As we emerge from the shadow of Covid, the UK has an opportunity to press the reset button and make some changes to the way our country and region is run.
As liberals we believe in the dispersal of power and opportunity. This principle should apply to regions as much as it does to individuals. Many believe too much wealth, power and opportunity is centralised in those parts of the country. The Liberal Democrats should be at the forefront of spreading this power, wealth and opportunity.
Many in Scotland, Wales, the North of England and the Midlands want to see more power dispersed. Scotland and Wales have parliaments and Liberal Democrats within those parliaments to champion their country’s cause. Unfortunately, the Midlands seems to literally, fall through the middle.
To address this problem, Liberal Democrat members in the East Midlands have formed ‘Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England’. The group seeks to champion issues that affect the Midlands within the Liberal Democrats, and help to widen Liberal Democrat appeal in the Midlands. Our aim is to help elect more Liberal Democrat Councils and Councillors and have Liberal Democrat MPs represent us in our region.
As with other areas, the Midlands has many problems, but no champion. Low levels of social mobility result in too many young people being born into poverty and staying in poverty throughout their lives here. As Liberal Democrats, we believe Education is the key to give our young people the best chance in life. But barriers to this include issues on teacher retention in ‘underperforming’ schools and gaps in achievement between children on free school meals and their wider peer group.
Many Midlands councils are among the worst funded in the country. I am a county councillor in Leicestershire. the lowest funded county per-capita in the country. This affects residents through rising council tax bills and slashed services. Furthermore, cuts in bus subsidies leads to additional isolation of some of society’s most vulnerable and the closure of Sure Start Centres harm already the most disadvantaged young people.
Infrastructure in the Midlands is also in need of support. The Liberal Democrats, in government, supported the electrification of the Midland Mainline. Sadly, Conservative majority governments halted proceedings, and we still wait for Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and the rest of Northamptonshire to benefit from the cleaner, greener, faster trains it would deliver.
The 2019 General Election was one of the most successful for the Conservative Party in our region, as they took nearly 80% of seats here. This success was, in part, driven by Brexit as the Midlands had previously voted by nearly 60% to Leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. The Liberal Democrats, sitting unashamedly on the other side of this divide, were squeezed further at the polls.
But even in a post-Brexit and post-Covid environment, the Midlands will continue to face significant challenges. The region has the highest proportion of manufacturing jobs in the country. It is also a regional with a lot of agriculture. Yet both sectors are at risk under this Conservative government. The threat to the car industry with 9,000 job losses at Rolls Royce, based in Derby is a serious concern.
Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England we want to see a Midlands Manufacturing Taskforce that will work to protect manufacturing jobs in the region. This is a cause championed by Beverley Nielsen, our excellent West Midlands Lib Dem Mayoral candidate.
The agricultural sector meanwhile, risks being hit by post Brexit trade deals that could see lower standards on food imports that will hit consumers and potentially undercut and drive Midlands farmers out of business. The recently passed Agriculture Bill failed to protect farmers and it was good to see all Liberal Democrat MPs vote against it.
The Midlands is crying out for a party to champion its cause. Despite electing a wave of Conservative MPs, our fortunes have not improved and an opportunity arises for Liberal Democrats to pick up some of that support by championing the Midlands.
Cllr Michael Mullaney has been a Liberal Democrat member since 2004 and is Leicestershire County Councillor for Hinckley De Montfort and opposition Finance spokesman. Michael’s a Borough Councillor and Cabinet member for Housing and Community Safety on Liberal Democrat run Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. He was Liberal Democrat PPC for Bosworth in 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019. He serves as LDfHE Chair.