John Leech MP writes…My Voice, My Vote

Ballot paperBritain is suffering from a crisis of alienation. Despite a wave of democratic reforms since 1997, including the rebirth of localism in 2010, the UK remains one of the most centralised European States. Even after devolution to Scotland and Wales, the majority of power is still concentrated in London and held by a narrow class of professional politicians most of whose lives seem increasingly detached from the people they represent. Local councils struggle to make an impact on their communities, and in vast swathes of the country voter turnout continues to sink as the electorate loses faith in the system’s ability to deliver the services they need.

In less than two months Britain heads to the polls to elect the new European Parliament. With what little faith there was left in authority whittled away by the banking crisis, hacking scandals and endless revelations over MPs expenses, we could see the lowest turnout yet for a UK wide election. The political debate is sadly dominated by a minority of xenophobic, anti-immigration and anti-European voices fronted by the BNP and UKIP. A small turnout could see the extremists do well; we need to end the blame game and restore some faith in the political system by fighting their agenda of fear and hate with one of hope. For myself and the Liberal Democrats, the answer is obvious – we have to return power to the people and prove to them that their opinion matters.

This isn’t just about giving more powers to local councils. This is about giving people the means to change things themselves, letting them know that their vote can make a difference. We’ve got to show them that by raising their voices and getting involved, ordinary people – especially young people – can make a difference to their own lives and local communities. For this reason, I’ve become involved with the charity UpRising, which was launched earlier this year to give young people from all walks of life, not just the educated elite, the training and skills necessary to become political leaders. This week UpRising will be launching a new programme in six cities and towns that have been hard hit by low turnout, and where extremists have been trying to gain a foothold. Manchester is one of these areas, and as a local MP, I feel strongly that people should be given these opportunities and a greater voice in political decisions.

The programme My Voice, My Vote will recruit over a thousand youth leaders who will be first time voters at the next election in 2015.  It will work with them over the next few months through training and mentoring, to give them the practical support and skills training they need to become local campaigns in their own communities. The aim is simple: to help create a new generation of leaders with the skills and experience to make a difference and reconnect ordinary people to politics. By creating a corps of young community leaders who are committed to democracy and social action in hard-pressed communities such as Manchester, we can form a new frontline defense against hate-based politics.

This isn’t a quick fix, but by investing in our young emerging leaders in our local communities, we can begin to re-engage and inspire future generations.

* Cllr John Leech was Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington until 2015 and is now an opposition councillor in Manchester.

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  • “The political debate is sadly dominated by a minority of xenophobic, anti-immigration and anti-European voices fronted by the BNP and UKIP.”

    The BNP?! Do they even exist still?! – Oh yea because we are seeing Nick Griffin everywhere in the press and on TV now. He’s clearly setting the political agenda in the country at the moment.

    I see what you did there, link the UKIP and BNP in a way that’s not truthful at all. Really clever and skillful politics. No wonder the Lib Dems are in trouble with MPs like this guy.

  • Until we get a proper, proportional voting system which reflects what people want rather than just a selected 35% of those who vote (i.e. 20% of the entire electorate), increasing participation is going to be an uphill struggle.

    We can only conclude that because this would enfranchise voters who don’t currently support the two largest parties, they are dead set against it.

  • “…the majority of power is still concentrated in London and held by a narrow class of professional politicians most of whose lives seem increasingly detached from the people they represent.”
    And your solution,.(?).. is to create some kind of ‘academy’ to train young people to become the [new],…. “narrow class of professional politicians most of whose lives seem increasingly detached from the people they represent.”
    Why can’t you see that the answer is NOT to train a new tranche of yet more, ‘professional politicians’ who have no life experience beyond SpAd’ing, interning, and ‘boot polishing’ Westminster shoes as they claw their way onto the front benches?
    “For myself and the Liberal Democrats, the answer is obvious – we have to return power to the people and prove to them that their opinion matters.”
    And here’s a novel idea for Lib Dems to accomplish exactly that. Instead of weeping buckets over an 8% poll rating, why not listen to what voters want, and then devise policy to fulfil that public desire?. How long is it going to take to sink in with MP’s, that dictating to voters what they ought to want, is a model that doesn’t work anymore. Luckily there are growing list of politicians for whom the penny is beginning to drop.

  • “The political debate is sadly dominated by a minority of xenophobic, anti-immigration and anti-European voices fronted by the BNP and UKIP”

    I’m very much pro the EU, but to claim the anti vote is dominated by the above groups is not fair. Many are just normal people concerned about the effect on jobs, housing, hospitals, schools, social services etc that a larger population will bring. There are many Tory and Labour politicians “fronting” the campaigne as well as UKIP and as for the BNP I don’t think I have ever seen them involved in the debate. This tactic that if you are not for us you must be a “nutter” isn’t working here any better than it is in the Scottish vote.

  • “Revival of localism 2010” Hardly true, when one of the major forces since the Coalition took over has been slashed spending at local level! Many, if not most, Tories in Government are opposed to realistic and fair Council funding, and austerity has been the excuse for major cuts. The centralisation in education is just a very visible effect, and it is very easy to see Care and other “big” services going the same way. When we hear Lib Dems in Parliament shouting about this we may accept our parliamentarians want change, instead of a turbo version of the neoliberal status quo. Sorry, John.

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 2:13pm

    Good luck with that John.

    My husband and I returned from supporting runners in the 2005 Pegasus Bridge commemorative charity run, only to discover that two BNP leaders had become MEPs thanks to electors disillusioned by the expenses scandal sitting on their hands rather than turning out to vote.

    As someone from the other end of the age range who is also disillusioned with our choice of mainstream parties, there are other minor parties and candidates that one can support instead.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Apr '14 - 2:19pm

    Don ‘t you believe it. John is right. I am a passionate supporter of STV. But it’s now all about political processes at the local level, not structures or systems – they can follow. I do think it will have to come from outside the existing poliltical parties, and particularly from a new generation of activists. If and when it happens we will have to adapt to it as best we can, but that will need real changes of attitude and culture within our party, particularly at high levels both in parliament and in the party itself. It will not be easy given the way that we as well as the other parties have been co-opted by the new political elite, largely educated privately then at top universities, relatively prosperous, full of a belief in t heir own superiority, lacking experience in the real world outside the London-based political classes and their own incestuouos world, substantially out of touch with ordinary people.

    Tony Greaves

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 3:03pm

    @ John,
    Where will funding come from to set these schemes up and who will provide the skills and training. Will it be volunteers?

    There used to be a programme, ‘Secret Millionaire’, which was intensely moving. There are so many people out there already involved in social action but they were operating hand to mouth as far as paying for essentials was concerned, i.e the necessary hire of rooms, the hire of transport etc?

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 3:06pm

    @ John,
    Please ignore the above as I have now found the site on the internet.

  • Peter Watson 17th Apr '14 - 3:18pm

    @John Leech
    I stalled at the first sentence. What exactly do you mean by “the rebirth of localism in 2010”?

  • Charles Rothwell 17th Apr '14 - 6:00pm

    I would not lump the BNP and UKIP together. For a start, the BNP has virtually imploded, Griffin has officially been declared bankrupt (in financial terms) and what he thought was his high point (the appearance on ‘Question Time’) turned out to be the beginning of his complete fall as people were able to see just what a nasty piece of work he really is, with his pleading how the Ku Klux Klan is now just a peace-loving pressure group etc. To be fair to Farage, he has also always kept well away from the likes of the BNP, EDL etc as he knows they are a deadly contagion in UK political terms and that the UKIP bubble (which will burst one day) would find its end that much quicker if he went near a bunch of racist fanatics. What Farage HAS done (more than any other UKIP leader and (looking at the jokers around him (most of whom are never allowed out for media outings after the mega-dolt from Humberside set about a Channel 4 reporter on live TV)) is to tap into the huge feeling of disillusion and alienation from mainstream politics which Paddy Ashdown was warning about years ago and which is made abundantly clear in the latest academic study of the book, “Revolt on the Right”. The authors make it clear that ‘Europe’ has just become a synonym for the largely male, elderly, poorly educated, blue collar, white supporters who form the real backbone of UKIP and feel totally betrayed by Blair and (the person they particularly loathe) Cameron and that their real hates are immigration (the vast bulk of which still comes from outside the EU, of course), and, beyond this (as John describes), the feeling that the “political class” (virtually all privately educated (or as near as, with the Millibands’ London comp. being known as “the state’s version of Eton”), ex-Oxbridge and (as Farage rams home again and again) “never having had a job outside politics” (as researchers and SPADS etc before being parachuted into a safe seat at some stage (we are surrounded them by them here in West Yorkshire where the ex-miners and social workers were long since put out to grass (or promoted to the House of Lords (same thing in many ways) to make way for the Oxbridge/LSE-educated New Laborites instead). In terms of the way forwards, I personally think most of our money should be on the young as well. Every opinion poll shows that the vast majority are at the completely opposite end of the spectrum from the UKIP Alf Garnett brigade (open-minded, internationalist, entrepreneurial, self-reliant but also very concerned at the state of the world (whilst also being more or less currently totally turned off conventional UK politics/voting). I personally think John’s approach is absolutely right and the Party needs to do all it possibly can to engage once again with young people. The immense problem in doing this can be summed up in two words (“tuition fees”) but, as with any major row/break-up, I think some kind of reconciliation has got to begin to take place and what John has outlined is one way of beginning to do this. The Conservatives are well and truly the ‘Old Fogey’ party (average age of members well above 60) and they are going to be crucified for years to come with either desperately trying to stave off the hemorrhaging of voters to UKIP or even more desperately trying to win them back by lurching ever more to the right. On the other side of the ‘Punch and Judy Show’ virtually ALL Labour’s figures are totally contaminated through their associations with New Labour and easily two of the worst Prime Ministers in the UK of the twentieth century (with Brown probably sharing the honours jointly with Anthony Eden as THE worst) and, in any case, are totally lost to the legacy of Philip Gould, triangulation, focus groups etc. What people are truly desperate for is a vision and a feeling that their voices count for something in the same way as they do if they decide to buy at Lidl or Aldi instead of Tesco or to buy Samsung instead of Apple. The only UK parties in many view who can develop a constructive, progressive vision and begin to get people involved in the political process in a constructive and long-term manner (not just ANTI-EU, ANTI-immigration, ANTI-the political class, ANTI-London, ANTI-gay etc.) are the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 6:04pm

    @ John Dunn,
    Having looked at the website, it is not just about training SpAds.

  • David Allen 17th Apr '14 - 6:15pm

    “Your solution,.(?).. is to create some kind of ‘academy’ to train young people to become the [new],…. “narrow class of professional politicians most of whose lives seem increasingly detached from the people they represent.”

    That seems to me a bit unfair to John Leech. If the new trained people are out in local communities rather than SpADing around Westminster, they might stand a chance of doing something useful. However… Is this a way to get public funds spent on training up and supporting local political activists? If so, won’t this be seen as political snouts in troughs?

    What will the Tories do – demand an equal number of trained Tory community activists, or just accept that “Tory” and “community activist” don’t go together, so the thing for the Tories to do is either to get the scheme stopped, or to make sure it brings so much negative publicity to the Lib Dems and/or Labour that they wish they’d never thought of it?

    And anyway – as Tony Greaves says – How are these community people going to get anywhere, when the real power is elsewhere, and our leadership is as keen as any to keep all leadership inside the Westminster bubble?

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 6:57pm

    @ Charles Rothwell, whilst I agree with much of what you say, I think it is a bit rich of UKIP to point out the narrow pool from which the leaders of the main political parties are drawn when their two leaders went to Dulwich College and Eton .
    I would also argue that their real life experience is not what the majority of ordinary people would call ‘real life experience’.

    The young, who I feel have had a really hard deal under this coalition government, are as you say still open minded, outward looking and refreshingly internationalist and UpRising does look like one positive way of engaging young people in the political process. I particularly like the idea of supporting young people in social action campaigns.

    UKIP does not seem an overly attractive party to young people. UKIP may have its moment in the sun during the European election, but if reports are correct and the public school educated, but politically astute Nigel Farage described the 2010 manifesto as ‘drivel’ and publicly disowned it, I wouldn’t be too swayed by John on how best to devise policies.

    Given that the new manifesto will not be devised until after the European elections, I look forward to seeing what it is that UKIP thinks the voter wants

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 9:04pm

    @ David Allen,
    David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are all patrons of UpRising.

  • norman barton 21st Apr '15 - 4:14pm

    john leech has sold his voters down the river ,,,,he supports the EU which is one of the reasons I and 26 immediate family will not be voting for him …He tars UKIP to the BNP which is totally untrue ….He will not want his voters to have a in out referendum of the U.,,,,,I do not think he will get re elected .

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