I am honoured and delighted to stand as a European Parliament election candidate for Change UK – The Independent Group. There will be lots more to discuss during the campaign about our hopes for the future of Change UK and reforming politics, but right at the start, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself and share some of my work, my writing and my thinking over the last few years.
I am co-Director of a welfare rights and culture charity, where for over a decade I have supported people to overcome homelessness, financial poverty and helped them to apply for disability benefits. I have also run projects using culture and the arts to tackle isolation, including through theatre, music and song. In recent years, I have worked on many cases on behalf of people with severe health problems, including cancer and degenerative kidney disease, who have been wrongly refused health benefits, requiring appeals which took over a year to be heard. A key policy idea I will champion within Change UK in the months ahead is the introduction of properly funded independent advocates for those trying to navigate the health benefit system. I wrote a Twitter thread here about welfare, outlining some of my views in this area.
My experiences of working with marginalised people are a key reason why I have come to believe Brexit would be a disaster: I wrote in the Financial Times, outlining why I believe the EU Settlement Scheme is going to lead to the inadvertent creation of an EU citizen underclass in Britain. Many of those who will suffer will be older people who are not online and are socially isolated. This is not something we should countenance in Britain.
I have been politically active all my life and I spent almost 20 years in the Labour Party. Like many outspoken moderate Labour members, I experienced an aggressive campaign of attacks, malicious complaints and smears from prominent Momentum and Labour activists (which started right up again the minute my nomination by Change UK was announced). I long ago realised that Labour was not a safe or healthy organisation to be involved with for moderates, but also that the policies pursued by the Hard Left were no good for the country. I wrote for the Independent about just one example of current Labour politics harming the poorest people the most and I explain why I left Labour in my resignation letter here.
One of the key causes of the current political crisis in Britain, I believe, is that moderate, mainstream voices have too often shied away from difficult issues, ensuring the conversations are dominated by polarising extremes. This has left little space for thoughtful, constructive, and essential discussion between those who are genuinely trying to help find a way through. This has been disastrous for British politics and for British society. Moderates not talking about issues has not made them go away, but it has made people turn to more fringe and extreme avenues for answers. I have often been challenged, particularly by people on the activist left, for talking publicly about the complexity of issues around rights conflicts. Regardless of the criticism, I stand by my belief that moderates not only can talk about these issues, but have a moral responsibility to do so.
To further the debate on contentious issues from a mainstream perspective, I recently successfully ran a Crowdfunder project for a series of filmed debates between politicians, writers, academics, campaigners, and people with work and life experience of difficult issues such as the impact of identity politics on political discourse, how liberal Britain has responded to conservative Islam, and the #MeToo movement and principles of justice. The final films are currently being edited and will be released soon. Perhaps the most contentious issue on the left at the moment is the rise of leftwing antisemitism, which I believe is intrinsically linked to a deep hostility to Israel. I’ve written about why I believe it is a moral imperative to continue to support the idea, and the existence, of Israel here.
Because I believe in the importance and power of free debate and because I think it is essential in a liberal democracy that we talk about even the most difficult issues, there is no shortage of things I’ve written that political opponents of bad faith can take out of context and throw at me. But I cannot help that, and people can read for themselves my views elsewhere on this blog.
Fundamentally, I can only reaffirm my belief in political pluralism as the bedrock of free societies. I will always champion the right of all people to speak, and write and think freely. I intend to help build Change UK as a party for people from different political traditions who understand and accept we cannot always agree, but we must always debate. If you are interested in being part of that debate, please get involved with Change UK and help us fix our broken politics.
And remember: Vote Change UK — The Independent Group at the European elections on May 23!