Councillor Max Wilkinson has been elected by local Liberal Democrat members as their new parliamentary candidate.
Former Lib Dem MP Martin welcomed the news: “Max is a terrific local campaigner, a good friend and he works to get things done. Unlike the Conservative MP, he lived and worked in Cheltenham before becoming a parliamentary candidate here. He’s already working hard for local people as a member of the borough council. I have every confidence that with Max in the lead, we can close the slender gap between us and the Conservatives at the next General Election, whenever it comes.”
“Cheltenham badly needs a new voice for tolerance, internationalism and openness in Parliament, and the country badly needs an alternative to this shambolic, divided government which is going to drive us over the cliff-edge of a very hard Brexit. So that election can’t come soon enough.”
For reasons unconnected with politics, as one of my predecessors once said, I wrote yesterday to Cllr Paul McCloskey, chair of the local Liberal Democrats, to let him know that I have decided not to put my name forward in any forthcoming selection of a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham.
I do regret having to take this decision and I very much hope to return to frontline politics in the near future. But I can’t commit to that right now. We ran a tremendous campaign in Cheltenham earlier this year, bucking the national trend by increasing our vote significantly and making this one of the most winnable Liberal Democrat / Tory marginals in the whole country, so I understand why the local party will want to crack on with selecting a candidate as soon as possible. But the timing isn’t right for me.
Luckily, the Liberal Democrats have many able campaigners locally and nationally who will be very interested in taking on this challenge. I wish them every success and I hope to be able to give them my wholehearted backing.
For the record – since this question is often asked – Cheltenham remains home and I have no intention of going anywhere else. I remain a trustee of three local charities and I will be continuing with all of those commitments and continuing to help Cheltenham Liberal Democrats as much as I can.
The Conservatives are making a tragic mess of our country and their inept handling of Brexit in particular threatens all our futures. Jeremy Corbyn’s increasingly embarrassing personality cult and his 1970s policies provide no realistic alternative. Here in Cheltenham, we continue to see Lib Dem victories in local elections. So I see no reason why the Liberal Democrats should not go from strength to strength again, nationally and locally. We have a new national leader in Vince Cable and we now need a new standard-bearer in Cheltenham too. But there is still everything to play for.
Martin didn’t vote against the Referendum Bill as he never opposed the British people having their say. But he passionately believed that Brexit was wrong for this country and still believes our future safety, prosperity, environment and culture would all benefit from continued membership of the European Union. Even Brexit supporters must now despair of the Conservative government’s inept and disunited approach to the EU negotiations which risks the UK dropping out of the EU in 2019 like a crate of eggs off the back of a moving lorry.
Martin supports the British people having the final say on whatever Brexit deal actually emerges from the negotiations in a final referendum, with the option to vote to remain in after all if Brexit is clearly going to be a complete disaster for the UK.
As the Lib Dem party spokesperson on Europe in the 2010-15 parliament, Martin repeatedly confronted anti-European Conservative and Labour MPs pressing then Prime Minister David Cameron to bring in the Referendum Bill (which Cameron did believing it would be lost and that he could guarantee Conservative unity in the process. Wrong on both counts.)
During the referendum campaign itself, Martin put a strong case for Britain remaining in the European Union. He believes EU membership is:
The best guarantee of British jobs and future prosperity, through our full membership of the world’s largest single market
Enormously important for tackling cross-border organised crime, people trafficking and terrorism, and for bringing British and other EU criminal suspects to justice through the European Arrest Warrant and EU agencies such as Europol
The best way for Britain to find its voice in highly competitive global negotaitions on everything from climate change to world trade
The best way of safeguarding the environment which transcends national boundaries and requires co-ordinated action for its protection
The guarantor of many human rights, consumer protections and employment rights
An enormously important cultural, educational and scientific benefit to the UK, and in particular for future generations.
Martin told local businesses during the campaign: “Cheltenham businesses, from high-end engineering firms to the social care sector, benefit from millions in investment from within the EU and employ hundreds of people from other European Union countries and would in many cases struggle to fill those posts if visa or residence qualifications ever got in the way. Our businesses benefit from their skills and productivity, the UK benefits from the taxes they pay – and of course we get the right to live, work, study, sell our goods and services and even retire anywhere in Europe on the same terms as local citizens. Why would we throw all that into doubt with a costly and uncertain divorce from Europe? And the moment we voted for Brexit businesses all over Europe would start to think about how they could get the rules of the single market tweaked in their favour after we’ve gone and have no say. A town like Cheltenham with strong international links would lose out in that situation.”
Sadly, the vote for Brexit was followed by an immediate drop in the value of the pound which has been maintained as business confidence has faltered, the NHS, public sector and many companies now face a crisis in recruitment and retention of valued European staff and young people feel rightly cheated of their future work and study opportunities.
The Conservative government’s inept handling of the Brexit negotiations has added to the uncertainty, even amongst Leave voters. The government used European residents of the UK as bargaining chips when they could have guaranteed their unqualified right to stay at once and got the negotiations off to a positive start, moving on to the crucial need for a trade deal as fast as possible. Instead we have had sometimes aggressive and often wildly unrealistic statements accompanying talks which barely seem to have got off the starting blocks as to the clock ticks down towards a ‘hard’ Brexit of tariffs and trade barriers, lost opportunities and an uncertain future for longstanding UK residents.
Even the Prime Minister’s proposed ‘transitional deal’ requires the final consent of all 27 other EU states and still hasn’t resolved the Irish border question so the UK still faces the risk of falling out of the back of the European Union in March 2019 with a very nasty bump indeed.
Well we didn’t quite do it. But we did buck the national trend to increase our vote share by 8 points, adding six thousand to the Lib Dem total and slicing the Tory majority from 6,500 to 2,500.
We suffered from a national campaign that struggled to break through despite excellent leadership from Tim Farron, the lack of a UKIP candidate locally sending pro-Brexit votes straight to the Tories, and an increased Labour vote swept along by the Corbyn surge which in Cheltenham ultimatelyhelped the Tories win as well. Sometimes the cards just fall the wrong way during a campaign.
But the fact that we came so close is a credit to everyone from all over Gloucestershire and further afield who volunteered, delivered, stuffed, donated, delivered, called, knocked on doors, tweeted, posted and generally worked their socks off for weeks. Thank you SO much.
And thanks as well to those who co-ordinated ward efforts, led canvassing, covered Cheltenham in Lib Dem diamonds, gave advice on policy and messaging, wrote copy, handled emails, managed the money, produced video, promoted the campaign on social media and fundraised. We would never have come so close without you too.
Its invidious to name anyone in particular but I have to name check our core campaign team: my agent Steve Jordan, Andy Williams’ political intelligence and hard work at the printing presses in Hewlett Road, our vital national link Dave Wood, Chris Twells on the outstanding literature and many people’s superstar of the campaign, Chris Ward, who read the data and directed the huge volunteer effort at the Bakery and across the town. You were a fantastic team and put together a strategy that should have won us the seat – and would have done if the national tide had just flowed a bit more strongly in our direction.
But Theresa May’s gamble in calling the election misfired so catastrophically for the Tory party that we may all be back here again before long. Overturning a 6,000+ majority always looked like a bit of a longshot. But your tremendous effort this time means that whenever the next election comes, we’ll start within spitting distance of victory.
Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham 2017
Better public transport is crucial to our economy, our quality of life and our battle against climate change. Throughout his ten years as our MP, Martin successfully campaigned to protect local rail services and to win new investment in track and station so that the nearly two million passenger journeys that now start at Cheltenham Spa each year can be quicker and more convenient for personal, business and tourist travel.
Martin led the opposition to the Conservative-led County Council’s plan for a Gloucester Parkway station between Cheltenham and Gloucester when it became clear that it was based on taking services away from Cheltenham Spa. He was backed by environmentalists like Jonathan Porritt, local politicians of all parties and many residents and businesses in Cheltenham and Gloucester too. As a result of Martin’s campaign, the plan was shelved by the Department for Transport.
Martin has consistently backed new investment in Cheltenham Spa station and a future development that would improve parking, access for public transport and bikes, make better commercial use of the site and meet the concerns of the station’s neighbours. Working closely with Cheltenham Borough Council and the University of Gloucestershire, he lobbied for a plan eventually supported by train operators, Network Rail and Travelwatch SouthWest and helped to get millions in funding in place by 2015. The most ambitious version could have seen two brand new bay platforms to prevent stopping trains slowing up through services and the lower part of the car park given a second tier – but this now looks like being downgraded to a much less ambitious plan since the Conservatives took office in 2015.
Martin successfully campaigned for the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line. Two lines on this key route will allow more direct trains from Cheltenham to Swindon, Reading and London and give the whole region a more reliable railway service because trains will be able to overtake delayed or stopped services.
Martin personally lobbied Labour transport secretary Andrew Adonis, Conservative ministers Teresa Villiers and Philip Hammond and finally LibDem transport minister Norman Baker to secure the £45 million spending.
Again working with Cheltenham’s Chamber of Commerce, Martin also backed a longer-term plan to build a Gloucestershire light rail network linking, Gloucester, Cheltenham town centre, the racecourse and Bishop’s Cleeve, possibly connecting with a new line to Honeybourne. This would be a convenient, reliable and low-impact network using routes like the old Honeybourne line and could connect with a restored main line north of Cheltenham, offering the prospect of a ‘heritage triangle’ train connection between Cheltenham, Stratford and Oxford.
It has never been more important to stand up for the local NHS. As your local MP, Martin campaigned tirelessly for free, local health services.
Martin is married to a doctor himself and four generations of his family have been cared for by Cheltenham GPs and hospital staff so he never forgets how valuable it is to have a good local health service free to all.
Martin has campaigned for many years to defend the emergency department at Cheltenham General Hospital and to see the full overnight A&E service restored in Cheltenham. After ‘critical incidents’ were declared at Cheltenham and Gloucester, Martin asked the NHS regulators to investigate what went wrong in Gloucestershire and what role the new 111 service played, how well the various local health and social care providers are working together (for instance when they refer patients in to A&E and allow patients to be discharged) and whether local management decisions have made the situation worse by downgrading Cheltenham A&E at night and routing all unplanned admissions through A&E.
Under the coalition, Martin refused to vote for Conservative Secretary of State Andrew Lansley’s Health & Social Care Bill which he believed broke the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats which promised no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. But he supported the coalition in raising overall spending on the NHS from £98bn in the last year of the Labour government to more than £110bn a year in 2015. The Conservative government since 2015 has failed to match that rate of growth.
Far from bringing extra money into the NHS, Brexit will now put this progress at risk by damaging the economy and the so the resources available to the NHS, as well as driving away European staff and damaging recruitment.
Back in 2006, under the last Labour government, Martin was a leading member of the coalition of local campaigners that fought the 26 different cuts and closures that threatened the long-term future of Cheltenham General and many local services. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have a rose-tinted belief that Labour has always been a good friend of the NHS but that’s not how it felt then.
That campaign secured the future of Cheltenham’s St.Paul’s maternity ward which was earmarked for closure. Martin will continue to campaign for the services that matter most to people, like maternity and A&E, to be kept local.
Other cuts like IVF services were also restored after pressure from Martin and others and as MP he took up many individual cases for local people who felt let down by local healthcare providers. But he has always taken time to praise NHS staff and volunteers for their tremendous work and to give credit to local NHS management when they get things right. Under the coalition, they managed to increase expenditure and deliver a small net surplus after achieving more than £17m in efficiency savings.
But as the chart from the independent King’s Fund below shows, in the few years since the Conservatives took power on their own, the majority of NHS trusts have plunged into deficit – and this now includes Gloucestershire too. This is a direct threat to the future of local NHS services.
Martin also campaigned consistently for good mental health services in Gloucestershire to make sure mental health service users get not only the services professionals think they should have but the services they want and need – just like those suffering from physical health problems. He believes there is a particular crisis in child and adolescent mental health. Before the coalition ended, he backed Lib Dem Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s announcement of £1.25 billion over five years for children’s mental health – but tragically this spending has not been maintained by the Conservatives since 2015.
At the 2015 General Election, only the Liberal Democrats pledged the full £8 billion extra which the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said the NHS needed over the following five years and pledged equal status for mental health within the NHS, including children’s mental health and new mums who may need rapid access to treatment.
Based on the experience of 600 flooded properties in Cheltenham in the summer of 2007, Martin strongly supported a new national deal on flood insurance and responsibility for drainage and extensive government-funded flood defence work in Cheltenham and elsewhere, but also a more sustainable approach to naturally holding water in the landscape, for instance by extensive tree-planting and landscape management.
Martin was home in Cheltenham when the June and July 2007 floods hit. Although he had to rescue his own children from a flooding car and lost his water supply along with the rest of us, he escaped lightly compared to many constituents who were left homeless or had their business premises wrecked or lost priceless possessions in the waters. Martin has repeatedly acknowledged the debt we all owe to the emergency services, the army, the environment agency and local council and NHS staff.
During the passage of the Floods and Water Management Act 2010, Martin was the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on flooding. He won a series of concessions from ministers and tabled many amendments to the bill calling for changes that have been highlighted by people in Cheltenham since the floods in 2007:
more steps to protect critical infrastructure like the Mythe water treatment works and Walham electricity sub-station
clearer responsibility for flood prevention including clearing and maintaining culverts, drains and small rivers and all forms of flooding
encouraging flood management that works with nature, for instance using land management and woodland to hold back water uphill not just expensive flood defences in our towns
On two key votes pressed by Martin, the Conservatives (including the current MP for Tewkesbury) failed to support him and his amendments were voted down which would have promoted fairer insurance policies and given local authorities clear powers to refuse planning permission in flood risk areas where overdevelopment can make matters worse.
After the 2010 Act, the coalition government struck a new national deal with the insurance industry called Flood Re to secure affordable insurance for all. Martin welcomed Flood Re but still wants government to actively monitor the affordability and availability of flood insurance, which has affected many people in Cheltenham since 2007. The coalition also strengthened planning guidance relating to flooding in the new National Planning Policy Framework although, again, Martin believes this could go further.
Flood defences need to work with natureMartin has also consistently called for more funding for anti-flooding works. Cheltenham’s multi-million pound scheme including Cox’s Meadow did hold back 75,000 litres of flood water and more work was later done by the Environment Agency to the River Chelt and adjacent areas and by Severn Trent to sewers and drainage all over town, including Warden Hill.
Anyone concerned about flooding can find the latest information on the Environment Agency website or by following @EnvAgencyMids on Twitter.
They can also sign up to Flood Alerts via the Flood Alerts Facebook App http://www.facebook.com/FloodAlerts or by calling the Environment Agency Flood Line on 0345 988 1188 or 0845 988 1188.
Experts fear global warming will mean extreme flood events will be much more common in future. So we have to take every step we can to reduce the risks from flooding and avoid making it worse.
Martin strongly defended a well-funded local police force, called for smart sentencing and innovative approaches like restorative justice to cut re-offending and involve victims more in the justice process.
There were more than 7,000 recorded crimes in Cheltenham in Martin’s last full year as an MP – still far too many but more than 27% less than in 2010. Domestic burglary, drug offences, bicycle theft, public order offences, possession of weapons offences and vehicle offences were all sharply lower then in Cheltenham than they were in 2010. This is a tribute to Cheltenham people including Neighbourhood Watch volunteers, to Gloucestershire Constabulary‘s effective community policing and preventive work and to innovative projects like the Aston Project and the Halt project who have worked to reduce the risk of offending amongst young people.
Martin criticised Conservatives on the old Police Authority for refusing funding for our police which would have avoided cuts and has welcomed new Police & Crime Commissioner Martin Surl’s more careful approach and backed his successful campaign as an independent candidate in the last PCC election.
Gloucestershire Constabulary has a strong record of community-based policing and effective action against crime – including anti-terrorist arrests like the Gloucester ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid and clampdowns on organised crime families. The force’s finest hour was their emergency leadership role during the 2007 floods. Under the last Labour government there was a serious plan to wind up local police forces like ours and set up a centralised south west England police force. Martin was one of many MPs who lobbied strenuously against this plan which was duly dropped as unworkable and unaffordable.
Martin has been a critical friend of the police when necessary, pointing out problems emerging in outlying areas of town like Hatherley and Springbank that needed nipping in the bud. He strongly supported the force’s move towards more community-based policing and also highlighted residents’ and tenants’ concerns about crimes on specific estates around town and the time it sometimes seem to take for the police and other authorities to take action against anti-social behaviour.
Martin has also supported honest sentencing – so that life really means life – and smarter sentencing – leaving proper discretion to juries, judges and magistrates but offering the alternative of ‘restorative justice’ involving victims more in setting the punishment. Gloucestershire is already a leader in this novel approach which promises lower re-offending rates and puts victims at the heart of the justice process.
Martin also supports tough community payback schemes to make community sentences fit the crime and innovative projects like Cheltenham’s Aston Project and Halt project which offer positive alternatives to young people at risk of getting into trouble. Early results suggested they could have a dramatic effect on offending rates.
In 2015, after five years with the Lib Dems in government locally and nationally, Cheltenham was enjoying its strongest economy in years with a big drop in unemployment, local businesses reporting healthy order books and both businesses and householders still enjoying low interest rates and mortgage payments. As MP, Martin backed both the coalition government and Cheltenham’s LibDem-led council in taking the tough decisions necessary to build sustainable prosperity and worked hard to lobby for and promote local business.
All this is now at risk from the Conservatives’ suicidal drive towards ‘Brexit’ which could could see the UK drop out of the world’s largest single market like a crate of eggs out of the back of a lorry. The Conservatives’ initial arrogance and aggressive approach towards the EU negotiations and their chaotic and unco-ordinated approach to Brexit generally is undermining business confidence further.
Back in 2010, the new coalition government inherited a massive financial crisis from the last Labour government. Whoever you blame, the situation in the 2009/10 financial year was that:
Government was spending £153 billion pounds* a year more than it was raising
This represented 10.2%* of GDP (the value of the economy)
If this hadn’t been brought under control, our economy would quickly have gone the way of Greece and others and our interest rates – which set the cost of borrowing by businesses as well as your mortgage – might have skyrocketed, doing serious damage to the economy, increasing the cost of living for homeowners and throwing millions out of work
Unemployment in Cheltenham was already 2251 or 4.5%**, the highest in years
To strengthen the economy, Martin and the Liberal Democrats backed the tough decisions – opposed by Labour – which did bring public spending under control, reduced that overspend by a third and reassured financial markets so that business borrowing and mortgage rates in Cheltenham were kept low as we fought off recession. By 2015:
Government overspending was expected to be £91.3 billion*, still very high but down by a massive £61 billion a year
This represented 5% of GDP* – half the value it was five years previously
The economy was the fastest growing economy of any of the G7 group of major economies, growing 2.6% in 2014/15 and it was estimated to keep growing at 2.5% a year – until the disastrous Brexit vote
Earnings were finally starting to go up too. Together with the fall in fuel prices, this helped everyone by bringing the cost of living down this year. The Office of Budget Responsibility confirmed living standards were higher in 2015 than they were in 2010.
Unemployment in Cheltenham fell to 854 or just 1.6%**. Under the coalition, the UK had the strongest employment growth in the G7. The number of young people claiming unemployment benefits was at its lowest since the 1970s.
Sources: * Office of Budget Responsibility 2014/15 ** Department of Work & Pensions
But a stronger economy isn’t just a fast-growing one – it must be sustainable too:
The coalition launched the world’s first Green Investment Bank and locked investment in low-carbon energy into energy markets through the Energy Act and has created a record number of green jobs. In Cheltenham, Martin has backed local companies like Tidal Lagoon Power and Commercial who have pioneered sustainable jobs and business
The coalition created more than 2 million new apprenticeships, 2,610 of them in Cheltenham, building skills for the future
Whether we were still in recession or growing again, the coalition kept investing in infrastructure, maintaining spending on public transport and committing another £6 billion investment to flood defences, including more flood defence work in Cheltenham to protect another 240 properties
The coalition committed to the largest ever sustained investment in Britain’s science base, including a £2.9 billion Grand Challenges fund to enable the UK to invest in major research facilities. This progress is now particularly at riosk from Tory Brexit plans.
The economy was stronger locally too. Cheltenham’s LibDem council faced cuts along with other local authorities – their net budget fell in cash terms by about 12% over seven years, from £16.1m to £14.2m – but despite the cuts, there was no crisis at Cheltenham Borough Council:
£8.5m was found in savings and additional income and ‘austerity’ has had little impact on frontline services. Savings have been made by radical management efficiencies, sharing back office functions and major functions like waste collection with other councils, and turning arts and leisure management over to a charitable trust of which Martin is now an unpaid trustee.
Martin and the borough council worked together to win majornew investment in developments like the Brewery, North Place and in local transport, including £5m for local sustainable transport, £45m for the redoubling of the Swindon/Kemble line to improve services to Swindon, Reading and London and an ambitious plan to upgrade parking, access and facilities at Cheltenham Spa station which has now won widespread backing.
In stark contrast, The Conservative-led county council has lurched from crisis to crisis – taken to court over its library closures, signing up to a wasteful incinerator contract turned down by its own councillors then forced through by the administration, slapping new on-street parking charges on small business areas and leaving our roads in a total mess.
As MP, Martin lobbied for and promoted local companies from publisher Edward Elgar to worldbeating clothes retailer SuperDry, from engineering firms like Spirax Sarco, DIS and CF Roberts to IT firms like Innov8ive software. He worked with business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce, Gfirst LEP and Cheltenham Connect to promote and support local business.
He promoted Cheltenham’s Festivals in Parliament with an eye to drawing even more valuable visitors to the town and encouraged council backing for areas like the Lower High Street that deserved more support. He supported a more determined strategy to market Cheltenham to visitors, investors and relocating businesses which has now happened with the recent creation of Marketing Cheltenham.
The campaign group Keep The Ban (http://www.keeptheban.org.uk/) are asking all parliamentary candidates to commit to keeping the hunting ban if they are elected on 8 June. And Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Horwood has been quick to sign the pledge.
The Conservatives have again said they will bring forward a vote on repealing the hunting ban, on which MPs are traditionally allowed a free vote.
Martin said: “We were warned that the hunting ban would wreck the rural economy, stop even the valuable social side of hunts and make it impossible to protect livestock. None of that turned out to be true and I don’t think Parliament should go back to condoning the hunting of animals for fun.”
Martin took up many animal welfare causes as an MP, many in conjunction with Cheltenham based charity Naturewatch (naturewatch.org). He successfully campaigned for more money for alternatives to animal research, voted for the ban on wild animals in circuses, supported the international whaling ban and opposed the badger cull in Gloucestershire and elsewhere. In 2009 he was voted Animal Welfare Champion by fellow parliamentarians of all parties at the Dods political awards.
Martin added: “At the Trinity church hustings in 2015, all the parliamentary candidates were asked to say yes or no to keeping the hunting ban. Alex Chalk famously replied ‘free vote’. Well, we all know it’s a free vote but that was just dodging the question! We then found out he was being actively supported by members of the Vale of White Horse Hunt, North Cotswold Hunt and the pro-hunting organisation Vote OK – so it’s pretty clear where he stands on this issue. The question is: will he have the courage to say so this time?” (He didn’t. Despite again receiving active support from hunt members, Alex Chalk replied ‘pass’ to the same question at the same hustings in 2017!)