My personal reflections on York

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Spring conference ended on a beautiful afternoon here in York, and whilst colleagues were journeying back to their own constituencies, as a local resident of the city I thought I’d spend the time saved in the commute to jot down some personal highlights.

The rally on Friday served up some great speeches from new Lib Dem members, notably from broadcaster/ army officer/ junior doctor Saleyha Ahsan who spoke passionately in defence of her profession (the medical one) but conflated the junior doctors pay strike and privatisation of the NHS.

Saturday was mostly fringe for me, and I attended the Private Renters event hosted by ‘Generation Rent’ intending to vent my spleen about the older generation treating property as a pension investment.  Lots of other attendees were landlords keen to point out the impracticalities of rent controls or the unfair nature of existing regulations.  Bah, try raising a family in a flat with one month tenancy notice mate!  This issue is clearly going to be back at conference soon.

The Implications of the Sharing Economy was an event hosted by Liberal Reform and thankfully started with an idiot’s guide to what the sharing economy is (turns out it’s Uber and Airbnb).  It raised the issue of how we should be taxing and regulating these new tech phenomena which are, in effect, co-operative style decentralising business models.  Problem is you can’t over regulate for fear of killing them, but you’ve got to catch them in your tax and regulation nets before they start killing you!  I liked one colleague’s suggestion that we push them into being true co-operatives, with unions of workers and consumers owning the sharing platform technology.

Party business in the main hall served up three great debates on Cannabis (liberalised because we are an evidence based party), Fracking (banned despite us being an evidence based party) and all women shortlists (approved because everyone is unconsciously a sexist, even the women).  Whatever your views it was a quality debate and under one member one vote everyone in the hall had their voice heard.

The personal highlight was a meeting with a delegation from the Nasa Stranka party of Bosnia and the local party here in York.  We discussed the different campaigning methods and electoral landscapes in the two countries, the difficulties of getting your message across in a hostile media environment, and the horrors of living in Sarajevo during the war (I mostly listened during that bit).  They even came and did some Focus delivery in my ward of Clifton!

It was a good background class for the Leader’s speech on Sunday, which once again showcased Tim Farron’s easy humour but crystal clear clarity on the big moral issues of the day.  He got several standing ovations when railing against David Cameron’s lack of action on the refugee crisis, and I came away thinking that whilst we may not be able to solve the problem, as a nation we should follow the Mother Theresa instinct to ‘Give until it hurts’ which is a lot more than we’re doing today.  Amen.

* Tobie Abel is a software designer and PPC for Richmond Yorks. He joined the party in 2013

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  • Eddie Sammon 14th Mar '16 - 1:37pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, but I’m concerned about the economic points of view suggested in this article.

    First you complain about the older generation using property as a pension – look at how low interest rates are and how volatile the stock market it. We can’t have it both ways, if we want pensions besides the state pension then we need to be pro investment – both in shares, property and other asset classes.

    Secondly you talk about pushing the likes of Uber and Airbnb into being “true co-operatives, with unions of workers and consumers owning the sharing platform technology.”. For me, there is something fundamentally unjust about taking entrepreneur’s businesses away from them an giving it to others on the basis that “profit is bad”. Of course, significant taxation and regulation is fine.

    As I like to say to people: there may be such thing as “not for profit”, but there is not much such thing as “not for money” and Liberal Democrats need to realise this and also, I feel, get comfortable with the philosophical reasons for this.

    Best regards

  • Eddie Salmon – On the sharing platforms I do agree with you about not getting in the way of private enterprise. I think there might be a place for co-operative style ownership of the technology in some sectors, so the platform is owned by all but individual companies build and sell the apps on that platform. Only for things like transport, energy, education or healthcare though.

    With all due respect on your other point, I think residential property is not an investment vehicle, it is someones home, and the two should never be mixed up. If you want to invest in property for your future then use commercial property and the thousands of property investment trusts on the market, thats what the financial services sector is for.

  • The problem with people using property as a pension is that they have little alternative if they want a decent return. For those not lucky enough to have a public sector or final salary pension the returns of most investments are pitiful and annuities are virtual daylight robbery. Put the like for like contributions into a calculator and it is plain to see. Commercial property gives a great return but is more likely to stand empty than domestic.

    Unless any political party is willing to allow a return to widespread public ownership of housing,the problem isn’t who owns the rental property or the reason they own it, the problem is that there should be strict controls on the standards of accommodation, the terms of lease, and of course the rent. According to my German friends they have a great rental market with binding long term leases and regulated rent. Perhaps we need to learn from them..

  • Bill le Breton 14th Mar '16 - 4:57pm

    Thanks Tobie. Am especially interested in what you had to say about the rally contribution from Doctor Saleyha Ahsan.

    Is there a copy of her speech or her notes? It would be good to seem it published as a piece here. Or have I missed it?

  • Hi Bill – I couldn’t find a link to her speech anywhere, perhaps one will become available in the next few days. My memory of here speech was that she said being a junior doctor in A&E on a Saturday night was much harder than her career as either a broadcaster or army officer, and that no one in Westminster, including the Lib Dems, were backing the Junior Doctors in the current industrial action. She also sort of said the action was part of a wider struggle against government plans to privatise the service, which i didn’t really follow.

  • Bill le Breton 14th Mar '16 - 8:36pm

    Thanks Tobie. Could the editors or indeed Dr Ahsan help, please.

  • I was at the York Conference Rally and heard Dr Saleyha Ahsan’s impressive speech. Perception is of course always more powerful than reality. Dr Ahsan’s declaration of a lack of support for the Junior Doctors’ in Parliament is utterly incorrect and unjust. Norman Lamb has been their tireless champion. But who would know that? Indeed who saw one broadcast image of the Rally or any debate or Tim’s final oration? The reality is no one is broadcasting a word our Party says, that guides Dr Ahsan’s view, uniformed by reality and our poor opinion poll ratings. Of course Norman and we deserve better Tobie. Better still let’s not repeat the falsehood but rather forcefully contradict it as no one else will.

  • David Evershed 15th Mar '16 - 11:48am

    ” …..push them into being true co-operatives, with unions of workers and consumers owning the sharing platform technology”

    Not very liberal to try to takeover someone’s successfull business.

    In this liberal society you are free to start up your own legal business with your own choice of business model, co-operative or otherwise, and not expect government to come along and change it.

  • David – yes, no-one is going to be nationalising anyone. This is more like saying common ownership of the roads but allow private firms to run the bus services. You can have common ownership of the platform (The technical infrastructure that runs the web services matching driver and customer) and still allow private firms to create apps to attract customers and drivers. It actually encourages competition because there is less barrier to entry. In any case, someone pointed out to me you can’t do it because it would break EU protectionism laws, and probably no-one would trust not-for-profit sector to build and maintain the platform, which is quite sad really.

  • Simon Banks 18th Mar '16 - 9:37am

    One query on that summary. The expert evidence on fracking was not all one way. A water engineer made some powerful points about the complexity of aquifers and the unpredictability of invasive interventions. I think many people also felt that even if fracking COULD be made safe, the current venal government was not going to make it safe if their big donors didn’t like it, and for us to say “We like the thing, but not quite the way you’re proposing” might be just a tad too subtle.

  • Yes Simon, the aside on Fracking in the article “Fracking (banned despite us being an evidence based party)” was particularly skewed. We know there is lots of evidence out there, and it does not all point in one direction (as the speech from the water engineer made clear), so we have to apply judgement to it.

    I do worry when Lib Dems effectively say “the evidence is on my side.” To me it says “I haven’t really understood the bit of the preamble that says “where we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community.” We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect liberal, equal and communal solution. Supporting the liberty to work longer hours results in inequality in earnings (as do many less desirable causes), favouring equality in the subsidies for local authorities results in many rural communities having no bus service at all, and favouring a communities fear (possibly justified and possibly not) that fracking would adversely affect their neighbourhood results in a company’s right to make money from fracking to be curtailed.

    Liberalism has always required judgement. That is why we come to different conclusions even though we start from the same place.

    That is why it is not an easy choice to be a Liberal.

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