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Lib Dem launches with EU at centre of campaign

Lib Dem launches with EU at centre of campaign

🕔30.Jan 2017

Another week, another campaign launch. Today, Beverley Nielsen, the LibDem candidate to be the first West Midlands Mayor, will place the EU and the “next generation” squarely at the heart of her election bid.

Branding herself as the “champion for change”, the former CBI regional director will set out her policy platform at the Wiggin Street factory of JLR supplier Frank Dudley Ltd.

Europe, young people, manufacturing and SMEs are the policy areas Ms Nielsen is hoping will distinguish her from the Labour and Conservative front runners. Her decision to launch the campaign in the “industrial heart of Birmingham” is to underline a theme.

She is expected to say:

For far too long, the West Midlands has been sitting quietly at the back of the queue when successive governments decide which region to support – and that has to change.

We’ve been told by government that the first Mayor must make £4 billion of cuts, because that’s the size of the funding shortfall which the Tories want to impose upon us. It’s absurd, illogical and unfair, and I will refuse to accept that decision. We all need to change how government looks at this region.

However, we can not keep voting in the same way and expect change. We have a Tory candidate in denial about his party’s austerity policies, which have cost this region tens of thousands of jobs and put many more on zero-hours contracts.

Meanwhile, Labour is so in turmoil about its views on Brexit, that its leader has imposed a three-line whip on his MPs, and his party has absolutely failed to act as a credible opposition.

This region needs a strong LibDem voice, as we are the only party with a rational Brexit policy. Once the full exit proposals have been voted on in Parliament, there must be a second referendum so the public can vote on the facts not on the shameful propaganda which dominated last year’s referendum.

As well as Europe and the Single Market, Ms Nielsen’s campaign also features commitments to improve regional connectivity, incentivising young people to stay and work in the West Midlands through new grants for SMEs and start-ups, delivering affordable housing through a new region-wide development plan, and establishing a major innovation fund to stimulate links between education, business and entrepreneurs.

She has spent the last decade at Birmingham City University (BCU), responsible for a series of partnerships aimed at bringing employers and students together to create employment and wealth.

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe, with almost 45% of its population under 25, and that’s a human goldmine, but we aren’t doing enough to help the so-called Generation Z develop their talents and build satisfying careers.

We have to ignore the politics of hate and look to the future, and particularly to our children’s future. We can’t afford, for their sake, to hurtle head-on into an era where everything which Europe has given us for the last 30 years is simply dismantled and thrown away.

I’d give our young people a helping hand, at a time when they need it most, by giving everyone under the age of 25 free travel on public transport across the West Midlands.

Equally, we must do more to help our SMEs survive the current economic and political uncertainty, and focus on creating an environment which allows them to prosper in the future.

At the other end of the business scale, we must also fight to secure the livelihoods of workers at such global giants as Jaguar Land Rover, GKN and JCB, who depend on continued tariff-free access to the Single Market.

Lib Dem leaders see Ms Nielsen’s campaign as part of their strategy to distingush the party from the Government and official Opposition on the subject of Europe, particularly in respect of the Single Market and the final Brexit deal.

Ms Nielsen is certainly injecting her familiar energy into the campaign. She will also be trying capture part of the business vote from Mr Street, painting him as a man of big business and emphasising his support for a Conservative government and its impact on public funding in the region.

Elsewhere in the campaign, Mr Street’s team was pleased with coverage in the Express and Star last week with a critical editorial of Siôn Simon, the Labour candidate, following his recent launch. 

The newspaper also features a damning column from Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham, who obviously doesn’t think Mr Simon is up to much. With no apparent irony, Lord Jones states:

Picking up fees for writing stuff and public speaking now and again may be a self-employed activity for the taxman, but it isn’t what millions of people in the West Midlands would understand as being a small business person.

UKIP’s Pete Durnell and the Green’s James Burn featured alongside Ms Nielsen and Mr Street at an Insider West Midlands debate last week. 

Mr Durnell’s campaign is off to a slow start as the last of the five candidates to declare. His party is also “all hands to the Stoke pump” – as a campaign insider described it to Chamberlain Files – behind Paul Nutall, the UKIP leader, in his attempt to unseat Labour and win the Stoke by-election.

There is, by the way, a sixth candidate in the race. Just so we are not rolled in with the ‘grown up’ media as part of a conspiracy, or that we should be painted as stooges of the main parties, Muhammad Nadeem declared his candidacy recently. You can find him tweeting at @MidlandsMayor. In the interests of democracy, Chamberlain Files suggests his timeline and blog are worth a visit.

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