Originally in the Independent
Around the world, people are looking to their leaders for guidance. Some people will feel safe and hopeful. Others may feel uneasy and question their nation’s choices. In moments like this, decent leadership can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.
For me, the best leadership is calm, measured and purposeful. It is open, transparent and direct. Good leaders spell out what they and their parties stand for, allowing people to grasp the ideas, embrace change and move forward together.
So, as I enter the Liberal Democrat leadership race, I want to make my vision for our country clear. In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, I want to champion a more compassionate and cooperative United Kingdom that gives every person and our planet a chance to thrive.
Where everyone has access to high-quality education and retraining. Where politicians work together to help the most vulnerable, and key workers are respected and paid a fair wage. Where we cherish nature as the finite resource it is, rather than continue the managed exploitation we have now.
As a former teacher, education is close to my heart. I joined the Lib Dems because their education policies are best placed to ensure every child is world-ready, not just exam-ready. The educational inequalities that existed when I first joined the party more than 12 years ago are still here; in fact, many have become further entrenched.
When I reimagine the education system, I picture more investment in the early years, to reduce inequalities before children get into a classroom. More power for teachers to design a world-class education system, which recognises and supports children with practical skills as well as academic. And, a nationwide adult retraining programme to get people back on their feet and into work.
Our economic approach also needs urgent change. As the country recovers, we mustn’t leave anyone in our society behind. A Universal Basic Income is necessary to support those who fall on hard times. We must invest in education, health, social care and public services, and give all frontline workers the support they deserve. And let’s prioritise our wellbeing and mental health alongside economic growth, because now more than ever, we need to move forward positively and compassionately.
We have an opportunity to steal a march on the environmental crisis, too. In the past months, travel has reduced, and the demand for coal and oil has plummeted. This presents us with a precious opportunity to flatten the climate curve.
I want to see a UK which is not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. Young people, given they will have to carry this burden for us all, should be involved in the decision-making processes for achieving this ambitious goal. We must acknowledge the part that biodiversity catastrophe plays in pandemics, and recognise that to build resilience, we need to talk about habitat as well as carbon.
In areas such as education, economy and environment, the country simply must move forward, rather than look back. This is where I would start as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, along with our ongoing campaigns to reform our political system and challenge threats to human rights in the face of populism and authoritarianism, at home and abroad.
Of course, to make real progress and seriously challenge the Conservatives, the Lib Dems need to move forward as well.
For too long, we’ve become more defined by what we’re against, rather than what we’re for. The party lost trust when many supporters questioned our judgement in entering a coalition government. Subsequent leaders have struggled to move us on from this. We’ve also lost our campaigning edge; we need to rediscover a bold vision and also build the machine to deliver it.
Under new leadership, the Lib Dems must work together at all levels of the party, to rebuild our campaigning strength, listen to voters and restore trust. We need a national brand that complements local council successes, rather than imposing messages that work against local aims. We need to build broad support across the country, and we need to live (and look like) our values of diversity and inclusion.
This approach has worked in my constituency, where building cross-party support, listening to voters, and a strong campaigning effort led to an 8,000-vote increase in my majority in December.
I’ve listened to Lib Dems members and cross-party voters since then, and I’ve included their contributions in my bold forward-vision for our future, with education, economic fairness and the environment at its heart.
The sliver of silver in the clouds of this crisis is the once in a generation opportunity make our country fairer and more liberal. The moment for change exists, and with the right leader and vision, progress is within the Lib Dems’ grasp. We just need to reach out, seize this moment, and move forward as a strong and united party.
That’s why, throughout the leadership contest, I will be asking Lib Dems members to move forward together – and Vote Layla.