Author Archives: Sean Williams

Tough Liberal love

Without doubt, this was a tough election, and I wasn’t even in a lead campaigning role, let alone running. (I thought about the latter, and was approved; but I then campaigned in my home constituency of Sheffield Hallam.)

Gutted about our loss of Nick Clegg, I took to the blogs and comments on Liberal Democrat Voice over the past week to see how our national results were perceived across the party. Despite some celebration, they also demonstrate that there is much discontent, with rallying cries for radical centrism to “so long, liberals” alike. Evidently, tough Liberal love is in order.

It would make sense for us to take stock of the core challenges as the leadership bids begin. The new leadership and conference will determine the direction of the party: are we to continue the strategy of placing the Lib Dems on an axis of “value politics”, or return to decisions about left, right or centre? But besides direction, there are two other key themes which I think need urgent debate, too.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 14 Comments

Radical, liberal rental reforms are needed

The government has launched a consultation on banning letting fees, a proposal originally tabled by Liberal Democrat peer Olly Grender. It’s responsible and right to address the shortcomings for tenants of a private rental market that now accounts for 19% of all households. And as the consultation paper sets out, there’s an economically liberal logic to the ban as well.

As a liberal, I’m not against market-based proposals for social problems. On the contrary, I’m all for them. In the summer after I left school, I worked temporarily as a Housing Allocations Officer. I see no reason in principle why housing associations should be the main providers of homes to people on benefits, for example — providing there’s enough housing to go round, and so long as people aren’t trapped in poor-quality accommodation. Indeed, greater choice for those on benefits within the private sector may be to their advantage, and improve social mobility overall. What’s more, it’s cost effective provision from the point of view of the state. However, there’s an obvious barrier to decent private rental accommodation frequently faced by those on benefits: the reluctance of so many private landlords to rent their properties to them. For many people, this is unfair discrimination. Banning letting fees is a positive step, but won’t tackle this sort of problem. My issue with the government’s plans is that they’re another example of Theresa’s tokenism.

Private landlords, with perhaps a “buy to let” as their pension pot, and renters are both likely to be among our party members. What could we as Liberal Democrats propose to help groups of tenants with little available capital beyond their rent money into better quality accommodation and, at the same time, keep landlords on board who want to protect their assets from risk? 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Our country is divided, and our constituencies may be, too

Wayne Chadburn’s post yesterday afternoon asked a question that the Liberal Democrats may have answered and agreed on nationally – that the majority of Lib Dems oppose Brexit – but it is a question that is still of huge regional significance. And national electoral success is won regionally, seat by seat. Significantly, the proposed boundary changes – if recommended next year in their current form – would move parts of the current Penistone and Stocksbridge constituency in South Yorkshire (where Wayne Chadburn is based) into Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg’s patch.

When moving to Sheffield in late 2015, I bought a home within this constituency not only because I think south-west Sheffield is a great place to live, but because – for the first time in my life – I’d be living in a constituency where I would have voted for my sitting MP. I have since delivered Nick’s Christmas cards, enjoyed the annual fundraising dinner and made friends with fellow Lib Dems. As an academic in a university’s Modern Languages department, I worry about the future of ERASMUS. And so on.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 20 Comments

Post-referendum positivity isn’t foolish

I was taken in by Saturday’s April 1st joke on the pages of The Liberal Democrat Voice: that we should stop “remoaning”, and be a bit more positive about the Brexit process No doubt some readers will call me foolish, but I absolutely agreed with the thrust of the article. After all, many a true word’s spoken in jest…

So here are three reasons for my optimism:

1) Moving past the romanticism of the EU would help, not hinder a more pragmatic pro-European cause. During both the referendum and the period before Article 50 was triggered, extreme arguments flourished on both sides: a nostalgia for British Imperialism or a desire for “Singapore on steroids” on the one hand, and too romantic an image of the EU on the other. Having lived in Europe — both in the EU and in Switzerland — I am surprised at how much fellow Liberal Democrats idealise the EU as an organisation. One that, in the romantic story, has simply enabled individuals across the continent to lead freer lives, become more open-minded, and move beyond ugly nationalism. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, the negotiations will pour cold water on so much idealism — on both sides of the Brexit divide.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments
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