INSIGHT - Weekend Reflections

3 May 2024
Lib Dem Reflections, Tree lined lake reflected in the water - Photo Chloe Clutterham

Sussex PPC, Katy Bourne Conservative, in post with the approval of only 9% of those eligible to vote!

Amid all the fevered speculation surrounding particularly the mayoralty races in London and Greater Birmingham, the only poll affecting our constituency was that for the least loved political post (at least by us as a party) that of Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex (yes, the whole of Sussex, 80 miles from east to west).

Of all Thursday's election results the Sussex result was the very last to be announced at 4.30 on Sunday afternoon.  Heavens knows why we had to wait till Sunday to even start the count. The result was:

                        Katy Bourne Conservative              122495           39%

                        Paul Richards Labour                       99502           32%

                        Jamie Bennett Lib Dem                    48923           16%

                        Jonathan Kent Green Party              43105           14%    

                        Turnout was 24%.

For the Lib Dems, this represented a 2% improvement on the last election, not great, but moving in the right direction.  But it needs to be noted this election was under First Past the Post, rather than a second preference vote system, under which all previous PCC elections had been held. This is a clear example of the Conservatives introducing an unfair voting system: Katy Bourne with 39% of those voting, which, given the turnout, means she retains the job with the approval of only 9% of those eligible to vote.

There have been a number of disparaging remarks in the press about the overall performance of the Lib Dems in these elections but in my view, this is very unfair for the following reasons:

  • The mayoral elections are very much personality contests, evidenced by the fact that in Teesside, the winner, Ben Houchen, and in the West Midlands the loser, Andy Street, singularly omitted the word ‘Conservative’ from all their publicity.
  • The Police and Crime Commissioner elections inspire very few to go out and vote.
  • The more realistic guide to people’s overall voting intentions were in the local elections taking place on Thursday, and to a large extent these were not in areas where Lib Dems had many high expectations, i.e very few in the southeast and south west.  But where they did take place, we did remarkably well. Near to us in Tunbridge Wells we took overall control of the council, winning 22 out of 39 seats, and overall, we won 522 seats, 104 of them gains, whereas the Tories won fewer than us, 515 seats and lost in total a massive 474 council seats.

So in conclusion a lot of good pointers to the future, especially with high hopes for General Elections wins for us in Eastbourne, Lewes and now, just think about it, Tunbridge Wells.

Do you trust Labour to overturn the Tory attack on our rights and freedoms?

I reminded myself that at this coming week’s election, in our case for a Police and Crime Commissioner, the voting system has been changed by our Conservative government from what was a proportional and hence fairer system, to First Past the Post, a system used elsewhere in Europe only by Russia and Belarus.  What bedfellows to be associated with!

This is perhaps a small example of the fact that under the last eight years of Conservative government, we have been suffering a constant attack on our human rights and freedoms.  Whether it has been the new laws which restrict our rights to protest, including the right to make a noise when we are protesting, more retrenchments of trade union rights, the evisceration of legal aid, the passing of the frankly illegal ‘Illegal Migration Act,’  which deprives any person entering this country in small boats or other irregular means of transport, of the right to claim asylum here, which is blatantly in contravention of our international treaty obligations.

And it does not stop there, as we hear persistent Conservative attacks on our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, whether from Sunak or Braverman: do not be at all surprised if a proposal to leave the Convention is front and centre of the next Conservative manifesto.

The Conservative party however have a different attitude, to universal human rights exemplified by Partygate, so if they do not like a particular rule or regulation, well they just ignore them, even if the rest of us, in the interests of everyone else, steadfastly obey those rules.

A challenge to the Labour party if they are elected at the coming General Election: will they repeal all these reductions in our freedoms and liberties? Will you trust them to do so?


"how is it you could get the figures so, so wrong?"

I wonder if either our local MP, Huw Merriman or any of the movers and shakers at the Home Office were listening to the Public Accounts Committee this week. The Public Accounts Committee is a committee of members of Parliament whose express job is to crawl all over Government spending and shine a light on the very often many and huge amounts of taxpayers’ money which is being misspent by the Government.

The Home Office’s estimated costs of new asylum accommodation at two former Ministry of Defence sites of Scampton and Weathersfield fell “woefully short” due to “very significant” optimism bias and a focus on procuring at pace, permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft has said.

A National Audit Office report, published last month, found that the Home Office’s initial estimates for the set-up and refurbishment costs at ex-RAF bases Wethersfield and Scampton of £5m each were well off the mark, with the sites now projected to cost £49m and £27m respectively.

The Home Office now expects its large sites programme, which would include Northeye, aims to replace hotel asylum accommodation with what it hoped would be cheaper and more suitable alternatives, will in fact cost more than the hotels they aim to replace. 

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, Rycroft was asked by MP Diana Johnson – who is also the chair of the Home Affairs Committee –"how is it you could get the figures so, so wrong?".

Agreeing that the Home Office had got the figures "so, so wrong", Rycroft set out how and why this happened. 

“We were operating at pace – this is not an excuse, by the way, but just to set out the context of what was happening a year ago," he said. "There was a national emergency. There was a sense that we should be doing on this issue what our colleagues during Covid had done in terms of the pace of procurement and things like that. So we decided to press on as quickly as we could to increase the stock of total accommodation available to the UK government. And there wasn't other accommodation types available because all of the existing private rental market, even hotels, was already being used.”

He added: “And so we had to act in a novel and therefore in quite a creative way, looking at these sites. So we made an assessment about how much the setup cost would be, which in the case of both of those sites was woefully short. So there was a very significant optimism bias.”

So the question to Huw and the Home Office has to be now given the already at least £15+m spent on Northeye site (remember the two RAF sites were already owned by the Government, so had no acquisition costs), so how much more of our money as taxpayers is going to be wasted on the idiotic idea to build a prison for asylum seekers at Northeye?

Stephen Hardy MBE

Chair, Bexhill & Battle Liberal Democrats


What do you think of an international convention which guarantees the following, amongst other matters?

First the positive rights, such as the right to life, liberty and security, a fair trial, privacy, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and assembly.

Second the safeguards, such as a prohibition of torture, slavery, retroactive legislation, and discrimination.

Would you be impressed if I told you that one of the promoters of this convention was Winston Churchill in the aftermath of the Second World  War along with politicians from both France and Germany?

Would you also be impressed if I told you the convention was drafted by a British MP and lawyer, Sir David Maxwell-Fife?

So did you watch any of the political TV programmes this Sunday 7th April 2024, where the Government had put up the charisma-free Deputy PM, Oliver Dowden?

Just like our actual PM earlier this week, when asked about the date of the General Election, Dowden just laughed, when asked whether the Government was preparing to withdraw from this convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Court which is the arbiter of the Convention.

He continually referred to it as a ’foreign court’ when it is an international court of which we have been a member since it was set up in 1953.

If we were to leave the Convention and the Court, we would be joining the only two other European countries who are not members of both.  Who are those two countries?

Russia and Belarus.

With the Conservatives still in power, those are the depths to which we might sink.

That just cannot happen!


Weekend Reflections – Just more evidence of broken Britain under the current Tory Government.

There is nothing more depressing for an early riser, than catching the start of the Today Programme on Radio 4 at 6am on Wednesday morning, with a News summary of the following items: -  

Item 1 - According to the British Social Attitude Survey, public satisfaction with the NHS has dropped to its lowest level since it was started 40 years ago. In 2023 it is only 24% of the population, a drop of 29% since 2020. Nearly 50% of people backed higher taxes to pay for the NHS.

Item 3 – Figures to be issued later in the day by the Environment Agency will show a big increase in incidences of sewage discharges into rivers and the sea. The data is expected to show that sewers were overwhelmed more often and for longer than in previous years.

Item 5 – Council spending on school transport for disabled children and children with special educational needs has increased to nearly double what it was five years ago, and this year is expected to rise to £1.4 billion. The Conservative chair of the County Councils Network said the pressure on school budgets was unsustainable, and parent may have to start paying themselves.

By the way Item 2 was on the Baltimore bridge collapse and item 4 was on the Israeli-Gaza conflict.

Water Water Everywhere

In a week that Thames Water failed to raise any investor contributions to its crumbling infrastructure and crippling dividend induced debt, the Guardian published - new data revealing 2023 was the worst year on record for storm water pollution with overflows spilling raw sewage into England’s rivers and seas for 3.6m hours.

Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, said “the scandal of raw sewage pouring into waterways should be declared a national environmental emergency”. He called on the government to convene an urgent meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to look at the impact of sewage pollution on people’s health.

You can check your local rivers using the Guardian tool, which shows spills across England’s River basins.Click Here

River Thames at Sonning

Local MP secures ‘Levelling Up’ funds exclusively benefiting Bexhill.

Stephen Hardy writes -

Dear Huw,

I saw your clip-on X yesterday:  I have to say well done by you.....on behalf of Bexhill. 

By my reckoning, of the £20m you have secured, adding up as

£9 m for the King Offa Leisure Centre and housing,

£ 5m for the Barnhorn Green medical centre, 

£1.25 m for the Queensway Gateway, 

£2.1 m for Sidley Family Hub, the Pelham and Bexhill Community Hub, 

making a total of £17.35 out of the c.£20 m for Bexhill’s benefit. 

Oh, and I forgot that no doubt Bexhill will share in the £1.7 m for the visitor economy, the £200k for High Streets in towns, and some of the £0.5 m for skills training, shared with Hastings.

So, my question to you is simply where does the other half of your constituency figure in your view of Levelling Up for Bexhill and Battle constituency? In particular, what happened to the bid I was involved in for the much-needed Robertsbridge Health Centre, about which I kept you informed?

My regrettable conclusion is that you have latterly become the MP for Bexhill alone.  Does the rural part of the constituency no longer matter to you?



Stephen Hardy MBE

Chair Bexhill and Battle Liberal Democrats


Did you know Friday 22 March was United Nations World Water Day?

I did not know this until this week but feel it is such an important matter for us all, that we should be much more aware of water and its impact on the whole world. I have taken facts here from the United Nations briefing for the day

Along with clean air, sunlight, food and heated shelter, water is one of vital natural resources essential to sustaining life. We use it in every aspect of our daily lives, at home and at work. At first glance, it would appear there is no shortage of water on our planet: after all, nearly 70% of the earth’s surface is water. The reality is that the vast majority of it is salt water: only 2.5% is freshwater suitable for agriculture and industry, and an even smaller proportion is fit for human consumption but only 1/3 of this water is accessible on the surface or stored in groundwater, meaning that in total, less than 1% of the earth’s total water supply is accessible and potable. The remaining freshwater is trapped in glaciers and ice caps.

As is the case with all resources, the distribution of water resources is uneven. We in the comfortable West are well provided for, even if in this country, privatising water has caused it to be much more expensive to us as users while at the same time creating huge profits for water companies and their bosses.

Elsewhere in the world, there are water shortages, making access to water a major geopolitical topic. So conflicts over the sources of water, e.g. rivers running through different countries, are becoming increasingly common. Of the global population of 8 billion people, more than 3 billion depend on water that crosses national borders. Yet, only 24 countries have cooperation agreements for all their shared water.

The United Nations predicts that the most vulnerable regions to water-based conflict due to scarcity issues are West and East Africa, the northern Middle East, and the areas bordering Central, East, and South Asia. And if there are conflicts, there is so much more  possibility of mass migrations, simply in order for people to get access to clean water.

So the message this year from the United Nations is  ‘Water for Peace’.

“Water can create peace or spark conflict. When water is scarce or polluted, or when people struggle for access, tensions can rise. By cooperating on water, we can balance everyone’s water needs and help stabilize the world.

  • Prosperity and peace rely on water. As nations manage climate change, mass migration and political unrest, they must put water cooperation at the heart of their plans.
  • Water can lead us out of crisis. We can foster harmony between communities and countries by uniting around the fair and sustainable use of water – from United Nations conventions at the international level, to actions at the local level.”


Did you see Tim Farron MP on Question Time?

On a more domestic political note, Liberal Democrat MP, Tim Farron apeared on BBC Question Time Thursday 21st March.  He was superb, wiping the floor with the other members of the panel, and garnering the most consistent applause from the audience in Middlesbrough of all places.

Tim Farron MP - BBC Question Time 21st March 2024
Tim Farron MP - BBC Question Time 21st March 2024 - Click to View the Programme

Weekend reflections

The weekend is a time to look back on what has been happening in yet another tumultuous week in British politics, and wonder indeed about the real mess we are in.

Just 8 days ago it was International Women’s Day, designed to celebrate women and their achievements, but on Tuesday the story broke that a very substantial donor (at least £10 m of donations in the past year) had made vile sexist and racist comments about Diane Abbott, including saying ’I think she should be shot’. After a day of dithering, finally the Prime Minister agreed the remarks were racist.  Not just ‘wrong’ you will note, which is all that Conservative after Conservative could say about Lee Anderson's comments about Sadiq Khan in the previous week.

The cry came back from various members of the Labour Party then that the Conservatives should give the money back to Frank Hester, the donor.  Mr Hester is by the way the sole owner of a business which has been awarded by the present Government contracts with the NHS worth £135 million.  Perhaps that explains his munificence towards the Conservative Party.

My view is that the Conservative Party should donate the money to anti racist and anti sexist charities, not to give it back to the donor, as he clearly does not need it.

Are you as fed up as I am with members of the Conservative Government consistently blaming the current economic ills of this country on both the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine Russia war,  whilst ignoring the more and greater woes which have been visited on us by their choice of a hard Brexit and Liz Truss’s incredibly foolish budget, ills indeed of their own making?

A quick reminder of how the country has been voting in by elections since the last round of elections in May 2023:

           Conservative – net loss 18 seats

            Labour           - net loss   3 seats

            Green             - net gain 17 seats

            Others            - net loss  16 seats

            Lib Dems       - net gain 20 seats.


Stephen Hardy MBE

Chair - Bexhill and Battle Liberal Democrats

Published and promoted by Mary Varrall on behalf of Liberal Democrats at Southernhay, Etchingham, TN19 7DD

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