Author Archives: Wera Hobhouse MP

Wera Hobhouse: Democracy is failing us – Day of Action Saturday 31 July

Attacks on our fragile democracy are ramping up. The evidence comes in a raft of recent Government proposals that include voter ID cards, curbs on peaceful protest and plans to introduce more elections by First Past the Post (FPTP).

Take the controversial plan to introduce voter ID cards, proposed as part of the Elections Bill. This would actually disenfranchise millions more voters. Ministers say asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against potential voter fraud in polling stations. They also claim that ‘showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day’. But I’m not convinced there is any evidence that voter fraud is even an issue. You could be forgiven for thinking this is a tactic put forward by a Tory Government fearful that its ‘blue wall’ will come crashing down at the next general election. Their crushing defeat at the Chesham and Amersham by-election certainly goes to show how a well-fought campaign at grassroots level can do so much to bring communities together.

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Wera Hobhouse: Our party is in desperate need of reform

Our party is in desperate need of reform.

We have overlooked the importance of winning locally. We have sacrificed our local government strongholds on the altar of national government dreams.

In doing so, we have carelessly damaged our local government base in many areas. We have assumed we can win new MPs without winning locally first. The 2019 election shows that we can’t.

As has been said in the 2019 General Election Review: ‘The overarching conclusion … is that had we made much better decisions in 2019 we might have gained a few more seats, but not many more.’

Part of this is that we hadn’t rebuilt enough support locally to win nationally.

For too long we have given priority to Westminster, its national policy interests and the messaging that goes with it.

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Wera Hobhouse: “Let go of the coalition once and for all”

I’ve launched my new campaign video today: we need a new direction, it’s time to let go of the coalition.

I was a councillor in Rochdale during the coalition — I saw its impact. But for our party, it has meant almost irreparable devastation. More than 2,500 councillors and 49 MPs were wiped out and it rocked the very foundations our party was built on.

It’s not to say that the coalition was all bad – equal marriage and pupil premium are just two of the many life-changing ideas implemented by Lib Dems – but some serious mistakes were made. We have acknowledged that – now it is time to well and truly move on.

The Liberal Democrats are not halfway between the Conservatives and Labour. We are a progressive, centre-left party, and we must fight for our values and beliefs from there.

We need a new direction; we must let go of the coalition and aspirations to return. We must get back to our liberal roots, serving our local communities, which is what we have always done best.

That’s where I will take the Liberal Democrats as leader.

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Civil Liberties and the NHS App

The NHS has launched a tracing App for trialling in the Isle of Wight. How does it measure up against the civil liberties checklist that I authored on Lib Dem Voice on 15th April, along with some excellent additions within the comments?

First, the positives:
I urged that opting in should be voluntary. It is. A liberal society works best by consent.
It is good news that this is an NHS App, rather than being owned by the central government or by a private company. Moreover, as the NHS has overwhelming public support, this makes it more likely that there will be significant uptake of the App.

It is to be welcomed that the App uses Bluetooth rather than GPS. It records only our phones’ proximity to other phones, rather than pinpointing our precise locations at the moment of proximity.

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Civil Liberties and Ending the Lockdown

In the weeks ahead, as the government seeks to loosen the lockdown while containing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely to introduce measures that in ordinary times would constitute serious violations of our civil liberties. For example, the government is likely to introduce extensive COVID-19 testing, enforce quarantine for those who test positive and compulsory trace, everyone; they have come into contact with.

As Liberals, a fundamental test we apply to any state action that restricts civil liberties is the one set out by John Stuart Mill: a person should be free to behave as they choose as long as they do not infringe the freedoms of others. The COVID-19 pandemic is a situation where civil liberties can, in principle, legitimately be restricted because if a person spreads COVID-19, they clearly infringe the freedoms of others.

However, in practice, great care must be taken that our civil liberties are restricted to the smallest possible extent.
It is not yet clear exactly what the government intends to introduce. But there are some key issues that we should consider now, so we can scrutinise whatever measures the government proposes.

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Wera Hobhouse: The road to stopping Brexit

As an MP, do I have to vote for any Brexit that is put in front of me in parliament?

My duty in our representative democracy is to listen to the people and respect their views. It is also to use my own informed judgement of what is the best for my constituents and the country as a whole.

So to the question, my answer is no. If any Brexit brought to parliament is, in my judgement bad for my constituents and my country, I should not vote for it.

The Prime Minister is using a different argument. She says we have to leave the EU even if it bad for the country because the people voted for it. She suggests that the dutiful thing for MPs in light of the 2016 referendum is to vote for something that we believe is bad for this country. On the contrary, we have a duty to do the opposite.

Does this mean we defy the will of the people? No, because British democracy is a representative democracy and not just a direct democracy.

What we MPs cannot do on our own, however, in light of the referendum in 2016, is to choose to stay in the EU. We can legitimately reject any particular Brexit deal in accordance with our judgement but we cannot move from there and cancel Brexit by ourselves. This is the true meaning of the referendum result.

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Wera Hobhouse MP writes…A step forward in fighting “sex for rent”

When I first came across the practice of ‘sex for rent’, I was appalled. Why do people end up in a truly awful and exploitative situation with a landlord which clearly should be against the law?

We know that sex for rent is a widespread problem. A YouGov poll says that 250,000 women in the UK had been offered reduced or free rent in exchange for sexual favours in the past five years. Yet as a crime it is under-reported and there are next to no prosecutions. 

It is already against the law to advertise sex for rent on pillar boxes or in the print media. One of the main problems has been that there are no clear legal guidelines to stop this vile practice for online advertising platforms.

Yesterday I received some good news. After I spent some time working in Parliament behind the scenes, the Crown Prosecution Service informed me that they will issue new guidelines in the new year ‘on sex for rent arrangements and advertising. There will be no distinction between off-line and online advertising’. It should then make it easier for the police and the courts to prosecute those who advertise online which has so far been a loophole.

And once we have some successful prosecutions then hopefully this should act as a deterrent for those who try and advertise for an arrangement that is cruel abusive and exploitative.

Most people see the work of an MP through the lens of a press story, or perhaps in 240 words on Twitter. I thought I’d share with you the steps I went through to achieve this change.

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As MPs jostle for power, Tories take eye off house building

Construction output has continued its recent decline, the third consecutive fall. In May alone construction fell by 1.7%, mainly driven by a sharp decrease of 2.5% in new work.

Commenting on the statistics, Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Housing said:

“These figures show the Government’s complete failure to tackle the housing crisis. Last year social housing numbers hit the lowest since records began while the numbers of people sleeping on our streets rose dramatically.

“If we are to build the houses so desperately needed, smaller-scale builders must be given access to finance to break the stranglehold of big developers, and the borrowing

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The Expiry Date of a Referendum Result

There are two democratic principles that, taken together, demand a referendum on the deal. The first is that a democratic decision should be enforced, and the second is that no democratic decision has an indefinite mandate.

The first principle, taken alone, is being used by the Conservatives and Labour to oppose a referendum on the deal. This is the argument:

In 2015 the Conservatives won the general election promising a referendum. The 2015 parliament voted to hold this referendum. In 2016 a referendum was held. In 2017 the same parliament voted to trigger Article 50.

The process has constitutional legitimacy at every stage.

What …

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Wera Hobhouse MP: Only the people can finish what the people have started

This is the speech delivered by Bath MP Wera Hobhouse in favour of a referendum on the final Brexit deal during the debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill on Wednesday.

I rise to speak to amendment 120. Since I arrived in this place in June and started taking part in the Brexit debate, one thing has intrigued me: have the Prime Minister and many other remain MPs changed their minds? We all know that the Prime Minister supported remaining in June 2016. Has she changed her mind since? This is important because she and her Government use one big argument for pressing on with Brexit: it is the will of the people. Is it? For the Government and the hard Brexiteers, the referendum result is fixed forever. The people cannot change their minds. The Prime Minister and other MPs can change their minds, but the people cannot.​

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Wera Hobhouse MP writes…My housing priorities for the Budget

Tomorrow, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his Budget to the House of Commons. He promises that housing will be the “number one priority”, but will he put the money where his mouth is?

People’s lives can no longer be dictated by a lack of affordable housing; whether to take a job, whether to start a family – many of these life-changing decisions are now overshadowed by the housing crisis. Access to housing is not a luxury, it is a human right.

To address the housing crisis, Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to include five priorities in the Budget:

Additional borrowing of over £100 billion to finance house building

If the government is serious about achieving 300,000 new homes a year, they must prioritise direct investment in house building. For far too long Britain has failed to meet the demand for new housing. Government intervention is now needed to help shift the market dynamics and spur development.

Empower local authorities to build more social housing

Almost two thirds of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people. To help address shortages, the government must remove the cap on council borrowing for house building and allow for suspension of the Right to Buy. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has been quick to point the finger of blame at local planning authorities, but what steps will he take to put power back in their hands?

Help under-30s get a foot on the housing ladder

The younger generation are clearly bearing the brunt of the housing crisis. In my constituency, Bath, house prices are notoriously high and for most young people owning a house here is little more than a pipe dream. To give people the opportunity to move out of the private rented rector and put down roots, I would like to see new “Rent to Own” homes where every monthly rent payment goes towards owning a house outright.

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Brexit and Democracy or What is the Will of the People?

There is just one great argument left for Brexit. We voted for it, and the government is delivering the will of the people.

I hear this argument over and over again in parliament. It even comes from the awkward squad on the Tory benches like Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve, or from Labour front bench MPs like Keir Starmer or Emily Thornberry. All of them are saying, in their own words, Brexit means Brexit. They want their version of Brexit of course, but the destination is fixed.

They have a point. 33 million people voted in the 2016 referendum and parliament doesn’t feel that it can ignore that. I agree. The 2017 General Election provided no mandate for overturning the referendum result. It is obvious really that 650 MPs cannot overrule a decision taken by 33 million people.

Posted in Op-eds | 103 Comments
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