Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Lib Dems need to start telling us what they'll be fighting for in 2015

At Spring Conference, some of the manifesto raw meat needs to be presented and debated.

I’m feeling a little unloved. Many regular commentators on my posts here at The Staggers will be completely unsurprised by this revelation and will no doubt be having a quick snigger at my expense, but let me clarify what I mean. Because it’s not just me. The Lib Dems as a party seem to have dropped off the news media’s radar altogether.

The floods seem to be hung on the Tories, with special guest appearances by ex-Labour ministers, while UKIP keep their hand in by pinning the blame for the whole thing on the advent of gay marriage. Nary a mention of the Lib Dems. The news that the Scots may have to look elsewhere for their currency if they vote for independence also seems to be owned by a combination of George Osborne and Alistair Darling.

The good folk of Wythenshawe and Sale East may have doomed us to our eighth lost deposit in 15 by-elections (sooner or later someone in HQ is going to start noticing that trend and maybe worry about it a bit) but we still came fourth – not quite bad enough to make us interesting and certainly not enough to stop UKIP being the main story (although there seems a bit of a debate about whether coming second in a by-election once again is a good or bad result for them).

Even The Staggers seems to have forgotten us, with just two of the last 30 stories from the UK’s foremost political publication focusing on one of the two parties in government (no doubt my editor is thinking 'yes, well, if you pulled your finger out a bit more...'  but you get my drift).

So why is this? After all, it’s almost making me hanker after the days when a good non-sex scandal meant we dominated the front pages. Well, can I suggest it may be something to do with the differentiation strategy – you know, the one where whenever the Tories do something, almost anything, we give a sharp intake of breath and say "I don’t think that seems terribly sensible."

Don’t get me wrong, I like it when we do that. But the press are only going to write "another coalition row" so many times before they get bored with it. And I think that time has come. So we need to start following up that sharp intake of breath with an alternative plan, an explanation of what we would rather do instead. And when we do – for example, the raising of the tax threshold – then suddenly the headlines start appearing once again.

It may be chucking it down outside, but Spring Conference is just around the corner, and I hope some of the manifesto raw meat is going to presented and debated. It’s time we started telling people a little more of what we’ll be fighting for in 2015 – both in the election, and, if needs be, in the coalition negotiations.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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