All in a morning’s work: British attitudes towards the EU, #Eurovision, and #equalmarriage.

Tonight, I’m attending an event at the National Liberal Club in London and so I thought that I would a blog about what has been on my mind this weekend: Europe, Eurovision, and equal marriage.

Let’s look at why Europe has been on my mind first of all. Firstly, on Friday, I attended the filming of the regional version of a popular current affairs show in Birmingham. My hosts were excellent, but both of the MPs that were on this edition of the show were fervent Eurosceptics from the opposite sides of the political spectrum. As I was watching the screening of this show from the gallery, I was forced to reflect on what I see as a strange aspect of British politics presently: Euroscepticism. What I fail to understand is why British political discourse is so anti-EU?

What has the EU done wrong for the British? Very little; in fact, it has done more than a lot of people think, in my view. To illustrate this, let’s look at my hometown of Liverpool, a city that has been caricatured as something of a cesspit of crime by the British media over the years; Liverpool is now one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with a vibrant culture and a commercial district to rival not only other British cities, but also many European capitals.

Why is Liverpool such a modern city, one might ask? The uncomfortable answer for many British politicians is: the European Union. In order to facilitate Liverpool’s redevelopment, the European Union provided funding to redevelop the city and also build new landmarks, such as the splendid LiverpoolOne shopping mall, which has provided with the city with a much-needed boost as neither the shops nor the restaurants, including the independently-owned Catalan eatery Lunya, one of my favourite restaurant in the EU, ever seem to be quiet. This development would never have been built if it wasn’t for the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. It is only by remaining in the European Union that we can ensure that the United Kingdom continues to push for a stronger stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

A second reason why Europe was on my mind this week was because of the Eurovision song contest. The Eurovision competition is a classic example of what Europe can achieve when it comes together. Unfortunately, it seems that the UK seems all too happy to send mediocre artists to Eurovision, year after year, much like they often send the castoffs to Brussels to be MEPs or Commissioners. It’s time that we started taking Europe seriously in Britain, so that we can get things done in Brussels and win (yes, miracles do happen) the Eurovision Song Contest.

Congratulations to Denmark, whose song ‘Only Teardrops’ was fantastic. I also felt the Russian, Azeri, Swedish, and Greek entries were also very strong contenders for Eurovision crown. What the UK needs to do next year is send some who is half-decent, established at a domestic level, and young (I’m thinking Jake Bugg). Experienced artists, such as Bonnie Tyler, all too often appear washed-up when they get on stage. As I was frequently reminded on Saturday night by my fellow viewers (my parents), the UK has some outstanding artists; I believe that it is time that they are asked to step up and defend their nation on an international stage.

As I’m writing this blog post, the UK Parliament is debating whether to legalise same-sex marriage; I firmly believe that now is the time for action on this important piece of legislation. Some Conservative MPs are planning to amend this legislation to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples; whilst this needs to be done, guaranteeing the right of LGBTQ individuals to equal marriage is more urgent than allowing couples who already have the right to marry a civil partnership.

We have come a long way in the last 20-odd years towards achieving fairness for LGBTQ people, however we need to pass this legislation to bring us up to speed with other European Union member states, such as Spain which legalised equal marriage some time ago.

For me, it is unfair and unjust that in a tolerant 21st Century United Kingdom, individuals are denied the right to marry based on their sexual orientation. At tonight’s event on human rights in Russia, we will be looking at regressive regimes that are discriminatory towards LGBTQ individuals. That must change, as soon as possible through both the systematic and non-systematic opposition to the regime of Vladimir Putin.

We in the United Kingdom can be a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world, if we co-operate with our neighbours via the European Union and triumph laws that guarantee equality and liberty for our citizens; legislation that guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry has an important part to play in ensuring a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

High-speed rail? Yes, please – Musings on the 10:15 from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone

The railway infrastructure of the United Kingdom is atrocious. Yes, I did just say what politicians should have said years ago. Something needs to be done and FAST. We used to have the best railways in the world; now, even debt-ridden nations such as Spain have better services than us. Why? Because they have domestic high-speed rail services and we, the nation that once had railway services that were the envy of the world, are now laughed at by other developed economies due to our lack of domestic high-speed rail services.

High-speed rail should have been done years ago, shouldn’t it? But it wasn’t, because of the inefficiency of the nationalised railways and then the relentless rush to make a profit by the privatised franchises. The Chiltern Railways service that I am currently travelling on is one of few remaining examples of reasonably-priced, efficient services. I travel frequently on services that are ridiculously over-priced, unclean, and inefficient (London Midland services are frequently understaffed and late, with broken toilets on their Birmingham to Liverpool route).

One of the most important reasons why we need high-speed rail in the UK is to bring our railways up to speed with other members of the European Union; Sweden, Spain, and France amongst others all have high-quality, high-speed, and efficient services. Whereas it takes 8 or 9 hours to travel between Malaga and Madrid by car, the AVE service takes just three hours; I have personal experience of this and the way that passengers are treated on this service is just phenomenal (even better than travelling First Class on the West Coast mainline; the prices are comparable).

High speed rail in the UK would provide a major boost to a British economy, especially as it would really add business potential to thriving cities in the North and Midlands, such as Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester, and Birmingham, through increased connectivity to London and the South East, the parts of the country that are currently most prosperous. It would create a stronger economy, through the creation of jobs in construction and in the cities that would benefit, and a fairer society, as it would help remedy the existing North-South divide by encouraging the creation of jobs and businesses in lesser economically developed regions and areas.

On to the problem: a few middle-class people in prosperous areas are worried about the effect that high-speed rail will have on the landscape of these prosperous regions. The environmental impact of having high-speed rail in the UK will surely outweigh the fears that these people have, as these services will take people out of their cars and limit the number of flights for airports in the North to London and vice-versa.

The time for action by the government and the rail franchises is now, not in 20 or 30 years time! High-speed rail may not solve all of the problems that we need to tackle to become an ‘aspiration nation’ (better education and other reforms can do that) but it certainly can play a part in creating a stronger economy and fairer society where everyone can get on in life if it is enacted soon. Bring us up to speed with the rest of Western Europe, please Mr Clegg.

Let’s make high-speed rail something that is a symbol of a stronger economy and a fairer society, where everyone can get on in life. Focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us.

It started with the words ‘A Stronger Economy and A Fairer Society’ on a long train journey back from Liverpool.

I want to live in a Britain focussed on what unites us, rather than what divides us. I want to live in a Britain that focuses on achieving a stronger economy and a fairer society where everyone can get on in life. The experience of Britain in the last 30 years shows that we can’t trust Labour with the task of building a stronger economy as Labour’s spending policy in government was unsustainable and weakened the British economy. Labour knows how to create a big government, it doesn’t know how to create a sustainable one.
We cannot trust the Conservatives with building a fairer society either, as they are all too often focussed on destroying our vital national services. The Conservatives know how to give responsibility to individuals, but they don’t know how to create the equality of opportunity that we treasure as Liberal Democrats.

Labour governments’ know how to spend money on ‘redistribution’ projects to secure that all important backing from their trade union barons, but they don’t know how to spend money on helping the poorest and most vulnerable in our society get on in life. Labour made the lowest paid workers pay tax by keeping the 10p tax rate; we, the Liberal Democrats, created a 0p tax rate so that the lowest paid workers (that is, those earning under £12,00) didn’t pay any tax on their earnings at all; because of the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to no taxes for the lowest paid, you, the cleaner, you, the factory worker; you, the barista; don’t pay any tax on the first £12,000 that you earn. We need to cut the deficit to have a stronger economy, but that should be intertwined wih a fairer society, where the most vulnerable groups in society have opportunities, not burdens.

So, the Conservatives; hmm, how do I say this? The Tories have, over the 30 years before the economic crash, got the economics side of government right. Britain, without the privatisations that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, would be a very different country, crippled by state monopolies by state monopolies, uncompetitive in a rapidly changing economic environment, and unsustainable. But they have neglected both the services, such as the NHS, and the laws that are needed to create a fairer society. The Tories under Thatcher and Major left the NHS, the revered national institution that we all love, chronically underfunded and on life support. We, as Liberal Democrats, believe that the NHS should have enough funding for it to provide world-class services to its users. I feel that, in order to create a sustainable NHS, we must focus on prevention rather than cure, so that we can have a healthier, fairer, and more sustainable society where everyone can get on in life. We need a government that is in touch with the 21st Century. We need to ensure that no legal discrimation exists against individuals and minority groups. As such, the Liberal Democrats, in government, were able to deliver  legislation such as the equal marriage laws, which means that same-sex couples will be able to marry the people that they love; it was an abhorrent situation that existed previously, as the law did not permit individuals to marry their partners just because they were of the same sex. Such an important change would not have happened without the Liberal Democrats in government, as neither the Tories nor Labour would have had the conviction to tackle the vested interests that hold our society back. As a disabled person, I am proud that, in government, we were able to limit the barriers that disabled people face in their everyday lives through the introduction of the Equalities Act in 2010.

We, as a nation, must focus during these tough times on what unites as a nation, rather than what divides us. It is very easy, during these periods of economic strife, to get distracted by the siren noises of left and right; it would be really easy to say that we don’t need to take the choices necessary to reform our economy as many on the left do; it’s just as easy to blame the crisis on institutions, such as the EU, or vulnerable groups in society, such as immigrants, as many on the right do. This crisis is a world crisis that it will be tough to get out of anytime soon, but it is through focusing on what unites us at home and working through supranational institutions abroad to deliver stronger economies and fairer societies across Europe and the world, that we shall get out of this crisis.