If you haven’t made your mind up yet who to vote for, here is an opportunity to find out what our local candidates stand for. This video is of the Hungerford hustings last Thursday 1 June:
In order of seating:
Alex Skirvin (Labour), Richard Benyon (Conservative), Dave Yates (Apolitical), Moderator Greg Furr, Paul Field (Green), Judith Bunting (Liberal Democrat)
There wasn’t time for candidates to answer all the questions on the night. So we collected questions from the audience and passed them on to the candidates. These are the answers we have received from the candidates so far:
1. What have you all done to support women to empower them within Newbury constituency?
Moz Reynolds, Eastbury
RICHARD BENYON – Conservative
I am really pleased we have got more women Councillors elected for the Conservatives in the local elections of two years ago. I am also pleased that a number have got into senior positions on the Council.
I am a supporter of All2gether which promotes community understanding and equality issues in West Berkshire.
I am proud of my party’s record in Government of reducing the gender pay gap. If re-elected we will take measures to close it still further. Companies with over 250 employees will have to publish data on the pay gap between men and women. We will build on success in getting closer to parity in the number of public appointments going to women. We will continue to implement the free childcare promise in our 2015 manifesto allowing mothers to return to work sooner if they wish. We will support parents and carers in having improved rights to return to work and have access to skills and career training at any age.
I have supported Trust House, the rape and sexual abuse service in Reading which has an outreach service in Newbury.
JUDITH BUNTING – Lib Dem
In government, the Liberal Democrats prioritised encouraging women who wish to work and develop their careers by introducing shared parental leave. We were also the driving force behind providing free, quality childcare for 15 hours a week, for all 3 to 4 year olds. Locally, I have volunteered in schools, talking with students, particularly girls, about how to build careers in science and engineering. There are jobs to be had and we need more women engineers and scientists.
PAUL FIELD – Green
As a party, we are very explicit about our determination to challenge inequality of all types. Empowering women in order to access opportunities
Personally, I feel my work in Newbury and West Berkshire schools over the past 17 years has assisted a large number of women access services and achieve more. I have held many positions where direct work with families has been involved. Through this I have been able to have a positive impact and have seen mothers develop parenting, emotional and academic skills. I have also, through my role in school leadership, been able to encourage a large number of women to return to education, access employment or develop their careers through opportunities I have identified, created or promoted.
ALEX SKIRVIN – Labour
It is up to women to empower themselves and each other. What we must do is to provide the right conditions for women to do this, Labour has a record of introducing legislation that addresses many of these inequalities including the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Sure Start programme. Policies must always be considered in the light of the effects on women (and of course other groups) and whether these make women’s day to day lives more difficult.
2. As potential MPs in the future, what has been your finest past achievement on behalf of the people of West Berkshire and what was the biggest failure?
Roger Thompson, Hungerford
A few years ago I set up a project with one of the primary schools in Newbury to pilot a Saturday School for children who were falling behind in English and Maths during the first few years of schools. Funded by the Greenham Common Trust, we assessed achievements before and after, and showed that a little extra teaching and encouragement in those early years of schooling can make a real difference to a child’s learning. My biggest failure on behalf of the people of West Berkshire (that part of it, at least, which is in Newbury constituency) was not to get elected in 2015.
Following the devastating floods in West Berkshire in 2007 I have worked with communities, the Environment Agency, West Berkshire Council and the Government. I am proud of playing my part, after a huge amount of work and lobbying, in getting millions of pounds for flood prevention schemes in Newbury, Thatcham, Eastbury, Bucklebury, Winterbourne among others.
I have campaigned hard for a better rail service. I have been successful with my neighbouring MP, Claire Perry, in getting the new bimodal trains running to and from Bedwyn which will improve the service to Hungerford and Kintbury. The huge investment in electrification came after continual lobbying from me and rail user groups.
The rollout of superfast broadband has been a long and hard won battle. I worked with the Council on the Gigaclear project to reach the final 15%. Some of the more remote communities will still need an MP who understands the rural economy and the importance of good digital access and I will continue to fight for them.
My involvement in a multi-agency, cross voluntary sector effort to end rough sleeping is starting to pay off. I am also passionate about better mental health provision and have given my total support to the Brighter Berkshire campaign.
After much lobbying I secured an extra £1.3 million for two years to protect services in West Berkshire, mitigating against the local council budget cuts.
PAUL FIELD – Green
I have not had the opportunity to participate in many high profile actions which could be used to define my finest individual achievement. I do, however, think that my contribution to the education of young people in our area in the last 17 years has made a difference.
My failure would have to be not being able to defend children and school staff from the horrendous educational vandalism of recent governments and getting to a point where I have had to walk away.
3. Should Parliament consider lowering the voting age to 16? If so, would they also consider introducing an upper limit and perhaps making voting compulsory?
Almona Choudhury, Newbury
Labour Party policy is to lower the voting age to 16, It was a previous Labour government which reduced the voting age from 21 to 18. Young people are better informed than in previous generations thanks partly to easier access to information.16 year olds are very engaged in important issues and we should recognise they have a right to have a say in decisions being made which will affect their future.
There cannot be an upper limit, it would be wrong to deny people this right simply because they have reached a certain age, this would simply be discriminatory. Voting should not be compulsory but the political process and those involved in it should actively try to engage more people.
I am very supportive of Green policy to lower voting age to 16 – backed up by an effective political education curriculum, we could easily ensure young people are well equipped to participate fully in the democratic process. I am confident that 16/17 year olds I meet today are at least as informed as people of any other age. Whilst I can see the mischievous appeal of having an upper age limit, I don’t think this is the right way to go. I would love to reach a point where we all felt that every voter had access to balanced information, the views of a wider community and the ability to make an informed decision – but that is a little way off! Perhaps when we achieve the Green Party “4 day week” plan, people will have more time for community activity, learning and thinking as well as leisure.
I have always been an advocate of compulsory voting – as long as there is a “none of the above” option.
None of these though are as important as getting a proportional system to ensure all votes matter and people can vote for what they believe in.
18 is the age we cease to be considered a child for benefits, for work-related matters and the age when you can fight for your country so I have always considered this a suitable age to vote. I am however, starting to change my mind a bit. I was impressed how young people entered into the debate in the Scottish referendum. I would follow any attempt to change the voting age and consult my constituents widely.
I am assuming the suggestion of implementing an upper limit was a joke? An upper limit would be the most disgraceful piece of ageist discrimination and no I am against compulsory voting.
Yes, the decisions we are making right now will affect the lives of young people far more fundamentally than people my age and older. We should extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds and get them involved in voting as soon as possible.
4. Can you provide an example of when you have voted against your own political party?
Tony Harris, Newbury
I have spent most of my time in Parliament on my Party’s front bench so have been constrained by the rule that requires front benchers to support the party whip. That said, I never found it difficult to follow what my party did in opposition before entering Government and as a Minister in the coalition. Since being on the back benches I could not support my Government on its 4 year local government settlement.
I have not had many opportunities to vote in any way since joining the Green Party 6 years ago. I have voted for other parties in the past – mainly as a consequence of the broken voting system we have and falling for the “tactical voting” scam. I have never been represented in parliament by an MP who I supported/voted for.
Liberal Democrat policies are decided by members at our twice-yearly conferences each year. A few years ago at the Autumn conference in Birmingham, conference debated what has become the party’s drug policy. I voted against that motion.
5. How did UKIP manage to creep into Newbury constituency in the last election?
Moz Reynolds, Eastbury
The story of UKIP is complex and, in many examples, unpleasant – certainly too big an issue for this question! However, I would say that they rose out of a fractured Conservative Party – to where they have largely now returned. My biggest disappointment is that they have actually tapped into a serious level of dissatisfaction amongst working people who have been abandoned by globalisation and the rise of corporate greed. Sadly, their offer has been focused on exploiting people’s anger and not their hope, their fears and not what might excite them. I am not sorry (or surprised) to have them missing from this election. As I said at the hustings, they have been a significant part of the normalisation of some very negative language and attitudes in our society.
They crept into most constituencies at the last election.
6. If elected, will you vote to bring back fox hunting?
David Marsh, Newbury
I would never vote to support fox hunting. I respect rural traditions and support the status quo which allows hunts to operate by following a scent (drag hunting) and thus supports our rural economy and employment but outlaws killing with hounds. I also believe an MP should support the interests of their constituency and will, of course, listen to my constituents on both sides of the argument. I do not personally support the return of the fox hunting Bill to parliament, however, and will never vote to increase cruelty to animals of any kind.
I have made no secret of my views on this, I do not think that we should be using precious Parliamentary time to reopen this debate but if there is a vote I would support measures to amend or repeal the Act.
No. And that is a straight answer. The Liberal Democrat candidate Judith Bunting is so scared of making any decision that she has come up with an absurd prevarication “I wouldn’t rule out abstaining”. There’s a point where indecision becomes cowardice. MPs are elected to take decisions. If you can’t make the hard choices, and stand by them, then you should not be in politics.
I will not vote to bring back fox-hunting. It’s an archaic institution that has been abandoned along with bear-baiting and putting a scold’s bridle on women who stand up for themselves. The rural economy of West Berks that surrounds the high-tech corridor of the M4 is managing just fine without it. It is cruel, and ineffective as a pest control.
NO. I can see nothing to support about this idea. I have nothing against people wanting to participate in country sports – I just fail to see how killing an animal (“pest” or not) can be necessary. I also know that this is a deeply unpopular idea – and another example of how an arrogant Conservative Party who thought they would get a huge majority threw in some relics from their past to the manifesto. This will not get passed.
7. Austerity costs more to implement than it makes. What would you do instead?
Mel Finesilver, Hungerford
In the 7 years that the Conservative Party has managed the economy, the deficit (the difference between what we spend and earn as a country) has been reduced from £160bn a year to £51bn a year. When this is eliminated we can start to reduce our £2trillion national debt. The spending splurge being offered by the Labour Party would reverse this, meaning in a decade or so our debt burden would be so great that we would be forced, as some other countries have had to do, to cut spending on health, education, police and welfare. Despite what others claim, our benefits budget has grown, not been cut, as has spending on the NHS, education and other key services. This good financial management has meant rising confidence in the British economy which has generated more money – which is being spent on maintaining public services.
Put simply, invest. In people, in education and skills, house building, the health service and infrastructure. Labour will create a National Transformation Fund that will invest £250 billion over ten years set up a national investment bank.
Change our national view to making a contribution – discuss it as a privilege and not a punishment.
Work to ensure a fairer global taxation system, leading to higher yields from the biggest and wealthiest global companies.
Invest in our public services, infrastructure, house building, clean energy and other areas in order to create real jobs, more tax payments and a positive future for our country.
The Liberal Democrat spending proposals for this election has been praised as being ‘clever, coherent and costed.’ [The Times, 18 May 2017]. They include plans to:
- Introduce a 1p rise in income tax at all levels to raise £6bn, ringfenced to support the NHS and social care.
- Invest £7bn in schools and education, paid for by reducing the Tory budget surplus by half.
- Borrow to boost the economy with a major programme of capital investment aimed at stimulating growth across all areas of the UK.
8. As politicians, are you proud that many nurses and others in work need to use Foodbanks to feed themselves?
Gareth Croft, Newbury
I am ashamed that in a country with so much wealth this government forces nurses and other hard-working people to have to resort to food banks. Food banks were unknown in this country until recently. Labour will lift the 1% cap on public sector salaries which has meant that skilled people in work now live in poverty. I will work with the future Labour government to reverse this disgraceful situation
I am horrified that many nurses and others in work need to use foodbanks. That foodbanks have such an important role in Britain today is a dreadful and unreasonable state of affairs. Where nurses are concerned, it is not reasonable to still be capping public sector pay rises to 1% after so many years, at the same as cutting corporation tax and cutting income tax for higher earners. Liberal Democrats are committed to ending the public sector pay freeze, which has hit NHS workers, teachers and police.
I am not pleased to hear that anyone is using foodbanks. Without knowing the particular circumstances of any foodbank user, it is very hard to comment. We have increased the number of nurses in the NHS by over 13,000 since 2010 and there are a further 51,000 in training. We have raised the income tax threshold, taking around 4 million people out of paying tax altogether and ensuring a tax cut for around 31 million more people in the lower tax bracket.
I am ashamed that any person should be relying on food handouts in one of the richest countries on the planet. That this should be people in work and, to add insult, people working in public service, is simply appalling and ought to make any decent minded person realise that something has gone very wrong in our society.
9. Should it not be a coalition that negotiates Brexit whilst the government of the day continues to run the country?
Peter Harries, Hungerford
That is a very interesting suggestion – and something one might hope a grown up government, with the interests of the whole country at its heart, might consider. Sadly, I fear that the Brexit situation is being used by this current Conservative Party to push through a wide range of extreme ideological policies “under the radar” and that we have no hope of having a process driven by national interest or intelligence.
Democracy means that the government of the day is mandated to lead the country and negotiating Brexit will be one of its main tasks. The government department set up to do this is free to seek expertise from wherever it wishes and there is also a cross-party Select Committee on Exiting the European Union.
This is an interesting idea and is certainly one way that the 48% of the country who did not vote for Brexit could have a voice. However, it will never happen while Theresa May is in charge. She seems committed to making unreasonable, bossy demands, rather than managing a proper collaborative negotiation, which would be the best way to get the best deal.
It is the job of the government of the day to negotiate Brexit; it is one of the most important tasks of the next government and we must ensure that Britain’s negotiators are up to the job. Keir Starmer, for Labour, has clearly set out the key issues vital to protecting the economy and jobs. On the other hand there is Wobbly May and her three stooges, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis. That’s why we need a Labour government to negotiate strongly for a strong economy, defend businesses and expand jobs.
10. Is the Prime Minister who has made U-Turn after U-Turn the right person to lead the UK into the Brexit negotiations?
Graeme Wood, Bucklebury
The Prime Minister has much experience in her time as Home Secretary of negotiating in Europe with significant success. I question the idea that she has made U turns. Happy to discuss each alleged U turn if you ring me.
I think this question answers itself. May’s U-turns clearly demonstrate that her party has not thought through its polices, which crumble as soon as they are scrutinised. I fear that, in the same way, her strategies will fall to pieces under the scrutiny of EU negotiators and the pressure from hard Brexiteers in her own party.
No, she is not.
No.I genuinely believe (and this is NOT just because she is a Tory and I’m not supposed to like them) that she has shown herself to be a toxic mix of arrogant, misguided, inconsistent and unprincipled since she became Prime Minister. She has relied on being dishonest and unpleasant about her opponents, playing all the political games she accuses others of doing and putting power before principles. This has been a profoundly weak campaign on her part. Awful.
11. Do you think net inward migration a city the size of Birmingham every 3 – 5 years is environmentally or socially sustainable? Yes or No answer please.
Brexit West Berks, Thatcham
You will not be satisfied by my answer but, as you will not be voting Green I’ll give it to you anyway. As with so many of the Brexit arguments, it is just not possible to separate individual questions or issues into little silos and deal with them in a binary manner. Clearly, we need to have a serious look at immigration (both good and bad bits) and develop a rational set of solutions to the many causes of immigration, the challenges produced by integrating people into any new community, the demands placed on local infrastructures and so on. To simply bandy big numbers around and refuse to engage in adult discussions just doesn’t work. This is why I believe the inept referendum question (should we leave the EU?) was flawed and has led to the chaos and confusion we now have – it was as useful as asking “should we have better weather?”.
There is no way this can be answered as a “yes” or “no”. Net immigration is falling but we will still need to bring in the right people to fill the gaps in key companies and businesses.
I cannot answer a complex question in simple yes or no terms. This is a simplistic question which is how UKIP pose their questions and design the policies. It was one of the tragedies of the EU referendum that difficult issues were reduced to simple slogans.
12. Is it wise to rely on industry to tell us who we need? They will just ask for the easy option – cheap and available. Don’t you think it is for government to train our own people first?
A Rogers, Ashampstead
I wholeheartedly agree that the government should invest in skills training and extend the current apprentice programme. Sadly the recent reform to apprenticeship funding fights against this. Also, as 40% of all post 16 years’ funding comes via the EU, Brexit does not bode well for any extension to training plans under this Tory government. Involving employers in training through apprenticeships and the University Training Colleges is a good idea, as it helps to provide people with opportunities to be employed close to home.
Our health services, our care services, agriculture and our transport services rely on migrants from other countries. They would collapse without people who came here to work and add to our community. Of course, we should provide training for the 21st century economy for British-born people, but it won’t happen while the Conservative government cuts, for example, nursing bursaries. Labour will restore these. Labour will also promise to legislate that companies cannot import workers for the sole purpose of driving down wages. It will introduce a liveable minimum wage. And it will properly fund education so that students are well equipped for the modern world of work.
Better regulation will ensure that British companies will have to show that they have tried to employ British workers before being allowed to advertise abroad. The government is committed to improving training and education, in particular the expansion of apprenticeships – there have been over 3 million new apprenticeships created since 2010.
I think it would be wonderful if we had an well thought out approach to education and the preparation of our young people for their futures. Similarly, it would be wonderful if we took the view that we ought to pay people a proper wage, within a more balanced pay structure. Until we take a different view to both education and economic structures, we will both create and require migration at current or higher levels.
13. Eastern Europeans drive down wages because they can afford to live on low wages, Indigenous workers can’t compete and we’re told we need mass immigration! Polish government is begging their people not to leave. What would you do about this crazy situation?
Alan Cox, Ashampstead
Stop reading the Daily Mail and Express?? Bring some balance, positivity and joy into your life.
We could also take a serious look at how and what we pay people – and accept that if people want to remain obsessed with consumerism and cheap stuff (which they don’t need) then they will have to live with the inevitable consequences. Everything has a price – if the consumer isn’t paying for it, someone else is somewhere along the line.
I research employment a lot, and I can’t find anyone who advocates mass immigration. Perhaps you’re reading propaganda. Labour will legislate to prevent companies using overseas workers to undercut wages in this country. Immigrants to this country from Eastern Europe and elsewhere in Europe pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits. The Conservatives threaten a hard Brexit and want a country that would be an offshore tax haven with a low-wage, unskilled economy. Is poverty with a British Bulldog painted on it really more acceptable to you than a thriving and high-wage, high skill economy? That’s not what most people want.
Everyone who works in the UK is subject to national minimum wage legislation. We have also introduced the National Living Wage to help the lowest paid, as well as raising the income tax threshold to take around 4 million of the lowest paid out of paying tax altogether. Employment rights will be protected as we go forward to leave the EU – which in turn will also mean greater control of our borders.
14. Our daughter is in Year 8 at John O’Gaunt School. We are really worried about the £800+ per pupil planned funding cuts. Please tell me your view on this.
Dr Liz Bell, Great Shefford
The national Fair Funding Formula was aimed at sorting out the unfair discrepancy whereby children in different areas were attracting different levels of per pupil funding at their schools and it is entirely right that the government decided to take action on this. There was much speculation that this would mean funding cuts; in fact some West Berkshire schools stood to gain a little but others to lose, again by a small percentage. However the Conservative manifesto has made it clear that no school will lose funding as a result of the changes. A further £4 billion has been allocated to education up to 2022. I am very aware that schools in West Berkshire face particular challenges and that education in this area is expensive to provide and I will continue to fight for appropriate funding. I am pleased that 90% of West Berkshire schools are independently rated by OFSTED as “good” or “outstanding”.
Education is the key to freedom and opportunity, and a vital part of creating the fairer society that I want to build in our area. Liberal Democrats are committed to reversing the schools cuts across the country and in West Berkshire. We propose an investment of £7bn in education to stop per pupil funding cuts and triple the pupil premium for 3 and 4 years olds. This amounts to more than £28m to protect school funding in Newbury & West Berkshire.
The real-terms cuts to school funding by this government are shameful and will only create problems in the years ahead which will cost ten times more to fix than they are saving today. It reveals the underlying plan (which is also being applied to our NHS and other public service) – starve them of cash, make them break and, following neatly on from the “we have no money” mantra, reveal that the only way to preserve them is with private finance. Appalling.
I believe that a good education should be a right and not a privilege. Labour’s National Education Service will ensure all schools have the funding they need: £4.8bn per year by 2021-22. To give all children the best start in life, we will reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five-, six-, and seven- year-olds, and seek to extend that as resources allow.
The Tories have panicked over their proposed funding formula which would have slashed budgets in West Berks by up to nearly £1m over the next few years. Virtually every school would have had to cut teachers. The Association of Primary School Head Teachers in West Berks sent a letter to parents saying they could not guarantee that education would not be affected by the cuts. So in a U-turn Theresa May decided to steal the pupil’s lunch money to fiddle the figures. The Institute for Fiscal Studies say the Labour plan will provide £500 per pupil per year more than the cobbled together Tory proposal.
15. How will your party’s policies affect education?
Katherine Natton-Bell, Great Shefford
Liberal Democrats would invest £7bn extra in children’s education to protect against rising costs and pupil numbers. We would also introduce a fairer national funding formula and would:
- Invest in high-quality early years education,
- Triple the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000.
- Oppose any new selective schools and giving local authorities proper democratic control over admissions and new schools.
Wonderfully. I am a teacher and come into contact with hundreds of governors, parents, teachers and headteachers. They are almost unanimous in their agreement that Green Party policy is the one most likely to improve education on our country and offer a genuine chance for ALL children to flourish. It follows that when our young people are flourishing, our communities and society will do the same.
As I explained to Dr Bell, above, we will pump £4.8bn into schools. We will reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five-, six-, and seven- year-olds, and seek to extend that as resources allow. We will introduce free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees. We will tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis by ending the public-sector pay cap. All of this is costed and paid for by returning corporation tax to the level it was at before George Osborne’s giveaway budget. Socially responsible companies will recognise the need for a highly educated, well-skilled workforce. And we won’t waste money on divisive ideological obsessions such as grammar schools, which swallow resources and segregate children.
We will end tuition fees that the Liberal Democrats introduced in partnership with the Conservatives, against their express promise.
16. Given the public awareness of school funding cuts, what would you do about this?
Ian McKay, Lambourn
Stop it and fund schools properly – seeing it as an intelligent investment in all our futures. Look up Green education policy – a thing of beauty.
See above. I am well aware of the difficulties at Lambourn. I have recently visited the school. I am pleased that there is an excellent new Head and a committed team of teachers and governors. I know the LEA is fully supporting the school and that all the efforts being taken will pay off soon.
Ian, it was public pressure and anger on the doorstep that forced the Conservatives to change their disastrous funding formula in another U-turn in a series of U-turns from a weak and panicky government. If Theresa May had not broken her promise not to call an election, the original formula would have severely damaged schools and education in West Berks by millions of pounds. So some good at least has come out of it. Even the Tories would not dare try that again.
We will fully fund education, it is one of the most important things that a government can do. We will reverse the years of Tory cuts, their ideological obsession with funding so-called “free schools” in areas that neither needed nor wanted them, and we would make sure that head teachers had the funds and the staff they need to provide a high quality education everywhere.
17. In light of the recent terror attack, do you think the current foreign policy is right and do you support military action?
Tom Tunney, Thatcham
Tom, foreign policy is an area that requires far more space than I have here to do it justice. First, let me say there is no justification, and never can be any justification, for terror attacks, whether it is here in Great Britain, elsewhere in Europe or in Africa or the US. No one in the Labour Party defends or approves them, or the murderers who carry them out.
Also, military action is far too wide a term for a brief discussion. Britain has skilled and courageous servicemen and women who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to defend us and democracy. Military intervention may sometimes be necessary, and all of the Labour Party recognises that. But before we send our men and women into battle we need to be as sure as we can be that we are resolving a problem and not creating new and worse ones. Our commitment to an ethical foreign policy does not mean that we are not prepared to use kinetic force. But it does mean, as Churchill said, that we prefer “jaw-jaw to war-war”.
The recent shocking terror attack in Manchester was perpetrated by someone who was born and brought up in the UK. At the time of writing I am not aware where the London murderers came from. Initiatives like the Prevent strategy are designed to challenge radicalisation of young people and, despite media headlines, is generally accepted and supported by the communities involved. Our security and intelligence forces have foiled 18 similar attacks over the past 2 years, 5 of which were since the Westminster attack in March. We have a counter-terrorism strategy that is copied by other countries. It is cross-Government (Education, Local Government, Culture, Defence, Home Office, Foreign Office and controlled by the Cabinet Office) and it works. I have total contempt for organisations like Cage and Prevent Watch that seek to undermine the de-radicalisation activities in Muslim communities.
I am assuming you are referring to our foreign policy in the Middle East where we have been instrumental in trying to broker a solution to the conflict in Syria and have given millions of pounds towards helping refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. We must remember that these murderers were at it before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The highest number of UK citizens killed in any terrorist action was at 9/11 in 2001. Countries that have never been involved in expeditionary campaigns like Afghanistan have been targeted. These include Sweden, Belgium and Germany. So whether or not we took part in these campaigns we would still be targets.
That is why a few years ago the Government increased our counter-terrorism budget by 20%. You might like to read my blog (http://richardbenyon.com/why-jeremy-corbyn-is-wrong-on-terrorism/) written last week.
Liberal Democrat foreign policy priorities for the next parliament will be to:
- Defend international co-operation against the rising tides of nationalism and isolationism, supporting multilateral organisations like the UN and NATO, which are increasingly under threat.
- Spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid: reducing poverty, defending human rights, protecting the environment and preventing violent conflict worldwide.
- Control arms exports to countries listed as human rights priority countries in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual human rights report and suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The tragic events in recent weeks only serve to highlight the failure of current policy. We are going nowhere and seem doomed to endure an endless cycle of needless murder followed by angry posturing, big talk and further promises of aggression from politicians. Be aware – this IS NOT making excuses for the people who commit wicked crimes in this, or any other, country. However, I believe it is foolish beyond belief to ignore the obvious connections between our behaviour and relationships around the world and the creation of propaganda for the recruiters of vulnerable, disaffected and ignorant young people who then find meaning and purpose in the wicked acts they deliver to our streets. It is not weak to consider alternative approaches. It is not sympathising with terrorists to criticise our armed interventions and arms deals with places like Saudi Arabia. It is not a risk to our national security to cut off the supply of arms, money and ideological support to these profoundly unpleasant groups. It IS clever to consider new ideas, to reduce the appeal of this poisonous ideology and to aspire to be a world leader in peace and prosperity for all people.