Monday, 9 September 2013

Lib Dem councillor calls for African or Caribbean successor to Teather

Guest blog by Lester Holloway, Liberal Democrat Councillor, Sutton North Ward

I am immensely saddened that Sarah Teather has decided to step down from her Brent Central seat at the next election.

She stood up for liberal and democratic principles, particularly after she left government, and on immigration was a shining if lonely beacon of common sense in the Lib Dems.

In an interview with the Observer yesterday she singled out the visa bond scheme and the general approach to immigration as among the main reasons why she could no longer support the party in parliament.
My disappointment is that she has not chosen to stay and fight for those beliefs, particularly as so many party members agreed with her stance.

Certainly the likes of Bernie Grant would not have quit but carried on the fight from the backbenches. However, as Teather admits in her interview, her commitment to the party mean she would not be comfortable with such a role.

Her stepping down should now be an opportunity for the Lib Dems to do some serious soul-searching about what she has said. It is time to reflect and debate what we need to do to appeal to diverse communities.
Nick Clegg made a speech after being elected leader promising to challenge Labour in its’ heartlands and carried this theme into the 2010 general election. This ambition appears to have been lost in coalition government but needs to be recaptured.

Policies like the visa bond for Nigeria and Ghana should never have been agreed. As the Observer interview reports:
When all three party leaders made speeches over Easter this year about the need to take a tough line on immigration, Teather says she reached her lowest ebb. Clegg said some immigrants from “high-risk” countries should be asked to make cash deposits of £1,000 when making visa applications, which would be returned when they left the UK. Teather plunged into an instant, deep depression, seeing this as an abandonment of the liberal approach that drew her into the party in her teens.
“It was spun like it was a bail-like payment linking immigrants, who were mostly just coming for a wedding, with criminals. I just felt catastrophically depressed. It took me some time before I began to communicate with Nick Clegg … It was an absolutely black moment. I couldn’t even move from my seat when I read it. I was so depressed, I couldn’t even be angry. I was utterly desolate.”
I argued recently on Lib Dem Voice that the party should reorientate itself to appeal to BAME communities, and got a lot of flak on the reader thread for my efforts. However Teather’s decision to stand down only reinforces the need to focus on appealing to Britain’s increasingly multicultural communities.

Labour in Brent are continuing to take the 2015 election for granted. Dawn Butler was defeated by Teather in 2010 in part because Butler had her nose in the expenses trough claiming for lavish items like a £2,300 whirlpool bath yet has never apologised, shown any regret or contrition to the best of my knowledge despite having ample opportunity to do so.

Yet the same Dawn Butler is positioning herself to run again. Her voting record when in parliament includes voting for ID cards and for clamping down even harder on immigration, the very issues that Teather stood against.

Whereas Teather successfully campaigned against Labour’s policy of detaining children in asylum detention centre prisons and worked closely on the Pupil Premium for disadvantaged children, Butler’s contribution in Westminster was minimal. 

I was on BBC London radio last night opposite Butler talking about Teather and Butler on particularly screechy form accusing Teather of “lying” without being clear what the “lie” actually was. She has obviously learnt nothing from previously being forced to publicly apologise to Teather for calling her a “hypocrite.”
Butler’s schoolyard jibes continued after the show when she Tweeted that I was “delusional”. She spelt my name “Leister” but to her credit managed to spell ”delusional” correctly.

Today The Voice has published a shamelessly partisan article by a Brent Labour councillor who fails to mention any other contender for the Labour nomination despite other hopefuls being well-known.
I have heard that many Labour activists in Brent do not want Butler again but they may not have no choice in the matter as she has long been busy signing up supporters, I hear, and may already have enough votes in her handbag, no doubt along with all her expense receipts. It’s the sort of tactics that have seen Labour suspend several constituency parties in the past.

The question of who the Lib Dems pick to replace Teather is an important one. While I have never argued that BAME candidates must necessarily run in BAME-majority seats, the fact that the party do not have a single MP of colour and are so far behind both Labour and the Conservatives it would be madness to pass up the opportunity in Brent Central.

The party have never had an African or Caribbean MP, yet this constituency has more black voters than any other ethnic group. I know there are extremely capable African or Caribbean Lib Dems considering this seat and in my view it would be unacceptable not to pick one of them.

First published on Lester Holloway's blog HERE


Anonymous said...

What is this blog, LibDem Matters or Wembley Matters? Enough now.

Martin Francis said...

Ah, you've sussed me! Just trying to make things more interesting. Your Guest blog will be carefully considered for publication if you wish to send it.