Category Archives: Op-eds

Shooting ourselves in the foot

During this year’s General Election campaign one of my friends, who doesn’t always vote Liberal Democrat, was enthusiastically considering voting for us. Then our cannabis policy was announced in the press. For her this cast a shadow over her voting intentions and she had grave doubts that she would now vote Liberal Democrat. She had run an urban centre in the UK for homeless men for 7 years. Around 50-80 men visited this centre each day. A common pattern, with a proportion of the men, was to arrive at the centre because of family breakup and unemployment but in a general state that they could be helped to turn their lives round. Then they would adopt the habit of taking cannabis regularly and over time become permanently mentally ill and no longer be in a state to access help. This is so tragic and so sad.

I’m personally in favour of legalising and regulating cannabis use. The aspects of doing this that particularly interest me are, those who choose to use cannabis for recreational and/or medical purposes are no longer criminalised and users can ensure being supplied with cannabis without impurities which is better for their health. With regard to the present position of criminalisation there is maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for use of cannabis and a maximum of 14 years in prison for trafficking. However in recent years the cautions for initial possession and people charged have fallen. From 2010 to 2015 by 48% and 33% respectively. This has resulted in the number of people imprisoned for this offence being relatively low compared to the general prison population for example in 2015, there were 1,363 imprisoned for offences to do with cannabis – about 1 to 1.5 % of the total prison population. These people are probably mostly cannabis traffickers. These figures all indicate that cannabis users are no longer a priority for the police no doubt influenced by recent cuts.  There are of course other benefits of legalising and regulating cannabis. It is thought that annually about I billion pounds could be raised in tax revenue in addition to the savings on criminal justice costs and regulation should create extensive employment through production, distribution and selling.


Notes from a new councillor: Why we need decent bus services

I attended my first Cabinet Meeting recently as Oxfordshire County Councillor. OCC is led by a coalition of Conservatives and Independents. The question I put was:

Many villages in Wheatley Division are suffering because of the cut in bus subsidies. Elderly and vulnerable people are isolated; younger people cannot get to college and apprenticeships; those who relied on buses for work are now using cars and increasing the traffic on our already congested roads. Does the member agree with me that saving up to £4 million pounds from cutting bus subsidy was a false economy, and will she work with me to find room in our forthcoming budget to reinstate bus subsidies?

Well the member did not agree with me, and proceeded to inform me about all the community transport initiatives underway throughout the county. I am already well versed in these grass-root efforts, having been along to a fair number of community transport meetings over the last two months.

My problem is that offering locals buses twice a week for shopping; or relying on volunteers to get people to hospital appointments; or telling village residents to cross a busy highway (A40) for the nearest bus; is not good enough.

Connecting Oxfordshire, Local Transport Plan 2015 – 2031 includes the vision behind providing local buses. Here are three of the key outcomes (p. 16):

1. To support the transition to a low-carbon future.

2. To support social inclusion and equality of opportunity.

3. To protect, and where possible enhance, Oxfordshire’s environment and improve quality of life.

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Was Champion right to “resign” from front bench over Sun article?

Trigger warning for child abuse.

There are kind of rules – good rules that are there for good reasons – governing how we talk about racial issues, when we must. Properly contextualise. Look for similarities rather than differences. Don’t make or appear to make generalisations about groups of people.

When I was at school we had leaflets thrown over the school fence with the faces of white people who had been killed by black people. The object of the leaflet was to encourage racially motivated violence to “even up the score” using crimes that, if they happened at all, probably weren’t racially …


Brexit: We can’t gamble with our futures

Week by week the countdown to March 2019 looms closer. The chances of stopping a disastrous hard Brexit are slim, but there is a small window of opportunity if we go about it in the right way.

As Vince Cable and Nick Clegg emphasise, it all rests on building a coalition of moderates with the courage to break out of the extreme Brexit groupthink. This means that we need a Brexit position which is decisive, but also respects those who are resigned to the prospect of Brexit – for now – and reaches out. A clear majority of constituencies voted for Brexit, so for Parliament to block it, or at least soften it, we are going to need to bring people together.

That is why I’m very concerned by the motion being proposed for Autumn Conference, in which it is being suggested that we should play an all-or-nothing game of Russian roulette with people’s livelihoods. The motion suggests that we should retreat into stubborn rejection of the referendum, without securing a clear mandate against Brexit. The tide is slowly turning against a hard Brexit, but time is running out to stop it all together. That should still be our main aim, but it would be an act of gross neglect to take a gamble on suddenly halting Brexit in its tracks and lose.

That’s why we must consider very carefully how we would feel waking up in Hard Brexit Britain in 2019. With investment receding and jobs in freefall, our idealism and anti-Brexit fervour would be in vain. I know I would be thinking about what could have been. We could have had a soft Brexit. We could even have stopped it all. This could all have been less painful.

Even if you endorse this anti-Brexit gamble with our economy, you have to ask how best we can realistically build a coalition to stop Brexit. Surely the answer isn’t to retreat into introverted Europhilia, but to reach out to those sceptical about Brexit and make the case? If the tide of public opinion turns, this is how we stop Brexit – by giving the people the final say in a referendum. This is a realistic and democratic position which can appeal to ‘Releavers’ and soft Leavers alike once the dangers of Brexit become clearer.

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Notes from a new councillor: How to change things

I am frustrated about the bureaucracy I recently encountered as a County Councillor. Oxfordshire Mind, which provides many valuable mental health services throughout the county, has a new initiative to promote mental health awareness throughout Oxfordshire.

The question I submitted to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Public Health was:

Oxfordshire Mind is seeking £308K funding for Mental Health Awareness for children and young people. This investment in Public Health would potentially save the NHS and Social Care millions of pounds a year in Oxfordshire. Will the Cabinet Member meet with Mr Dan Knowles, CEO of Oxfordshire Mind, and me regarding funding this scheme of prevention, ensuring better mental health for young people in this county in years to come?

The written response was that the Cabinet Member cannot meet with us as that would be showing favouritism to one charity over another. She informed me there is bidding process to go through for funding.

Being a new County Councillor, I was unaware of this and so now I know better! But asking the question, and having it publicly documented, has already raised awareness. So it is not a wasted effort on my part.

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Vince talks about his new novel and other things at the Edinburgh Book Festival

I failed miserably when it came to getting Book Festival tickets this year. Starting a new job on the day the tickets came out meant that there were none left by the time I was able to look them up.

Sadly that meant that I missed Vince Cable’s session on his new book, Open Arms, which will be published on 7th September, so you’ll have to rely on the accounts of others.

Susan Mansfield in the Scotsman says he was a congenial Book Festival guest:

“I’m proud of the book, and I wish I’d done it earlier,” Cable said. His protagonist is an “independent-minded” female Conservative MP who becomes a Cabinet minister. “When I was a Cabinet minister, the two things that kept me sane were my weekly dancing lesson and having a pile of novels by the bed.”

 He made for a congenial Book Festival guest, free from the bluster and bombast of many in his line of work. Whether talking about his book, or about wider political issues, he was thoughtful and considered. Predictably enough, the conversation quickly left the novel behind.
On Brexit, Cable offered hope to remainers, saying there is a “significant possibility” that it might not happen. With Corbyn’s Labour Party “on the same page” as the Conservatives with regard to a hard Brexit, he hoped that rebels from both main parties could join forces with the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, and “the thing could unravel”.

In the Independent, he is quoted as saying that the book is “less discreet” than it might have been had he thought he would resume his career:

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Notes from a new councillor: opposing Conservative cuts to children’s centres

One of the key elements in my campaign for election as Oxfordshire County Councillor was the cut in funding many of the Children’s Centres throughout Oxfordshire.

The closure of the Maple Tree Children’s Centre, Wheatley, in my patch inflamed the local community. Many parents and carers relied on the services and support provided at the Children’s Centre for health advice, parenting support, breast-feeding counselling, and meeting other local parents/carers.

This has been a big local issue. Our new Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Layla Moran, secured a debate in Westminster Hall on Children’s Centres. She moved that, “That this House has considered the role of children’s centres in tackling social inequality.”  You can read the full debate here.

Of those children’s centres slated for closure, communities were given the opportunity to keep their centres open. Residents of Wheatley rallied and a group was set up. The hope is that they will re-open the Maple Tree Children’s Centre from September, albeit with more limited services.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarFiona 23rd Aug - 8:16pm
    I was under the impression that our policy on legalising cannabis was because we know that it can be damaging, and that the current approach...
  • User AvatarPeter 23rd Aug - 8:12pm
    @ Michael - You are comparing the level of problems associated with a legal substance, widely used with an illegal substance, presumably rarely used in...
  • User AvatarNick Baird 23rd Aug - 8:10pm
    @David Raw - "Yes, of course, but try doing that in a carriage full of rowdy half drunken football fans on their way home on...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 23rd Aug - 8:07pm
    Staying in the EU is a gamble. Supposing the contradictions of the euro cause it to collapse? Unless we know for sure that it won't,...
  • User AvatarMichael 23rd Aug - 7:59pm
    The american national intitute for drug addiction (NIDA) is - and I was surprised by this - pretty dismissive of a casual link between cannabis...
  • User AvatarJames 23rd Aug - 7:23pm
    Peter - the rise in the use of 'legal highs' has happened precisely because of the illegality of the more traditional recreational drugs - not...