Lib Dem Conference Diary

Chris Huhne shuns his party's radical image but Vince Cable's "mansion tax" goes down well

The Liberal Democrats may cultivate an image as the most daring of the main parties, but it's not one that their home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, chose to live up to today. At a fringe meeting I chaired this afternoon on the police and public trust, Huhne confessed that he had little time for protest and that his last demo had been the rather tame Police Federation march over pay. Delegates nostalgic for the days when Charles Kennedy addressed anti-war marches were distinctly unimpressed.

Huhne did manage to make an early bid for the Guardian's vote at the next election. He urged delegates to shun papers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail, which lived off crime scare stories, in favour of the "honest" Guardian. No doubt Huhne, who penned an economics column for the paper before entering politics, was impressed by the rave review his former employers gave Nick Clegg today. But Huhne's colleague Vince Cable, who writes a column for the Mail on Sunday, is unlikely to share his disdain for Associated Newspapers.

All eyes were on Cable in the conference hall today as he unveiled the party's new "mansion tax" on properties over £1m. Lib Dem activists were satisfied that Saint Vince had demolished David Cameron's claim that there was barely a "cigarette paper" between them and the Conservatives. But Cable's attempt to sell the policy to a sceptical public wasn't helped by the Lib Dems' own Ed Davey, who in a TV interview was unable to say what the measure meant for the party's proposed local income tax.

Could the party that claims John Stuart Mill as an intellectual ancestor yet come to the defence of smokers' rights? A surprising number of delegates declared their support for the artist David Hockney's campaign to introduce smoking rooms in pubs and bars. One activist hoped that Charles Kennedy, who flouted the ban on a train in 2007, would reverse party policy on the subject in the comeback he refuses to rule out.

Quote of the Day: "Dirty, cheating bastards." Chris Davies MEP slams EU expenses abusers from the podium

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.