TIM FARRON: A BRITAIN WHERE EVERYONE IS TREATED FAIRLY
Liberal Democrats believe that every person is entitled to the same opportunity to succeed in life. That means breaking down the barriers that hold people back, fighting discrimination and defending individuals against an overreaching government. We strive for a country that is welcoming and open-minded. One that is optimistic, that rejects prejudice and embraces diversity.
We stand for the everyday citizen and against unchecked power, and that is one of the reasons why this election is so important. Because, make no mistake, Theresa May called this election to amass more power so that she does not have to consult on a Brexit deal no matter how bad the implications might be for Britain.
Liberal Democrats would therefore not only stop Theresa May driving Britain’s economy off a cliff-edge with a hard Brexit. We would also stop any attempts to scrap the Human Rights Act or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. We would also strengthen the UK’s commitment to international human rights law.
Equality is therefore at the heart of our policies. Whether it’s tackling racism, addressing poor physical and mental healthcare by adding 1p on income tax to boost funding for the NHS, enshrining equal marriage into law, or protecting the rights of workers in the gig economy. Liberal Democrats are proud of our record on equality, but we know there is much more to do, and this includes being more representative as a party.
We are slowly getting there, with three times as many BME candidates standing in winnable seats this election following measures implemented in 2016 which means we are the only political party using every available measure under the Equality Act to improve diversity. This enables us to reserve places on shortlists for BME candidates. The Liberal Democrats believe we should be able to have all BME shortlists and regardless of who the Government is on 9 June and we will continue to lobby Ministers to make this change.
Unlike Labour and the Conservatives we neither takes votes for granted nor do we write anyone off as a lost cause. Our equalities laws are not a laurel to sit on, in Coalition we introduced reporting mechanisms on the gender pay gap and in our manifesto we have committed to extend this to reporting mechanisms for ethnicity and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps. Labour have talked about addressing the pay gap but without also monitoring how many people are employed in a firm the pay rates alone may not tell the whole story. Ensuring that large employers are aware of the often hidden and sometimes unconscious biases happening in their firms will concentrate the minds of top management to ask why these unfair outcomes are happening and seek solutions such as adopting best practice.
The Conservatives like to present a more diverse image these days, but nothing can disguise the fact that Britain has become a more unequal society under their governance, and the gap in outcomes for BME communities has got worse in many areas like homelessness. Austerity has continued at the same pace despite the economy improving and our public services like the NHS are under enormous stress. The impact has been disproportionately hard on the poorest, and hardest of all on BME households which disadvantages children’s life-chances at an early stage.
That is one of the reasons children, and education, are at the heart of our agenda. We must give young people the best start in life and empower them to shape their own future. That is why we would treble early years education funding for disadvantaged children via the pupil premium, a key Lib Dem Coalition achievement, which would help close the GCSE ethnicity attainment gap.
But this success story is not being translated into employment. Job seekers with a ‘foreign’ sounding name have to apply for twice as many jobs as white applicants with similar qualifications and experience to get an interview. Lib Dems have long argued for the introduction of name-blind job applications in the public sector. In our 2017 manifesto we also call for the presumption of one BME candidate on every public appointment shortlist.
I am proud that Britain is a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-ethnic society. Migration to these islands has enriched our nation in many ways, including contributing positively towards our economy and essential public services. We utterly reject the kind of scapegoating that some politicians and commentators have indulged in. And I particularly object to Theresa May letting Zac Goldsmith walk back into her party following the disgraceful campaign that he and her current general election campaign manager Lynton Crosby ran against Sadiq Khan.
Such words poison the atmosphere and give racism the green light on social media and elsewhere. There can never be any excuse for hate crime or casual racism and we must work together to combat it. Lib Dems want to make all hate crimes aggravated offenders and we call for harsher sentences for the perpetrators. We would also equip the police with more funding to help combat hate crime via a £300 million a year funding boost.
But, while we would want police powers increased in some areas, Liberal Democrats do not want young BME people to have their life-chances curtailed by being disproportionately targeted by police stop and searches. Studies show that BME offenders are more likely to get custodial and longer sentences than White offenders for the same crime. We pledge to seriously consider upcoming recommendations of the government review into criminal justice being led by David Lammy MP.
We also need to skill up British workers. It is massively disappointing that less than half of the 2 million BAME young people who applied for apprenticeships got the opportunity, a much lower figure than the average. We need urgent action to remove biases in apprenticeships to stop this being the first barrier of unfairness that blocks young and diverse talent.
But, government does not have all the answers. We do not believe that targets and levers alone can make Britain a racially equal and just society. Attitudes, behaviours, hearts and minds also need to change. But government does have an important role to play, and we want to find out exactly how. That is why we are calling for a government-wide plan to tackle racial inequalities and a number of our manifesto pledges: whether it’s extending the Equalities Act to outlaw caste discrimination, cracking down on rogue landlords who are discriminating against BME families renting homes, or scraping the flawed counter-terrorism Prevent strategy and replacing it with a scheme that prioritises community engagement.
On immigration, we need control of our borders but it is important that the system is operating fairly and efficiently, and meets the needs of the labour market. We also need to be a sanctuary for those most vulnerable in the world.
I was incredibly moved by the plight of refugees I visited in Calais. Refugees are human beings fleeing from military conflict and persecution, and we have a legal and moral obligation to offer them sanctuary. The government have been extremely mean-spirited by only letting in a small number of Syrian children fleeing a war zone. Britain is better than that. Liberals will strive for a more humane asylum system.
I want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united. One that celebrates the very best of what it means to be British. And, as a patriot, I know that includes celebrating our diversity. I want a prosperous Britain that trades with our European neighbours as well as the rest of the world. Theresa May has said she would rather walk away from the EU with no deal rather than accept a bad deal. There is every reason to fear that no deal will be the worst deal of all. That is why we are the only party calling for the British people to be given the final say on Europe.
I welcome the Race Equality Manifesto by Operation Black Vote and a number of other race equality organisations. It contains a lot of interesting ideas, many of which are already in our manifesto, others that I hope our new race equality policy group, which will start work after this election, will consider.
I refuse to accept Theresa May and Nigel Farage’s extreme version of Brexit that will wreck the future for you, your family, your schools and hospitals.
I also refuse to accept Labour’s ineffective, hard Brexit accepting opposition. In the biggest fight for the future of our country in a generation, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has let you down by voting with Theresa May on Brexit – not against her.
I want a Britain that is at ease with itself over diversity, striving to treat everyone equally regardless of colour, faith, social status, sexuality, age or any other ‘difference’. A country that remembers how we have welcomed people fleeing persecution and continues to do so. A country that plays its full part in the world, with trade, cooperation and development. I want us to reject petty small-minded voices that encourage isolation and fear. We are a Liberal country. Let us together make it fairer and more prosperous.
A vote for the Liberal Democrats can change your future.