Today’s live coverage of the budget on Sky News came from… Hebden Bridge! It was well worth watching, and not just to hear the Labour candidate Steph Booth describe herself as Cherie’s “wicked stepmother”. The coverage centred on the fact that Calder Valley is a swing constituency. The reporter interviewed local business owners, residents, financial experts, and made a lot of poor jokes about the only floating voters around being ducks.
Of course they also interviewed the three main PPCs. Lib Dem Hilary Myers came across very well, pointing out that the budget would do little to help close the gap between rich and poor, which has widened under the Labour government. She was also disappointed that there were no plans to help the environment, such as those proposed by the Lib Dems to promote green jobs.
How about the others? Craig Whittaker rambled on about helping businesses while completely ignoring the general public. Steph Booth was constantly ribbed for being Cherie’s stepmother, at one point joking that she was the “wicked stepmother”. Perhaps she reads Lib Dem John Beacroft-Mitchell’s blog? Another local character putting in an appearance was David Fletcher, owner of Innovation, and the man behind the controversial Garden Street development, which is currently on ice having been refused planning permission. He didn’t seem very impressed either.
In the end, though, I think it was the presenter that missed the point, constantly asking whether the Tories will take this seat off Labour. Well, of course they will. It’s what else happens that will be interesting. From figures available on Wikipedia, the number of votes for both Labour and the Conservatives has steadily decreased since 1997. Labour now have no borough councillors anywhere in the constituency. Is it time for them to drop into third place?
This week’s shocking U-turn by the Labour Government, to allow religious schools to put their own slant on sex and relationship education, will let down thousands of teenagers (and younger children) across the country. Ed Balls’ amendment to the Children, Schools and Families Bill will almost certainly lead to state-funded religious schools teaching that contraception is immoral and that having a gay relationship is wrong.
At the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference last year, I summated the Calderdale motion on faith schools. I made the point that someone growing up lgbt in a religious school will have a much harder time when teachers are allowed to say that a relationship with someone of the same sex is wrong. Also, some religions are against contraception. With 21st Century Britain having such a high teenage pregnancy rate, and many developing countries struggling with overpopulation, I believe that such a position is indefensible.
Speaking on the amendment was an interesting experience as I had to persuade a couple of thousand Liberal Democrats to vote against Vince Cable, who had spoken against our amendment. The end result was – as it so often is – a compromise. The resulting Liberal Democrat policy is that faith schools can continue to exist, but must demonstrate the diversity of their intake, ie. not just fill up with children of one religion. I believe very strongly that growing up with people who are of different religions, races, and sexualities, is essential to overcome prejudice, which is caused by the fear of the unknown.
The Accord Coalition, made up of people from many religions and none, has strongly criticised Ed Balls’ amendment, drawing parallels with the infamous Section 28. It is shocking that a Labour Government, who scrapped Section 28 and introduced civil partnerships, is taking such a backward step on lgbt issues. Equally worrying is the fact that youngsters across the country may not be properly taught about contraception, potentially leading to STDs and hundreds of unwanted pregnancies. Whilst I respect the right of any religion to have its own views, children in state-funded schools need to be taught the basic facts of life in an unbiased way.
It is clear that the once-radical Labour Party have given up any hope of improving things for lgbt youngsters. The Tories have always been hopeless, so it is now left to the Liberal Democrats – with our promise of full marriage between any two consenting adults regardless of gender, and our sensible policies on faith schools – to carry the lgbt flame.