Last September, the Supreme Court declared that Boris Johnson had broken the law, by proroguing Parliament, i.e. preventing it from meeting for debate. He refused to admit this, saying that the court was interfering in politics. It was not interfering; it was ensuring that politics was carried out in a democratic way. In normal court proceedings if the accused refuses to show any regret for their actions they get a strong sentence.
Then in December, the Conservative manifesto stated that there would be a review of matters of this kind; few noticed this. Now it is clear that he means to allow greater freedoms for government led by him to do whatever suits them without challenge.
They have just announced (August 2020) plans to restrict judicial review, which is the main means by which citizens can challenge government if there are grounds for showing that government had not acted in accordance with our law and constitution.
They have also announced that a large number of Boris’ cronies will be placed in the House of Lords, the only other place that can challenge what is done in the House of Commons.
We also know that various major trade deals are being negotiated, which will greatly affect us all and they have resisted any attempt by MPs to have these debated in Parliament.
Any government that reacts to court rulings by changing the law and thereby preventing anyone from challenging their actions is despotic in nature.
Liberal Democrats will do all they can to stop Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings from undermining the rule of law, which is so fundamental to our society and democracy.
Boris has announced planning reform, which will allow developers to bypass normal planning rules in order to build new homes and hospitals. LibDems say this is completely the wrong way to do it. It shows they are not serious about solving current crises. The Local Government Association (led by Conservatives) says there is planning permission for 1 million houses and developers are not building them. The developers constantly blame planning rules, but they have been wrong on this for at least ten years and they use the system for unethical financial advantage. One of the biggest developers is Persimmons, who have behaved badly in our own locality and their CEO gave himself a massive pay rise recently.
Government keeps talking about helping people to get on the housing ladder, hence temporary cuts to stamp duty, but these and other Conservative measures only help those who have money and cause house prices to go on rising. One of the key ingredients to solve the housing crisis is social housing to rent and the little that Theresa May did to allow councils to borrow was nowhere near enough. We are actually continuing to loose some social housing. LibDems say we should be building 100,000 social houses a year and work towards a total annual housing target (including affordable and luxury) of 300,000 a year by 2024.
Locally, our Conservative Borough Council announced last year they were working with Aspire Housing to build affordable homes, but that was for sale; no social housing included. The local plan is so long overdue that two years ago government threatened stepping in and making a plan of their own. We LibDems sent in our detailed comments about a proposed local plan in February 2018 and we have still not had a reply.
Housing is a major factor in people’s living standards and contributes not only to inequality and unfairness for those less well off, it causes evictions and lack of supply when landlords refuse to accommodate people on benefits and housing benefit is a drain on the public purse.
My experience as a Borough Councillor taught me that improvements are needed in planning, but they require improved staffing and speed of process. Developers already have the upper hand, especially here in Newcastle, where there is no local plan and already some major developments have gone ahead in the wrong places, in spite of the planning authority’s opposition.
I remain sad about David Becket’s death last week. He was a friend, a fellow councillor and local party activist, with whom I frequently enjoyed talking. To say he was an activist is an understatement; he was always ready to act and to comment, often critically. His critical comments included constructive suggestions. Indeed he contributed enormously to what we were able to say as a local party on a whole range of matters. At council meetings he would often open his voice with the words “I’m not happy” and that made officers prick their ears and listen, subsequently respecting the good that resulted from it.
His biggest contribution to the Borough was the way he revolutionised the organisation of waste and recycling on the Borough Council, enabling a huge rise in the amount recycled and gaining national awards.
I am grateful recently for the help he gave us in responding to the council’s proposed local plan; typically he identified key issues and did some research on these.
He contributed to our production of messages and leaflets on local and national issues; indeed he did so much, including for his ward of Halmer End and Betley, that he leaves a hole that should be filled somehow.
Although he was speedy in criticism, he also acknowledged when others made correct remarks and maintained friendship with everyone. He had high standards of behaviour.
He had a passion for community work and politics. His main concerns nationally were for the Environment, the Economy for the less well off and opposition to financial waste, bureaucracy and conservatism. He was a left-leaning Liberal of the best sort.
I first met David when he attended the AGM of the party, having moved back into the area from Newbury. I was immediately taken aback by his enthusiasm for Liberal Democrat principles, and his strong desire to change things for the better in whatever way he could. My lasting impression of David is, he was a man of integrity, with strong principles which he did not let go of easily, even when times were tough and things were not going his way. He made his view known at every stage of a discussion and was not afraid of fighting his corner even if it made him unpopular for a short time, if he thought in the long term it was for the good of the cause.
Despite his determination to succeed he was a man who gained a lot of respect, even from those who did not agree with him. He would take time to listen to other people’s views and then put his forward. He was also a man with a great sense of compassion and would take time out of his busy day to talk to people and help them when he could. I, like many more will be indebted to David for the support he has given me on numerous occasions when I have wanted reliable advice, and a critical friend. He was a wise compassionate man.
David will be known across the Borough as the man who introduced recycling to every household, the man who was passionate about the environment. He was proud to be the portfolio holder who made kerbside recycling happen, and enabled the Council to win award after award for how Newcastle delivered the service. He was also an authority on transport, housing and green belt issues and was instrumental in our party’s submission of the local plan consultation process, to our local authority.
David was a family man who was happiest when in their company. He often spoke with affection of what they meant to him and was proud to share their achievements. David was an honourable man. A man of principles and high standards, and a genuine servant to many. I know he will be sadly missed by many and Newcastle is the worse for his departure from us. We send our condolences to his family.
Marion Reddish. Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Newcastle Under Lyme Borough Council
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