Letter from Bassetlaw – March 13th 2016

CroppedIt has been a lovely sunny weekend, dry warm (after the early morning chill has gone) and a great time to be out admiring our countryside.  However, I have chosen to spend most of it in a stuffy overheated hall in York at the Lib Dem Spring Conference.

As ever, Conference gives me a chance to meet fellow Lib Dem members from around the country, including some who I have spent years talking to on line but never met in person, and to recharge my enthusiasm for working to promote the Lib Dems here in Bassetlaw.

The highlight as ever was ever Tim Farron’s speech to close the Conference.  He was funny, inspiring, challenging but above all, passionate in his liberal vision for the United Kingdom (you watch it here, Tim’s speech starts at 3:13:00, or you can read the transcript).  He reiterated that it is only the Liberal Democrats that stand up for ordinary people, reminding everyone that Lib Dems “stand for election, not to be someone, but to do something!”  If you want to do something for your community, then come and join us, you can do that here.

The main role of Conference is to make policy for the Party and on three issues, what we decided in York has a direct bearing on the people of Bassetlaw.  These issues are Fracking the regulation of Cannabis and protecting tenants of Private Landlords (full details in the Agenda are on line)

On Fracking, I am delighted to say that we succeeded in getting a motion passed that was unequivocal in calling for an end to Fracking (see P43 in the Agenda) in England.  I wasn’t called to speak from the platform for this debate as I only got an “intervention” spot so could only give part of the speech I had prepared (you can read the full speech here) but never mind we won overwhelmingly and now opposing Fracking is the Lib Dem position.  (You can watch the whole debate on YouTube, it starts at 1:55:00, my contribution is at around 2:26:00.)  We in Bassetlaw now know which of the major parties active in our area are working to support the people in getting the drillers stopped.

Straight after that debate (so carry on watching the YouTube video, page 45 in the Agenda), we debated “Regulatory Framework for Cannabis”.  Another great, well informed & intelligent debate with an overwhelming majority for legalising, regulating & education about Cannabis.  The debate included the memorable line from former senior policeman Brain Paddick the “the police are wasted on cannabis!”.  Again Conference voted for a liberal comprehensive solution that looked to support people and not make them criminals.  By breaking the link between the illegal drug dealers (who also push harder, more dangerous drugs) and cannabis, we will help combat these gangs that blight these lives.

Finally, this morning we debated giving better protection to those renting homes from private landlords (Page 61 in the Agenda, at 2:16:00 in this YouTube video).  This is an issue that affect many not just in London or other big cities, but also in smaller towns like Worksop & Retford.  Many of us either know the issues first hand, or through the experiences of our children or because we live next to house being rented out and not being cared for.  The Lib Dems have taken a big step in driving the issue up the political agenda and the proposals in the motion will help those needing the rent (and the good private landlords) get the protection they need.

Obviously, there was much more at Conference than these three debates, training sessions, fringe events, even an unscheduled trip to A&E to support a young member who had damaged their knee falling down the steps at the Barbican Centre (and no, no drink was involved) but these three debates show that Lib Dems, far from being a spent force, are looking at how we can put people before vested interests, how we can make a difference rather than just hold office, how we can help build communities not just protect self-interests.

Conference for us is all about putting flesh on to the dry bones of our principles and our weekend in York did not disappoint.

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Letter for Bassetlaw – February 21st 2016

flags_3274275bSo finally the phoney war on the Referendum is over and we now have a date.  In just over 120 days, 17 weeks, we will get to vote on whether to remain in the EU or not.

Let us be very clear what we will not be voting on.  We will not be voting on whether the renegotiations Cameron concluded last week are a good deal or not, we will not be voting on whether the Tories should carry on in Government and we will not be voting on should we have joined the Common Market in 1973.  We are now members of the EU and the referendum is simply to decide if we should remain in the EU or leave it.

As I wrote in my Letter from Bassetlaw last week, there will be a lot written & a lot broadcast in the nest 17 weeks and each one of us will need to make their own decision passed on the information presented.

Last week I wrote on how to judge the quality of that information.  This week I want to make my suggestions what areas you need to look at to make your judgement, they are:

Prosperity –        will remaining in the EU make the UK a richer nation than leaving?

Opportunity –   will remaining in the EU give us more opportunities for work, for trade, for education, for co-operation than leaving?

Peace –                will remaining in the EU help secure the peace that has mostly held in Europe for the last 70 years better than leaving.

Environment – can we protect our environment better by remaining in the EU than by leaving

Security –            will our security against international crime & extremist terrorism be protected by working with other EU member countries as a partner in the EU or by leaving the EU

I am convinced that the answers for each of these questions the answer is clear, we are better off in the EU and I will be campaigning to Remain In.

In the coming weeks I will look at each of these areas and going into more detail, for now I will just say that be careful who you listen to and make sure they base their comments on facts, not assumptions.

 

While the Referendum will dominate the news until the date we finally get to cast out vote (at least those that are allowed to vote do, the disenfranchisement of 16 & 17 years olds, UK Citizens abroad & non-UK EU citizens living here is a scandal that we need to address), there are other issues around.  One of these is Fracking.

While the planning application by Island Gas (iGas) to drill bore holes in Misson is still be deliberated on by Nottinghamshire County Council, I want to address one of the myths that are being floated around about Fracking and why those in favour of claim we need to go down that path.

The claim that we need to frack for gas for energy security is often made but doesn’t hold water.  As we are still at the exploration stage & no planning applications to frack any wells in the UK has yet been made, it will take at least 5 years (and probably more) before any useable amounts of gas will be coming to the surface from fracked wells in the UK.  The problem with the UK energy gap is much more immediate[i] with threats of power cuts in the next severe winter we suffer.  This gap needs to be filled as quickly as possible yet the Government is cutting subsidies & grants to the very technologies that could do this, wind, solar & tidal.  This would also address the other side of the energy security issue, where we get out gas supplies from, as the resources would available here (as an island we have plenty of wind, tidal & even solar) and not have to be transported from possible troubled parts if the world.

I hope to speak at the upcoming Lib Dem Conference in York in the debate we have on Fracking and, if I am, I will be making the case that fracking is not needed.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_the_United_Kingdom#UK_.27energy_gap.27

Letter from Bassetlaw – January 31th 2016

12573236_10153642000856773_7824302917179026797_nMy apologies for the lack of a Letter from Bassetlaw last weekend but I was cajoled in to celebrating my 60th Birthday by my family and simply couldn’t find the time.

Our winter still continues to surprise.  After a few days of frost & cold, we have had some rain then some sun and even a bit of snow, all mixed in with a lot of wind.

While this isn’t conclusive proof of man-made Climate Change, the weather we have had this winter and over the last few years, is a good indicator that something fundamental has changed, and is still changing, in our climate.   The speed of this change and amount of it we are seeing points to it being more than natural variation.  With this in mind, can we take the risk of assuming it is not driven by the emissions we make in our modern society?  Can we take the risk of not doing all we can to reduce those emissions and looking for ways to make sure that our need for energy is met from sources that do not emit carbon dioxide or methane into the atmosphere?

This is why looking for more and more marginal sources for gas & oil is so crazy.  Even if we can extract them in a way that does not damage the environment (which is far from being the case), we simply cannot afford to burn them.  The extra carbon that would emit into the atmosphere would cause a great deal of damage and stop us reducing our emissions as we need to do.

This leads me on the County Council’s recent decision to allow test bore drilling near Misson.

Let’s be clear, while the County Council Planning Committee (& Bassetlaw’s Planning Committee before them) have been spineless in not voting against the development, the reality is that it is the Tory Government’s desire to press ahead with Fracking at all costs meant that the drilling was always going to be allowed, if not by the County Council then by DCLG.

However, we also need to be clear that the reasons behind this have nothing to do with filling our imminent energy gap or even to secure the UK’s supply of gas in years to come but all to do with making surer that the big energy suppliers keep their hold on our energy supply.

Even the most optimistic prediction says it will be at least 5 years before gas in usable quantities comes out from any shale gas wells, be it by fracking or other techniques, yet we could be facing energy shortages as soon as next winter.  In spite of this, our Government has been moving subsides from renewable energy which could plug that gap to hydrocarbons that cannot.  It simply beggars belief that Cameron, Osborne & others are doing this simply to make sure that the big oil & energy companies (most of which donate money to the Conservatives) keep control of the energy we use.

There are no reasons why Fracking should be allowed to continue apart from the greed of the large energy companies & their need to control our energy supply.  While we may have lost a skirmish in fight to against fracking when the County Council Planning Committee didn’t stop the iGas proposal to drill near Misson, that fight will definitely continue and we need to make sure that everyone realises that the drive for fracking is nor about securing an energy supply for the UK but all about securing control of the supply.

 

On another “Green” issue, I was disappointed to see that Bassetlaw ranks 322nd out of 326 areas[i] in England for recycling.  Only 3 London Boroughs & the Isles of Scilly had a worse “Percentage of household waste sent for reuse, recycling or composting” than the 19.2% Bassetlaw managed.  This is truly appalling and Bassetlaw & Sherwood Liberal Democrats will soon be issuing a report highlighting this as well as asking the District Council what they will be doing to improve recycling rates in our area.

 

Finally, plans are advancing for the Remain In campaign launch in Bassetlaw and I hope to have news about this soon.  It is vital that the UK remains in the EU, not just for those like me who (to put it bluntly) have lived most of our lives but for the generations to come.  Outside the EU, our country will be a diminished place to love, diminished economically, diminished in our influence abroad, diminished educational & culturally.  We must not let this happen, we owe it to our children to stay in the EU, to “Remain And Gain”.

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/env18-local-authority-collected-waste-annual-results-tables

Letter from Bassetlaw – December 19th 2015

Leon Duveen 140920aThis week has been dominated by two subjects, Fracking and the EU Referendum.  As I suspect these subject will continue to dominate in the weeks & months to come, it is right that I will use this, my last “Letter from Bassetlaw” for this year, to look at both.

Fracking vs Renewables.

This week we saw the Government renege on the commitments made before the election not the extract methane or oil from under National Parks & other sensitive areas of our countryside.  Now, it will be OK to Frack under places like Sherwood Forest & Clumber just so long as the site they drill from is outside the sensitive area.   They have also slashed subsides to the solar power industry by 65%.

Also this week Bassetlaw District Council’s Planning Committee voted not to object to iGas’s plan to drill a test bore under Misson to see if there is enough Methane there to make it worth Fracking.  Only 1 of the Councillors (and thank you to Cllr Graham Oxby) was brave enough to stand up to the bullies and vote against the application.  This was after compelling evidence had been presented to show that far from bringing jobs to the area, the drilling will put 75 jobs at risk on a local Organic farm as the chemicals used as lubricants in the drilling the bore would bit that Organic status at risk.  The application now goes on to Nottinghamshire County Council to approve or not

Since May, our Government (which only got the support of less than 37% of those who voted in the General Election) has rolled back all the safeguards against Fracking put in place by the Lib Dem Secretaries of State, Chris Huhne & Ed Davey, when they were in charge at DECC.  This is completely incompatible with the commitments made in Pairs last weekend to cut back on the burning of hydrocarbons.

After these developments, and prompted by a discussion I had been having with others, I posted a comment on my Facebook page.

Even if Fracking was clean, safe and economic, I would still oppose it as we cannot afford to burn more hydrocarbons.   We must move away from this dangerous reliance on a technology that is poisoning the planet and the sooner we start making serious moves to do so, the better it will be.

Fracking will not help the drive towards a clean energy future.  We must stop wasting time & money chasing ever harder to extract hydrocarbons and start make real investments into renewables.

The EU Referendum

In the run up to the European Parliaments elections, I was challenged to say why I was pro-EU so I wrote this post Why I am Pro-EU which I have reposted this week.   While some of the details may have change, the basic arguments are just as valid today as they were two weeks ago.  In some ways they are even more valid.

On a range of issues, from Climate Change to fighting International Crime, from combating terrorism & ensuring our security to making sure Human Rights are respected around the world, the problem cross national boundaries and can only be tackled by working closely with other countries.

The EU gives us that framework.  The UK needs to be taking the lead in using the EU’s standing & influence to solve these problems rather than walking away from it and diminishing bout our & the EU’s power to be a force for the better in the world.

I am not naïve to think that the EU cannot be improved.   Like most layers of Government, it can be over bureaucratic and remote from those it governs, just as Whitehall, County Hall and Queens Buildings can be.  These issues need to be address, indeed our concerns on this are shared by many across the EU, but would anyone seriously claim that Nottinghamshire (with 786,700 residents it is bigger than some members of the EU) should leave the UK because the UK Government in Westminster does not reflect what we want, does not take our concerns into account and cost too much?  No, and anyone suggesting that would be though to be a fool.  Well the UK is in the same position towards Europe as Nottinghamshire is to the UK Government.  We may have issues with it and what it does but to leave would be unthinkable.

 

D2N2

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to come back to you about what D2N2 means and how it affects us in Bassetlaw.  I had a meeting earlier this week with others from across Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire to explore this and found out that D2N2 is a “Local Enterprise Partnership” (LEP) for the combined area of Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire (including Nottingham & Derby cities) and is used to channel development funds from Central Government to the area.

The D2N2 area is now being offered the chance to get even more funding from the Government but the condition is that we have an Executive Mayor for the area and many of the powers, including planning, of the District, Borough, County & City Councils in the two Counties will be passed to the Mayor and a Combined Authority (CA) to oversee them.  It is not yet clear who will make up this CA.  The full range of powers to be passed up and the role of the Councils in the new settlement is still very unclear

The Government calls this Devolution but, to be honest, it does not look like devolving powers down to local communities, simply a way of taking powers from those communities & local accountable councils and centralising them in a single person even more remote and far less accountable by the people across two Counties

I am still working to fill in the gaps in my knowledge on the proposals and am open to having my views changed on this but for now, I feel the idea is bad news for us in the “remote north” of the area as we will get ignored both by the new CA and by the Sheffield City Region (which we also belong to) as both will think the other should be responsible for development here in Bassetlaw.

 

As I wrote at the beginning, this will be my final Letter from Bassetlaw this year, I will post my next one on the first weekend in January 2016.  I hope you all have a great time with family & friends over the next couple of weeks and look forward to a prosperous & rewarding time in 2016

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

Letter from Bassetlaw – December 5th 2015

11212751_10153548490456773_5134864088091511748_nWell really this should be a “Letter from Limburg” where Yannie & I are enjoying a weekend break.  So far we have been round the Christmas Market in Valkenburg, where we are staying, and in Maastricht.  Tomorrow we hope to go across to Aachen in Germany (one of the advantages of open boarders in the EU) to see the same tat in the Christmas Market there.

So it has been an eventful week in politics.

On Wednesday, the Commons decided to authorise the RAF to extend it’s mission against ISIL in Syria & Iraq to include attacking targets in Syria.  I have made my view clear in posts on Facebook & elsewhere that I think this is a wrong choice and will not defeat ISIL so I won’t repeat all the arguments here.  As you can read in my Letter from Bassetlaw – November 26th2015, I also wrote to John Mann & he agreed with my position and voted against the authorisation in the House of Commons. Sadly, even though I and other Lib Dems wrote to all our MPs, 6 of the 8 vote to authorise the extended mission.

The main damage from the decision seems to have been on Labour Party unity (which I am sure was Cameron’s intention) rather than on ISIL.

Fracking in Bassetlaw

As you will know, in the last few weeks the sceptre of Fracking in our area is raising it’s ugly head.  Both in Misson, where iGas have applied for permission to drill a test bore & in Blyth, where a similar application is expected shortly, most of residents are agreed to oppose these developments and are objecting to the patronising way iGas talk to them.

Let’s hope common sense prevails and iGas realise they and Fracking are not wanted in Bassetlaw. Meanwhile we need to keep up the pressure on both iGas & Nottinghamshire County Council to make sure the applications do not go ahead.  You can find out what you can do to help on the Bassetlaw Against Fracking Bassetlaw Against Fracking.

D2N2 & what it means for Bassetlaw

To be absolutely honest with you, I don’t know.  For those that are not aware D2N2 is a Local Enterprise Partnership for Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire which promises to bring investment & jobs to the two Counties.  Along with this the Government are devolving powers to the area.  While I am all in favour of devolving power from an all too powerful Central Government, I want to make sure there is proper democratic control over those that will wield power in our name and not one or two people having all the control but not directly answerable to elected representatives.  I hope to find out more in the coming days and will share that in forthcoming Letters from Bassetlaw.

Bassetlaw for Europe

Sometime in the next 2 years, we will be having the long awaited referendum on whether we should stay in the European Union (which was created out of the EEC by the Treaty signed here in Maastricht in 1992) or leaving it.

I am very clear that the UK needs to be in the EU and not just as the semi-detached member that successive governments have consigned us to being but being a leader and shaping the future of the Union to make more responsive to the people of Europe.  The benefits for us all are many, & not just that we can drive from places like Worksop across to Maastricht, Aachen and even across to Warsaw with just some quick passport check at most to cross the many international boarders, and we would be poorer as a country economically & culturally if we were to leave.

Apart from the effects on the UK economy of leaving, there are three important areas where cooperation across the EU is vital to keeping us safe, these are the Environment, Security & crime. All three are now international issues and we in the UK need to work closely with partners in the EU (and beyond) if we are you make sure we deal successfully with them.

I will return to the Referendum and working to lead, not leave in Europe over the weeks and months ahead. If you want to be involved in the campaign to stay in the EU, let me know, your contribution will be most welcome.