As well as appealing to the 48% of voters who are deeply disenchanted with Brexit, I think there are many other policy areas we need to focus on, if we are to make an electoral breakthrough.
In this week alone, there have been three fatal stabbings in London, innocent people (all men) aged 17, 40 and 60, robbed of their lives because of mindless violence. We have to show that we care about violence and people having the right to live in peaceful streets and neighbourhoods.
Let’s also tackle the inequitable housing situation, whereby overseas buyers are buying up London’s properties at prices that are completely unaffordable for locals – who often aren’t even given a chance to buy them before they are marketed overseas, as apparently happened with the new Heygate development in South East London. Switzerland has placed restrictions on foreign buyers, why can’t we?
And what of mental health services? They are sparse, and not always joined up, and young people are suffering disproportionately, faced, as they are, with so many pressures – many of which we adults are sadly responsible for. Excessive exam pressures, a lack affordable housing, family breakdown, bullying and awful working conditions in some part-time jobs are all fuelling anxiety in young people. Many can also no longer afford dental services, and social care is excruciatingly, and unjustly, expensive for those that have to pay. We need to address this urgently.
What about rail fares? Rail travel is completely overpriced, especially on commuter routes. An annual season ticket from Swindon to London is almost £8,500 a year. A peak hour single from Bath to London is around £90. Unfortunately some people just have to pay that because our national lack of a regional policy means there is a high concentration of better-paid jobs in the South East, strangling the life out of the surrounding regions.
People, I would argue, also need more annual leave and flexible working patterns. Why not allow everyone to take up to two (or more) weeks’ additional unpaid leave each year for family reasons and caring duties, instead of using up their holiday? People need more time to live, care, rest and be creative – as well as working, especially with today’s pace of life.
And what about the environment? Admittedly the Mayor of London is now taking action on air pollution, but are other cities doing as well? And with increases in high-density housing are we making enough provision for green spaces at ground level for people to walk, and children to play in? Some parts of London are like high-rise glass and concrete deserts. And have we forgotten about protecting our biodiversity? Ninety-five per cent of wildflowers are now found in roadside verges rather than the countryside. Whatever happened to conservation?
Some things have improved and we should acknowledge that. London’s Tube and bus services are infinitely better than they were a few decades ago. We certainly need to admit to progress where we see it, and not just to focus on the negative. However, libraries are closing, playgrounds are not being maintained and once affordable activities such as adult education classes, are out of reach of many.
Brexit is going to impact horribly on all these things because of the terrible toll it will take on our economy, jobs and scientific community. However, we still need to make our case in terms of the things that matter most tangibly to individuals and families now.
And if we need to raise taxes – so be it. The Danes pay more tax than we do, but they are happier than we are according to every international survey, because the state looks after people well. We need to make quality of life – and not just Brexit and purchasing power – our number one priority in this election campaign. If we want to be a mainstream party we need to respond to mainstream concerns. This doesn’t mean taking the middle road though – it actually means being radical about social justice, well funded health and care services, environmental protection and wellbeing for all.
* Judy Abel Is a Lib Dem member in Bath, who works in London