Adrian Sanders writes… the South West is missing a voice

Where is the South West’s voice at Westminster? In fact, where is there any opposition voice speaking up for the region, scrutinising and where necessary opposing policies not in our best interests.

In the South West region at the last election the Conservatives gained every seat held by the Liberal Democrats. Fourteen gains that gifted the Conservative Party its overall majority of twelve in the House of Commons.

There was no great swing to the Conservatives in May to give them this position of absolute power. Instead, a number of people who had previously voted Liberal Democrat to prevent a majority Tory Government cast their votes for the Greens, Labour and Ukip, or not at all.

Consequently, within the far South West, there is just one opposition MP in a sea of seventeen Tories across Devon and Cornwall. It would only require seven of them to threaten to rebel and the Government would fear losing its overall majority.

Sadly, none of our Tory MPs have yet felt the need to threaten, let alone vote against the Government, to protect their constituents from the ideologically driven public spending cuts.

There has not been a bleat from them over the broken manifesto promises on child tax credits and child benefit, both of which will take millions out of our low wage local economy when the cuts are fully implemented.

Silence too over the specific promise to electrify the railway in the South West that has been abandoned, while the promised capping of charges for residential social care has been postponed from 2016 to 2020.

They have also broken manifesto promises on affordable housing, tax free child-care and offering around 15 million employees three days paid leave for volunteering.

Now the Government is proposing changes to Freedom of Information legislation that could make it more difficult to find out what they are doing.

From a South West business point of the view the delay to decide the development of Heathrow is unhelpful given the proposed western rail-link makes expansion here more logical than Gatwick or East of London.

But the biggest blow to the self-employed and businesses large and small is the proposed quarterly tax return the Government has just announced.

So just where is our area’s voice to be heard on these matters? On tax credit cuts our only opposition MP abstained.

On extending fracking to beneath the Hinckley Point nuclear power station in Somerset, not a murmur from any of our Conservative representatives to voice or question local concerns, just as we heard no protests on cutting subsidies for renewable energy production and abandoning other measures to meet the challenge of climate change.

When the Government announced the extension of the badger cull we only heard local Tories supporting the move, despite no evidence to back it, and only supportive comments for the delayed reductions in the numbers of Bobbies on the beat that have been cynically postponed until after the police and crime commissioner elections.

With the loss of Liberal Democrat MPs the South West has become an effective one-party state. But worse is the apparent reluctance of our Tory MPs to question and scrutinise, choosing instead to blindly follow their Whips’ instructions as to which lobby to go through.

The Conservatives have kept one promise though – to cut public spending by a further £40 billion including £12 billion from the welfare budget.

The area’s social and economic needs are about to become even more challenging given the public expenditure cuts voted through by our Conservative MPs. Local Councillors are presently looking at what services they will have to cut and which members of staff to make redundant.

Tens of millions of pounds will be taken out of our fragile economy every year thanks to the votes of our local Tory MPs. No wonder west-country voters are turning back to the Liberal Democrats when there is an opportunity to cast a ballot in local council by-elections to show their opposition to a Government the majority did not wish to see elected in May.

We have seen across the country, and locally in Falmouth, Totnes and Torbay, real votes in ballot boxes showing massive swings back to the Liberal Democrats.

While the 2015 General Election was a disaster for the Party, largely because of its association with the Conservatives in Government, the Party’s fight back has begun in earnest.

As a beneficiary of an unprecedented 70 per cent of the vote in a five cornered contest that elected me to Torbay Council I can see the future for the Liberal Democrats is looking bright and the prospects for people, businesses and the environment of the South West after the defeat of this majority Conservative Government at the next election, even brighter.

This article originally appeared on the author’s Facebook page and was published in the Western Morning News prior to Tim Farron’s remarks which we reported here. It was submitted by the author has a series of comments on that thread but the LDV team decided, with the author’s permission, to publish it as a whole here.

* Adrian Sanders is a Focus deliver in Paignton, Devon, and was the MP for Torbay from 1997 to 2015.

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  • Paul Pettinger 11th Jan '16 - 6:24pm

    Adrian Sanders is right to highlight the impotence of the South West’s Conservative MPs and the need for a strong Liberal Democrat voice in the region. On a purely strategic level, the South West is key to any Lib Dem revival, due to its strong liberal tradition and many of the Party’s 63 second places being located here. More importantly, the area continues to be overlooked by government and a Conservative Party that has lost interest in unionism and an economy that serves people from all corners of the UK. However, being perceived as standing ready to prop up the Conservatives at Westminster will hold us back – until this perception is burst campaigners will have one hand tied behind their back.

  • I agree that in 2010 people voted lib dem to stop the tories getting a majority. Those were no doubt the tactical voters that were continually told labour can’t win here vote liberal to keep the tories out.

    People motivated to vote for one party to spite another were never going to be the loyal voters sticking with the lib dems through thick and thin, one coalition with the said hated party and they’re gone for good.

    I fear the lib dems are making this mistake all over again in Scotland, this time against the SNP.

  • It’s quite clear that the Tory strategy last May was to wipe out the Liberal Democrats in the South West – that’s what Sir Lynton Crosby got his knighthood for. That’s what they did, including I’m sad to say to Adrian. The Coalition legacy did for us in the north too – take Leeds for example, in Hilary Benn’s seat, Mick Taylor’s second place 21% in 2010 became a fifth place 3%.

    For that section of the Lib Dems still in denial and hankering for Coalition with our smiling assassin Tory partners, this should all be a cautionary tale.

    And it’s not just last May. Here’s what Mark Wallace of Conservative Home web site has just posted :

    “Corbyn’s first sin could be saving the Lib Dems. What do you have to do to finally extinguish the Liberal Democrats? Just when they are finally driven to the brink of extinction, the Labour Party zooms off into the left field and offers them a chance to survive in the gap which opens as a result. If Corbyn wasn’t bad enough already, this offence is unforgivable”….. Conservative Home today..

    Forget the Corbyn bit – focus on the eliminating the Lib Dems bit . Let’s get rid of the notion that Coalition with the Tories will do us any good and realise who our real enemies are.

    It was great to see Adrian storm back recently – and to know there is still a market for independent Liberalism.

  • David Raw 11th Jan ’16 – 10:55pm…………It’s quite clear that the Tory strategy last May was to wipe out the Liberal Democrats in the South West – that’s what Sir Lynton Crosby got his knighthood for…………

    It’s even worse than that; they didn’t even bother to pay us any attention….. Why should they? It was obvious, to all but a few on LDV, that we were no threat anywhere….The Tories didn’t increase their vote in the SW; ours evaporated by almost 20%….

    It was no surprise. Ever since Nick Clegg left his microphone on and was heard saying: “If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debates!” our fate was sealed. In spite of the ongoing losses of councillors, MEPs and By-elections we never ‘headlined’ our differences with the Tories until it was too late…

    Reading some posts here I wonder if, even after our 2015 disaster, we’ve learned anything..

  • If Labour voters stopped voting tactically for the Liberal Democrats then where did their votes go ? In many seats in the South West the Labour vote barely rose at all despite an expensive press advertising campaign in the local newspapers. UKIP gained a lot of support and the Greens gained some too although their support seems to have waned except in Dorset.

    If we stop talking about coalitions many of those tactical voters might come back and I am sure not all of them stopped voting Liberal Democrat anyway. I hope Tim Farron can strike a chord with West Country voters. and I think he will in time.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Jan '16 - 12:18pm

    Rsf7, drawing support from people who do not like the Conservatives does not mean the Party cannot sustain much more success and influence. It simply means we can’t stand ready to prop up the Conservatives. Each time the Party goes into coalition with the Conservatives (1918, 1931 and 2015) it splits or/and implodes.

  • @ Paul Pettinger Quite right.

    Hungry tribal tigers/crocodiles : inadvisable to be ridden on the back of…..

  • nvelope2003 12th Jan ’16 – 10:45am………..If Labour voters stopped voting tactically for the Liberal Democrats then where did their votes go ? In many seats in the South West the Labour vote barely rose at all despite an expensive press advertising campaign in the local newspapers………….

    I’d suggest that many thought, “Why bother”

  • “You know what you have to do to win back your left support.”

    Unlikely to happen. The moment overtures are made towards that left support those on the right of the party (orange bookers, call them what you will) will visibly and verbally commit the party to being at least equidistant from Labour and the Tories, raising the spectre of another Coalition before that same left support. I think the tensions in the Lib Dems between Cleggites and the rest are unresolved to the degree that they can be ignored as longer as neither side makes overtures to those nearest to them outside the party. It’s a very narrow course to plot.

  • David Evans 12th Jan '16 - 8:54pm

    Adrian, the voters aren’t returning to us at all at present. Hardly any net gains in principal councils in eight months, is a disastrous performance. What makes anyone think we are on the road to any sort of success is beyond logic.

  • David Raw. I am even more cynical than you. I think the Tory strategy of wiping us out began way back before the GE campaign, even at the time we were negotiating Coalition. I think that’s why tuition fees were a no go area. I think that for some reason our MPs thought we had got the better of the Tories, thinking they were sheep, while in fact they had very large vicious teeth.

  • @ Sue S Yes, welcome to the club. Actually, they (the Tories) were at it way back in the 1860’s (that’s before even I joined the Party). It’s one of their less attractive carnivorous habits.

    They did for Asquith in December, 1916, Lloyd George in October, 1922, and Herbert Samuel in 1931. A few of ours (Joe Chamberlain, John Simon) joined them – I’ll let you work out which of our present lot will follow suit eventually.

  • David Raw: I think they are working on the Labour Party now by trying to lure the “Red Tories” into their web. Hilary Benn had better be careful not to be taken in by Tory cheers for his speeches. I think the election of Corbyn as leader of the party has been a disaster for the Liberal Democrats (and the Greens), firstly because he will attract young idealists who might have supported us and secondly because the Conservatives will present the next election as a fight between freedom loving Conservatives and an extreme socialist Labour Party wanting to make the country another Venezuela and as in 1950 the Liberals now Liberal Democrats will be squeezed to death. Maybe in the South West and South East Labour supporters will vote Liberal Democrat tactically in the few seats where we are the main challenger to the Conservatives as they did even in the 1950s but I do not see many advances in the Midlands and the North. The challenge there will be to hold onto Westmorland, Leeds, Southport etc

  • Expats 2.14 pm: Turnout actually rose slightly but many “working class” people have not been bothering for years. Appeals to vote just fall on deaf ears whatever arguments are used for voting. They do not care any more and it is happening all over Europe, even in those places which were under Communist control for 40 years. They know that the ruling elite will not allow a socialist economy with the sort of perks that workers had because the elite want to keep all those perks for themselves so why bother to vote ?

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