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Monday, 17 June 2013

Calder Valley Labour Party: Questions for the candidates

Simon Young

Simon YoungThe HebWeb posted seven questions to the candidates shortlisted to be selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party. Here is response by Simon Young

1. What steps would you encourage the Labour Party to take to revitalise the economy and urgently bring down unemployment?

This Conservative-led government’s failing policies on living standards; economic growth and deficit reduction are having a catastrophic impact on places like Calder Valley and across the UK.

A critical role of our MP is to champion the local area and attract inward investment and job creation. Throughout my campaign, I have talked about the importance of taking advantage of two rapidly expanding sectors; the green and digital industries.  Each could be a significant source of new jobs and are well suited to our constituency. The local Council is investing in broadband infrastructure, so we will be better placed to compete with places like Manchester and Leeds in the digital industries. We could have the same super-fast infrastructure, with lower ground rent and with the added bonus of the unrivalled beauty of our surroundings.

I’m on the doorstep talking to residents every weekend, and too often they tell me they are struggling to make ends meet. That’s why I would back calls for a mansion tax on properties worth over £2m, to pay for a lower 10p starting rate of tax. This would go some way to addressing the huge pressures on family budgets. 

We desperately need to give the economy a kick-start. One of the ways to do that is to bring forward capital expenditure in long-term infrastructure, taking advantage of our current low interest rates to invest in critical large scale infrastructure and generate jobs and growth in our economy.

I’d also be shouting loudly for urgent investment in schools (like Calder & Todmorden High), roads, transport and of course housing, because there remains a real shortage of social housing and affordable homes in our constituency. There is plenty of brownfield space still around.  We need to get building homes not hitting the most vulnerable with policies like the Bedroom Tax. This would have fantastic social and economic benefits with the ripple effect of the investment giving our local economy a much needed boost!

There are some people who will question my insistence that we must invest in order to promote real growth in the economy. Yes we will need to increase borrowing in the short-term but government is itself borrowing billions more, simply to pay for the costs of their economic failure.

As a huge advocate for apprenticeships, I would also like to see more incentives to boost the number of apprenticeship places. This is a fantastic way to address the vicious cycle of long-term unemployment.  I wholeheartedly agree with calls for a Bankers Bonus tax on top of the bank levy, to pay for a guaranteed job for every young person out of work for a year or more.

I’ll also put my money where my mouth is and show leadership by providing a full apprenticeship opportunity in my office, if I am elected. I will then visit businesses throughout the constituency to ask them to follow my lead and join my apprentice challenge – investing in our next generation.

Without growth it’s impossible to drive the deficit down. We need real leadership and action to reinvigorate our dwindling economy.

2. Climate change is extremely important to voters in Hebden Bridge. What would you do to urge a future Labour Government to take?

Well, blue and yellow has certainly not made green! Initial promises that this Government would be the greenest ever are frankly laughable. If anything, action to address climate change has stalled, or worse still, slid backwards since this coalition came to power.

The previous Labour government passed The Climate Change Act 2008, a world-first which committed us to a legally binding reduction in our CO2 emissions of 80% by 2050. A key challenge in meeting this obligation is to decarbonise the energy sector by 2030, something that Labour is committed to. I’d be pressing hard to make sure we meet this target and press to go even further.

In my conversations with local members, I have described my aspiration for Calder Valley to be the capital of green industries in the UK. This is an area with significant growth potential and job creation.  Whilst the rest of the economy is dwindling, the green economy is growing around 5% each year, with around a million people now employed in the sector. We have the right surroundings, the right people and a history of embracing and pioneering green solutions. We’re well placed to take a leadership role.

Transport policy is also key to tackling climate change. Getting people out of their cars and using public transport would not only contribute to the reduction of our carbon footprint, but massively improve the quality of life for many people living here in the Calder Valley. Rising rail fares, poor service and obsolete rolling stock are all barriers to encouraging more people to travel by rail – and are testaments to the failed experiment of rail privatisation. We need more investment in our railways and more regular, reliable and affordable bus services that intelligently interlink.

I can’t address climate change without mentioning the horrendous floods which hit the Upper Valley.  I would continue to lobby hard for the best possible support to both rebuild our communities and protect against further flooding. Flood insurance is a particular concern, with the agreement between insurers and the Government to provide affordable flood insurance running out in the next month. 

We must accept that climate change is here and that severe storm events will become more common. We need to build our resilience and adapt to avoid the huge impact on our communities when this happens. The solution isn’t always concrete; I believe it requires full catchment management, from source to sea and effective river stewardship.

I would be calling for the government to rebalance its investment in flood defence infrastructure, as it is a complete false economy to make cuts in this area.  I would demand the best possible deal for businesses and local residents on flood insurance and would press hard for the Bellwin Scheme -which provides emergency financial assistance to local authorities to be re-examined. (Calderdale Council spent £1.6m on the last floods but the Government has only refunded around 100k in the context of crippling cuts).

3. The Tories seem to be following the UKIP agenda over Europe. How should the Labour Party respond?

The Tories are playing a reckless game with our membership of the EU.  I believe that promising an in/out referendum is dangerous and will undoubtedly deter potential investors, undermining the potential for an economic recovery in the UK.

Whilst the Conservatives dance to the UKIP tune, the Labour Party should focus on what’s best for the Country.  In this period of unprecedented change, we’ve never needed Europe more. However, we should also acknowledge that in order to deal with today’s challenges we need to reform the EU. Let’s start with abolishing the Strasburg seat of the European Parliament, it’s hugely wasteful!

We need to bring balance to the argument and demonstrate the real benefits of being in Europe; on jobs, crime, global influence, environment, energy and of course workers’ rights.

I, like many, believe that the Tory calls for the repatriation of powers to the UK are just a smokescreen for plans to tear up workers' rights. We’re talking about health and safety, paid holidays, equal treatment for women and part-time workers, things we all now take for granted.

Taking the economic benefits alone, over 40% of our trade is with our European neighbours so pulling out could have a significant impact on our ability to influence the rules and standards of this trade.  For example, the Government’s own figures on the proposed EU-US free trade agreement, shows it would boost UK car exports by 25%. That’s a boost of 1.3% or £19bn in total UK exports.  Being in Europe makes sound economic sense.

As a country we have a big voice for what is essentially a small island state, but because we’re a leading member of Europe, it gives us more global influence.

The rise of UKIP is very real and cannot be ignored, so I would engage with the Calder Valley electorate on Europe, listen to people’s concerns and take them back to my Party nationally. I’m not advocating no change, but careful evolutionary change, to ensure that we have a Europe fit to tackle the many challenges of today and in the future.  But I am clear; our place is at the table as a leading member in Europe, not in the shadows of isolation.

4. Estimates of the cost to replace Trident vary but it is thought to be in excess of £100 billion. Could this money be better spent?

Yes, I could think of so many other things I would prefer to spend this money on.  However in the current uncertain climate and despite my instinctive revulsion by nuclear weapons, I’m not fully convinced that full disarmament of the UK is possible at this time.

I believe that we must maintain ‘a minimum credible deterrent’, but what shape and size this takes is another question entirely and one which must be explored.

This is certainly is an area where my heart says one thing but my head says another. Whilst I don’t believe we can dispose of our deterrent entirely, I do see the merits of scaling back its size and not replacing exactly like for like.

We should show leadership on this issue and signal a move to reduce our arsenal, whilst maintaining our national security. This would also recognise the terrible economic climate we find ourselves in and acknowledges any consequences on global stability.

It’s right that we challenge the status quo and have a real solid debate about this within the Labour Party and in the country at large as the costs are exorbitant in what is a dismal economy. I actually believe that the Trident question should have been addressed as part of the wider strategic defence review, to consider it is isolation seems bizarre. But the Tories batted the issue into the long grass of 2016.

A Labour government should continue to play a constructive role in international efforts to achieve a world free from nuclear weapons, something I long to see in my lifetime.

5. Britain is now an ethnically diverse nation. How should a future Labour government approach the issue of immigration

The diversity of the United Kingdom is something I am tremendously proud of and something we should celebrate as a great strength, especially in an increasingly globalised economy.

Our nation has enjoyed enormous benefits from the contributions made by immigrants. They’ve helped build our biggest companies, sustained our NHS and helped expand our scientific research.

I’m relieved that the Labour Party has refused to enter into a metaphorical arms race to be the toughest on immigration, but is instead proposing sensible proportional policies to strike the right balance.

As a Party we’ve got things wrong in the past; we ignored the concerns of many about the unequal impact that can sometimes occur and we got the transitional controls on Eastern Europe wrong.

I fully support Labour’s call for much stronger action to tackle exploitation of migrant workers that undercut local workers.  But we must also deliver more robust regulations on the National Minimum Wage and ensure there are more significant consequences for those companies who don’t play by the rules.

The Government’s net migration target isn’t working and is completely out of focus.  For instance did you know that two thirds of the drop since the election actually comes from British citizens? 27,000 more Brits leaving and 20,000 fewer Brits coming home! The majority of the rest is falling numbers of foreign students (who pump billions of pounds into our economy).

They are wrongly targeting university students and entrepreneurs and ignoring illegal immigration, which is strangely outside the government’s target.

A Labour government should also do more to tackle illegal immigration, with new powers for borders staff to act quickly when they find abuse, and training to help victims of trafficking.

It’s time we had an open, honest and factual debate about immigration. We need to smash the myths and misunderstandings and recognise that it has and will always play a vital role in our country’s success.

6. To what extent should Britain become involved in the Syrian conflict?

The continuing loss of life in Syria is shocking and sickening.  The UK should do everything we can to help bring about a peaceful transition in Syria and put a stop to the bloodshed.

I’m far from convinced that providing arms to the Free Syrian Army is the solution to this deadly stalemate.

It’s clear that Al-Qaeda linked groups are active in Syria and so we cannot risk British weapons falling into the wrong hands. The challenge is more about how to unify the opposition forces, rather than to pile more lethal arms into the region.

Let’s also consider the evidence from Amnesty International, which demonstrates human rights abuses being committed on both sides.
The international community must ensure that President Assad is brought to the negotiating table and that we effectively choke off his access to finance and foreign arms, which he uses to maintain his illegitimate hold on power. We should do this by effective enforcement of the existing sanctions set down by the Arab League.

The United Nations should facilitate a peaceful transition from the Assad regime with a clear determination to prevent a post-Assad civil war. Learning lessons from the collapse of previous dictatorial regimes, the international community must be prepared to assist in the massive increase in humanitarian aid needed in a post-war Syria.

7. If selected as candidate, and if elected as MP, would you be prepared to engage with your voters on the HebWeb Forum?

I want to embark on the biggest conversation we’ve ever had with voters in Calder Valley and I’m sure HebWeb will play an important role in making that happen.

I know that I can rely on HebWeb contributors to give me a candid, uncensored response to my campaign and the policies set out by the Labour Party as we move closer to the next General Election.

I would want to be as accessible as possible both as a Labour candidate and if elected, the Labour MP for Calder Valley.  HebWeb is an important means to interact with constituents here in the Upper Valley.

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