The result of last Thursday's Richmond Park by-election, which saw the incumbent Zac Goldsmith outsted by Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney, was an incredible result for the Party. It was also a clear message to the Conservative government.
Voters are not fools - Goldsmith may have resigned from the Conservative government and stood as an independent but residents could see that he was far from it. Credit to Goldsmith for resigning because the government had approved a third runway at Heathrow - he kept his 2015 election promise to voters. However, the fact that the Conservatives did not stand a candidate to oppose him and many well-known Conservative supporters and MPs were spotted not-so-secretly campaigning made it clear that voting for him would have been a vote for another Conservative voice in everything but name.
There was of course also Goldsmith's campaign for Mayor of London. His approach damaged his reputation and feedback from Lib Dem canvassers showed that, particularly Labour voters, were unhappy with the way he behaved and chose to vote for us in order to oust him.
In our view these issues combined with Goldsmith's vocal pro-Brexit stance that made Richmond Park voters decide to take their support from him and his Conservative colleagues in such large numbers. Time and again on the doors Lib Dem canvassers were told by residents that they would not support Goldsmith because his pro-Brexit views had let them down; the government are taking the country on a path they did not want and a path that left them fearful of the damage it would do to us as a nation and personally. In contrast they talked about they knew that Sarah Olney and the Lib Dems have opposed the additional runway at Heathrow for years and how they felt that Sarah represented them, their view of Brexit and a positive future for Britain.
So how could this translate to Guildford's situation?
There is of course not the added power of the anti Heathrow expansion or reaction against a previous personal campaign. However, the key issue - Brexit - is still at play. Guildford voted to remain at the EU referendum - 56% of nearly 77% of voters which is a very high turnout for any vote. Anne Milton eventually, in the last days of the referendum, indicated that she was voting to remain. Since the referendum she has remained virtually silent on the approach her government is taking despite many resident lobbying her on issues ranging from EU nationals right to remain, remaining in the single market and freedom of movement. Residents want and expect her to represent their voice at a national level yet she voted against a clear statement being given on EU nationals right and made excuses when one of her own councillors started a petition which would have named thousands of her residents traitors.
At the next general election those who voted remain on 23rd June, or who voted leave but want to retain aspects of our membership such as membership of the single market, they may react strongly against Anne Milton's 'fence sitting' and her unwillingness to give them their voice in parliament. There will also be the risk of leavers abandoning her too for not representing their views.
In contrast the Liberal Democrat stance on Brexit is clear - we respect the result of the referendum as Britains democratic choice to depart the EU. However, we did not vote on the destination - our 'hard' or 'soft' Brexit. We have said that we will push hard to ensure that Britain gets the best possible deal - including retaining membership of the single market - and when the final deal is on the table giving Britain the change to vote again on our destination. Whether a GE takes place next year or in 2020 remainers and leavers will know what our message is and what a vote for the Lib Dems is supporting.
Richmond Park also showed that throwing money at an election does not necessarily win elections. You need a strong message (which we have) and a passionate energetic campaign. Liberal Demcrat volunteers were out in force on the streets knocking on doors, spreading our message and delivering leaflets. We also had a strong campaign on social media and regular press coverage. Residents saw that we meant business and got involved themselves which spread our message further and ultimately gained us more votes. Since June we had a surge in membership that would help us to reproduce, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, this type of passionate, visible and personal campaigning.
Finally, we should not forget the cross-party support - the progressive alliance - that emerged in Richmond Park. Only time will tell if a similar formalised alliance will emerge here in Guildford but what is clear is that the times of voting unwaveringly on party lines have gone. Voters with progressive views have shown that they are willing to lend their vote to a party that shares their views on key issues in order to oust an MP who they believe does not represent them.
In the era of Brexit Theresa May and her Conservative MPs, including Anne Milton, will be held to account on their success or failure in building a positive deal for Britain outside the EU, the financial health of our nation and the impact of both of these on the lives of the British people. The next general election will be fought on this and, as Richmond Park and Witney have shown, with these issues at play there are no such things as safe seats.
You can find our more about the Liberal Democrat plan for Britain in Europe here.
The lead up to the autumn statement and spring budget are times of anticipation. Lots of calls are made on the government to put out a budget that it is fair, helps those most in need, supports the NHS, the list goes on. This autumn budget statement had more riding on it than most - it is was the first since the nation narrowly voted in favour of leaving the EU and also the first since the PM, Theresa May, stood outside Downing Street and announced she wanted to build 'a country that works for everyone'.
There was a lot of talk in the press about how the expectation was that this budget would be good for 'jams', those 'just about managing'. I spent part of the weekend getting my head round some of the headlines and as far as I can see this budget was anything but good news for us as a nation, and particularly for those who are struggling to make ends meet.
Looking specifically at the Autumn Statement's impact on struggling low income families, while the government has increased the National Living Wage and increased the amount you can earn before tax it is continuing with its four-year freeze on working-age benefit, plus is continuing with its two-child cap on new claimants of Universal Credit and tax credits. According to the Resolution Foundation a single parent with one child under 4 who's working full time at the minimum wage will be £3800 worse off a year by 2020.
More widely, according to the Office of Budget Responsiblity we can expect a rise in unemployment, a fall in living standards, not to mention their estimate that Brexit will create a £220 billion black hole in our economy. On top of all that we are seeing a £8.2 billion drop in tax receipts over the next two years alone. That amount of money could fund 330,000 nurses.
The Chancellor and his Conservative Government are not competent to deal with the challenges ahead. They are going to hit people in the pocket through their hapless handling of Brexit, and Labour can offer no opposition, having backed them on Brexit.
The Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for more funding the NHS as we are on the edge of another winter crisis and our health service is at breaking point yet the government has turned a deaf ear to these calls. Sadly now patients will pay the price. There is also nothing for public sector workers, our doctors, teachers and armed forces, who deserve a proper pay rise.
I've written in the Guildford Dragon about my views on the possible reintroduction of grammar schools by the Conservative government and the boundary view. You can read everything I said on their website, but here's what I said on grammar schools:
Surrey is fortunate to have many fantastic schools. Where schools are struggling they are working hard to improve the education they provide.
The government’s proposal to reintroduce grammar schools to “increase the number of good schools and improve parent choice” does not help these schools.
Instead it enables those who can afford to move closer to support their child through school entrance exams – potentially resulting in “sink” schools for less affluent areas.
It is also pushing the idea that grammar schools help the poorest children succeed. Independent research concludes that in existing grammar schools only 3% of pupils come from poorer backgrounds. That is not creating social mobility for all.
Speaking with people since the proposal, most have expressed concerns with the idea. One primary leader said that, in their view, it sets the education system back decades and will undo the work done with lower-ability students – labelling them failures before they’ve even hit their teens. Another person spoke of the difficulties they experienced being the only one out of their friends who passed the 11 plus.
Ultimately, this proposal does none of what the government is touting it will achieve – it simply further entrenches inequality. The resources required to make it work would be better spent supporting and enhancing the current system. Let’s not have success for the few at the cost of the many.