Following the unfortunate, but wholly understandable cancellation of the Cottenham hustings, the organisers sent me 10 questions that residents had submitted.
My answers are as follows.
Q: "Nigel Farage shockingly disowned his own party's 2010 Manifesto after the election. Since the MP for South Cambs is elected as our representative and not as a party stooge, I feel entitled to know whether each candidate disagrees with any parts of their party's manifesto, and if so which important parts."
Susan: "I don’t have any fundamental disagreements with the Lib Dem manifesto. Had the Lib Dems not made a policy change to include nuclear power in our energy mix – something painstakingly set out by the late Professor David MacKay, Chief Scientific Advisor in his book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, that would have been a key point of disagreement for me. But I’m glad his advice was listened to and policy changed during Ed Davey’s tenure. When I was originally vetted to stand for the Lib Dems I stated in my interview that I would leave the party if their stance on UK foreign policy in the Middle East deviated strongly from my own – having joined the party in 2003 due to their stance on the Iraq War. There has been no disagreement."
Q: "There is supposed to be a limit on amounts which can be spent by the political parties on electioneering, but as recent investigations show, there are concerns about attempts to circumvent these rules by both political parties and vested interests at home and abroad. How would members of the panel deal with this situation if elected?"
Susan: "The rules have to be adhered to, full stop."
Q: "My question is about the current crisis in the NHS. General practice is being asked to provide even more hours of cover for the NHS when there simply aren't enough GPs and enough hours in the day for them to do the work. If general practice can no longer keep absorbing the work of hospitals, then the already struggling hospitals will be unable to provide safe care and the NHS will fail. What are the candidates honest and realistic proposals to deal with this crisis before it is too late?"
Susan: "I have visited several GPs to talk to them about the pressures they face, and recognize your description.
"We need to be strongly recruiting more GPs and also, members of the GP practice teams – practice nurses, etc.
"Two of the GPs I spoke to happened to be EU citizens who have lived here for decades and now face uncertain futures. 10% of the health and social care workforce in Cambridge/South Cambs are unprotected EU nationals. That’s a reality that Government has not dealt with and must.
"The Lib Dems are pragmatic and honest about the need to raise a tax of 1P on the pound for the NHS, though this is simply a short term measure to prevent collapse. The £6 billion yield would go into mental health, public health and social care. I agree with the aims of the Sustainability Transformation Plan to amalgamate components of health and social care but unless properly funded it won’t work. Currently the STP is attached to a crippling savings target, not greater support. Some of our European neighbours spend significantly more on their health and social care – and have much better provision to show for it. Our culture of expectation needs to shift: if we want a better health service we must be prepared to pay for it.
"The path the government is taking toward Brexit will wreck our economy. One commentator has said, ‘you can’t have Brexit and the NHS. It’s one or the other.’
"So whoever is in power has got to be honest about the key components: a viable UK economy, paying for public services through adequate taxation, supporting the recruitment of GPs and their teams, and reality of EU workforce supporting our health service."
Q: "If I get cancer in old age I will be treated completely free by the NHS. However, if I get Alzheimer’s, I may have to pay a great deal for my own care. The Dilnot report on care concluded that the lifetime amount anyone should have to pay for care should be capped, with the cap lying between £25,000 and £50,000; they suggested that a cap of £35,000 would be a good choice. Do you agree with Dilnot?"
Susan: "Yes, definitely. And ultimately social care should not be means tested. In health and social care reform we should work toward an integrated system that eliminates the lottery factor."
Q: "Cambridgeshire has been towards the bottom of the pile for school funding per pupil. The Government promised they would produce a fairer funding formula for schools. What we now know of that proposed formula is that many of our local schools will actually lose funding, possibly leading to teacher redundancies given the projected size of the deficit. What would the candidates do to ensure adequate funding for schools in Cambridgeshire?"
Susan: "The Lib Dem manifesto includes a costed injection of about £7 billion into education. Part of this would immediately plug gaps in the Funding Formula as experienced across South Cambridgeshire. This would also allow a trebling of spending on early years Pupil Premium, the roll-out of free school meals to all children in primary schools, supporting teacher training and removing the cap on teacher pay rises, and investing more in apprenticeships and further education. We firmly reject the Conservative commitment to introduce grammar schools - this policy will skim off funding from our successful village colleges and create further social division."
Q: "In school during a year 8 & 9 assembly (ages 12-14) before the EU referendum, we were asked if we were for or against leaving Europe. All ~200 pupils put their hand up for stay, bar one. Students at Cottenham will have to live with the decision to leave the European Union - despite us not having the vote. Do you feel that the final terms of Brexit should be determined a) by a small (closed) group of the Prime Minister's allies b) by Parliament as a whole c) by the people of the UK and why?"
Susan: "This is heart-breaking because it is about the future of our young people. About 75% of 18-24 year-olds voted to Remain. The conduct of the EU Referendum reflected internal Conservative Party conflict and some of the arguments that tipped the outcome were based on wholesale lies, perpetuated by senior members of the Government. Government’s actions on Brexit this year have shown a disdain for democracy (the Prime Minister being forced by the Courts to vote in Parliament on Article 50). Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn then whipped their MPs on the Article 50 vote – undermining public confidence in our MPs to represent their constituents and shape the outcome of the most important decision for this country in generations.
"Over the past year I’ve been talking to businesses, schools, the university, local care homes, housing associations, and other organizations who provide public services and contribute to our economy, about the impact of Brexit. Shockingly I have found that their views have not been sought by government – with the exception of the biggest multinationals. Government has not informed itself, and displays little understanding of the complexities of what they are dealing with on the public’s behalf.
"Whatever Brexit deal Government negotiates will affect all of us in profound different ways, and shape the future of our society for today’s young people. So it is entirely appropriate that all citizens should have a say on the final Brexit deal – with the option to go back into the EU as an option, if that is the most advantageous scenario for our society."
Q: "As we leave the EU, will you commit to ensure any future immigration policy is fair, inclusive and pragmatic and not based on arbitrary caps and targets? What will you do to put the best economic and cultural interest of South Cambs and its residents, including EU nationals, at its heart?"
Susan: "I absolutely reject the premise that immigration is a drain on our society. The opposite is true: immigration is a net contributor to our economy and has made our society more open and collaborative and talented. It would be wrong to impose arbitrary limits on immigration. I would absolutely protect full rights of residence and work in the UK for EU nationals. EU nationals and international families are being caught out by Brexit in many ways (and I understand this also through the experience of my own family – my husband is originally Dutch). Some will make the choice to leave the UK in order to protect their children’s futures. This will include people who make a vital contribution to our society, like GPs. We are facing an unnecessarily uncertain, turbulent and divisive period in history that will profoundly impact people’s lives, due to the carelessness of ruling politicians."
Q: "My question is about public transport for the villages around Cambridge. We need a large amount of affordable and effective public transport to get people out of their cars. The buses from Cottenham to Cambridge are slow and unaffordable. The City Deal seems to be very centred on cycling but for a lot of residents in the villages cycling is not an option. What do the candidates propose to do to improve public transport from the villages into Cambridge?"
Susan: "South Cambs needs a public transport system that would be people’s first choice of travel. A high-quality bus system, with dedicated links to rail stations, is within our grasp. The City Deal could and should make a commitment to developing public transport access to rail stations like Waterbeach (this will necessitate upgrading of stations to modern transport interchanges). The new mayor could and should seize the tool of bus franchising to explore and instigate measures to revolutionize our bus provision. The County Council meanwhile has the means to support community transport and subsidized bus travel – but is running out of funds due to Government’s total elimination of Revenue Support Grant, and is further undermined by the Tory policy announced in 2010 that all bus subsidies should be removed.
"In my role as a county councillor I have created community action groups for rail and bus services and commuter cycling; by working directly with the rail industry I’ve brokered a 50% post-16 student rail discount that is unique in the country and can be accessed at Waterbeach station. The A10 Corridor Cycling Campaign has worked with County Council, City Deal and local business to help attract £3 million in funding for a spine cycle work on the A10 between Cambridge-Royston; this includes much better access from villages to train stations. Working cross-party I’ve chaired a council group that has argued unanimously to retain bus subsidies in the current budget."
Q: "Is any party prepared to scrap Trident, which aims to destroy life, and transfer the billions saved to Health, Education, Police and Social Services, all of which aim to promote life?"
Susan: "The Lib Dems are committed to working collaboratively through international partnership – NATO, the UN and the EU – to achieve the aim of a nuclear free world. Our position is to step down the nuclear ladder by reducing our capability, but maintaining a minimum deterrent.
"This is an outstanding example of why partnership with our European neighbours, via the EU, is so vital. There are many building blocks in working for peace: international aid, the refugee crisis, crime and terrorism, free movement of young people to live and work and study abroad, all figure. If the UK is to stand alone rather than united with its neighbours in addressing these interwoven issues, its contribution to peace and prosperity will be greatly diminished."
Q: "It seems to me that "climate change" is both a much used phrase & the elephant in the room. David Attenborough said that the implications of climate change are so enormous that people are too afraid to face them. How would each of the candidates, if elected, persuade both the populace in general & MPs & the Government in particular to face up to what really needs to be done before a dangerous tipping point is reached?"
Susan: "We need to listen and act on the advice of climate change experts. The adaptation of the Lib Dem energy policy to include nuclear as mentioned above, in order to move away from dependence on fossil fuels, is a case in point.
"In government, Lib Dems were instrumental in developing a new green industry and micro-sustainable energy culture which was beginning to thrive, until nipped in the bud by new Conservative governments in 2015 and 2016.
"Influencing individual behaviour at ground level is exemplified by the instigation of the 5p tax on plastic bags by Lib Dem Peer Kate Parminter; in less than one year this reduced plastic bag use by 85%. The Lib Dem large-scale Garden City housebuilding plan would impose high insulation standards.
"Locally my own strong commitment to changing personal behaviour is reflected in my work on sustainable transport – I’ve lobbied successfully to quadruple local rail services in my area, and worked collaboratively to introduce a high-quality cycle network to the A10 corridor south of Cambridge. I use a bicycle and take the train as my principle means of transport.
"Personal behaviour change is something we as elected representatives can readily promote and actively foster through example."
I would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful questions. Whilst there may not be time before polling day, if anyone would like to discuss these issues further I would be happy to do so.