Thursday 23 April 2015

Why I'm voting for Julian Huppert

In the general election on 7 May, I am voting to re-elect Julian Huppert as Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.

Sign in my front garden.
I am not a member of the Liberal Democrats. I have voted for other parties in the past, and this is the first time I've so much as put a political party's poster in my window. I take a close interest in politics, but I've often been a "plague-on-all-their-houses" person, voting for the Greens or other no-hope parties. This time is different.

Here are my main reasons for supporting Dr Huppert:

  • He is an active and dedicated MP. His level of participation in the House of Commons is well above average, and he is also devoted to local constituency matters. His financial interests outside Parliament are minimal, and he has expressed firm disapproval of his colleagues who see being an MP as a part-time job.
  • He is one of a very few scientists in the House of Commons. How many there are depends on how you define a "scientist", but the MPs with science PhDs can be counted on the fingers of one hand. This is valuable in itself, but he has also spoken out eloquently about the importance of science and evidence in public policy.
  • He is a strong voice in favour of cycling, and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. As a cyclist, I think this is great. But even if you don't ride a bike, the benefits to the environment, easing road congestion, and relieving pressure on the NHS are good reasons to support cycling.
  • Of all the major parties, Liberal Democrat policies are most in tune with what I believe. Like Labour, they want strong public services. Unlike Labour they are, well, liberal. They believe in constitutional reform; evidence-based policy on prison and drugs; and protection for privacy, including a digital bill of rights.
Independents for Julian has its own list of reasons to vote for Huppert, many of which overlap with mine.

The Coalition

There is a sizeable elephant in the room: The Liberal Democrat record in government, as part of a coalition with the Conservatives.

There's no getting away from it. The coalition has done some rotten things: The infamous bedroom tax; half-baked attempts to reform primary and secondary education; cruel and pointless sanctions against benefit claimants; cutting taxes on the richest while raising VAT. However, this wasn't a LibDem majority government. It was a coalition, consisting of 57 LibDems and 306 Conservatives.

Some say the LibDems should not have sullied themselves by joining a coalition with the hated Tories. I can appreciate where this comes from, but I disagree.

If you're going to blame someone for the last five years under a Conservative Prime Minister, you can start with Gordon Brown's Labour Party. They failed to retain enough seats in 2010 to remain in power. The choices in May 2010 were a Conservative/LibDem coalition, or a Conservative minority government.

Under the coalition, the UK had five years of centre-right government instead of rule by the hard right of the Conservatives. David Cameron could afford to ignore his more deranged MPs, instead of counting on them to win votes as a minority government. The LibDems negotiated for a wide range of good, sensible policies, amusingly presented by What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done. It isn't ideologically pure, but it's not nothing.

The coalition also brought stability. Under minority government, there could have been a general election at any time -- either following loss of a vote of confidence, or called by Cameron himself if he thought the opinion polls looked favourable. It is most unlikely this Parliament would have lasted four or five years. In an early election, the Conservatives could have argued hung Parliaments were unworkable, and they needed to be given a majority; much as I dislike admitting it, they would have had a point.

Do I agree with everything the LibDems have done in government? Not by a long way; but considering Huppert's personal qualities as an MP, I'm still happy to support him.

The Other Parties

The rival parties in Cambridge have not moved me to vote for anyone else:
  • Labour's Daniel Zeichner would probably be an adequate MP. As I've said though, I disagree with many of Labour's policies, and their underlying principles; and I have no wish to swap an outstanding constitutency MP for an untested one.
  • Cambridge is one of the top 12 Green target seats in England, but they're still highly unlikely to win. Whether they will take more votes from Labour or the LibDems is anyone's guess. Although the Greens' hearts are largely in the right place, their policies have not been fully thought through. The Green leader Natalie Bennet's infamous meltdown when asked to explain her party's housing policy is just one example.
  • I disagree with the Conservatives on principle, and there are specific problems with Chamali Fernando, their candidate in Cambridge. The allegation she said the mentally ill should wear wristbands to identify their condition is very troubling, as is her reported threat of legal action against Huppert for criticising those alleged remarks. (Hopefully the preceding sentence contains enough caveats that I will not be sued myself.) Fernando has no chance of receiving my vote.
  • Instead of trying to face complex issues honestly, UKIP retreats into a fantasy world, in which the European Union and immigrants like myself are to blame for everything. Hardly a week goes by without some new scandal exposing prominent party members as crooks or bigots. One of their local candidates has even offended the Royal British Legion by using the poppy symbol without permission. I hope UKIP lose their deposit in Cambridge.
I can respect the decision to vote for other parties (with the exception of UKIP), but my mind is made up.

Huppert is clearly the best choice. I am voting for an excellent local MP who stands for principles I believe in.

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