a vision of an optimistic future. And if it is the wish of the people on 7 May, it would be an honour to continue this work in Parliament on behalf of this fantastic constituency of ours.
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