Friday 18th September and I set off for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth. The sun is shinning, but the clouds of recession, high debt and unemployment set the scene for the last big autumn conference before the General Election.
The first thing I heard on the news on the first day of conference was Nick Clegg’s “savage cuts” call. Such language was itself a bit savage for Lib Dems. But behind it was the stark reality of needing to fix the great black hole in the public finances, whilst only making firm commitments we can afford.
I was born and brought up in the east end of London and went to the local Comprehensive school. As the one and only of my family to go on into tertiary education, I went to Thames Polytechnic to get a BSc (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, I have felt that opportunity has favoured me.
It was not until the turn of a new millennium that I became active in politics; I felt strongly about the introduction of tuition fees and a war in Iraq based on a wholly false premise.
It was thus with some angst that I went to conference knowing that there were murmurings that we could not afford to scrap tuition fees.
Nonetheless, our draft manifesto A fresh start for Britain includes a pledge to scrap tuition fees. The issue is not will we, but when. What is clear is that unlike Labour we are not planning to charge students up to £7,000 per year for university tuition alone. Unlike the Conservative, we are not planning a massive hike in the interest you pay on your student loan.
For me the issue is one of harnessing the full potential of all sections of our society so that we can compete in a world market and build a more robust, fairer society.
Nonetheless, If you’re poor, you’re still far less likely to go to university than if you’re better off. If you’re from an ethnic minority, you’re more likely to be stopped by the police, even when you haven’t done anything wrong. If you’re a women, you’ll probably be paid less than the men you know.
If we are to build a fairer society, then we must do things differently. If we end the Child trust fund, we can pay for smaller class sizes for five, six and seven years olds. We can save billions by reducing the bureaucracy of Labour’s centralised state, scrapping ID and other databases and by saying no to the like for like replacement of Trident. . Only if we can save enough , will we still be able to include in our manifesto some of the pledges for new investment that we hold dear.
We must be ‘savage’ and bold in resetting our priorities from excessive bureaucracy and waste to building our infrastructure.
No doubt the debate will go on, but The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party where the members will decide policy, unlike other parties, where policy is at the dictate of the leader.
Reflecting on the weeks events, on my journey home, I can picture a better future for Britain. Now I want to make it happen.
Mark Jewell is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Preston.