Confronting the challenges of 2021

First. may I wish your readers best wishes for 2021. This new year will be critical for us all; we must move forward after the difficulties of 2020. There are three immediate challenges facing us; the health crisis, the new relationship with Europe and our serious UK leadership vacuum.

It now appears probable that we will overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Despite recent setbacks, the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines, together with the outstanding work of the NHS, gives cause for optimism. We applaud all who have worked so hard professionally or as volunteers, supporting all those affected.

The effects of the final arrangements to leave the EU will be deeply damaging. Liberal Democrats believe the decision to pull out of Europe was a historic national error. Many seem to have forgotten that the initiative to create a more united Europe stemmed from determination to end centuries of hostility between European states. The key task remains; to find the best way now to work amicably and closely with the EU.

In many aspects this Brexit deal makes us poorer. There is more red tape when we were promised less. We were promised full access to the single market, which we will not have, especially for our biggest export market of financial services. London is likely to lose its pre-eminent financial position in Europe. We were promised certainty for business, but the whole deal is under review every 5 years.

We also face the cultural loss of Erasmus student exchanges, less convenient travel in Europe, impediments to businesses attracting much-needed overseas workers, loss of mutual recognition of qualifications. The damage to our shared security against terrorism and criminality gives great concern. 

Management of these vital issues by government has been lamentable. Decisions about managing the pandemic have been late or mistaken, from supply of PPE equipment to the hopeless planning for tracking and tracing. We were promised parliamentary sovereignty to deal with the Brexit issue but the whole 1200+ page document was pushed through parliament in one day without providing MPs time to read it. I can find no evidence of careful attention to detail or of systematic strategic planning by this Johnson government. Their search for ‘sovereignty’ simply entails loss of influence, and may ultimately tear apart the UK. 

The key failure in 2020 has been that of effective leadership. Our leaders now confront equally demanding challenges of business recession, massive unemployment, and the approaching likelihood of catastrophic climate change. Is this inept government capable of tackling these challenges? Their track record suggests not.

Roger Putnam

President, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats

MPs Covid Response (or lack thereof)

Over recent weeks the social media feeds of most MPs (certainly all Lib Dem MPs) have shown the very detailed work they are doing to map exactly what is going on with Covid-19 vaccination in their constituency. You can read about how they are acting to ensure that bottlenecks for vaccination are addressed. You can read the letters they are writing to the Secretary of State for Health which precisely describe what’s working, what’s not working so well and what needs to happen next.

Last week Sir Ed Davey won his battle to ensure that voluntary carers who need to be vaccinated to carry out their caring were added to the category of carers eligible for early vaccination.

Meanwhile Mark Jenkinson MP’s social media feed shows a constant trail of attempts to associate him and the Conservative party with positive things which have happened that he clearly had nothing to do with. The announcement of the accreditation of the Moderna vaccine with a Conservative logo on it was typical. Mark also shared his Radio Cumbria Interview where he launched a profoundly disturbing attack on Mike Zeller. There was still no evidence of Mark doing any normal constituency work at all.

The news coverage of the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington brought to life how damaging this kind of politics is.

No Conservative Councillor in the Workington Constituency should be prepared to associate themselves with the kind of politics Mark Jenkinson practices. They should either sort him and his office out or they should not stand as Conservatives until he is gone.

Rebecca Hanson
County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Support Our Local Primary Schools

I had hoped that my letter (T&S 31 Dec) which raised concerns about Mark Jenkinson MP’s habit of launching toxic political attacks, rather than representing the views and needs of his constituents, would be a wake-up call to him.

I was therefore holding my head in my hands in despair last weekend when he launched a blistering attack on Cumbria County Council for stating that it would offer support to primary school heads who were struggling to reopen for all children this week.

I was greatly heartened to see that Mark Jenkinson MP’s Facebook page was swamped with comments criticising his conduct. Thank you West Cumbria! Please do keep going. We need to do absolutely everything we can to help our MP to begin to understand that when he accuses others of political messaging and inciting panic in cases where they are very clearly just trying to navigate incredibly stressful situations, his behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.

Rebecca Hanson

County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Mark Jenkinson MP – A Year in Review

I read Mark Jenkinson’s review of his first year as MP (T&S 17 Dec) with interest to see what he has used the power and resources invested in him to deliver.

Quite rightly, he did not claim responsibility for any of very many achievements of local people that he listed. However, I am startled that he did not take the opportunity to give himself the credit he deserves for the truly game-changing things he has achieved.

For example, when many were asking for help with the PPE crisis during the first wave of Covid-19 with apparent desperation, Mark was there, on the radio, to reassure us that there was no crisis, and that the pretence of a crisis was invented by the political motives of Royal College of Nursing.

And when schools appeared to be on their knees trying to cope with un-consulted and undeliverable government edicts, Mark was there on social media to explain to us that the stresses schools were under were caused by them being bullied by their threatening unions.

For as long as I can remember, when I (and others in responsible positions) have worked to resolve complex issues, we have always been able to rely on our Cumbrian MPs from all parties to provide us with wise support and to work to ensure Cumbria’s needs were represented in policy at national level whenever necessary. It has therefore been a revelation to discover what it’s like to be completely stonewalled by my MP’s office which appears to be ineffective in anything but spouting propaganda.

In these dark times I have still been inspired by the hard work and selflessness of professionals and volunteers in so many areas of West Cumbrian life. I’d like to express my gratitude to Labour and Independent politicians, including Baroness Sue Hayman, who have worked with me on complex issues in 2020. But most of all I’d like to thank the many local Liberal Democrats who’ve stepped up to the plate and have worked hard and supported me to get important things done during this very difficult year. If you’d like to be part of a movement of people who are fighting hard for evidence- and value-led politics you’d be most warmly welcome to join us.

Rebecca Hanson
County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Bubble closures at Cockermouth School

Those of us with children at Cockermouth School have today received notification of a third bubble closure (in quick succession) as a consequence of a positive coronavirus test.

Some schools with rising infection levels decided to shut a week early (ie this Friday) and teach an extra week in the summer, both to ensure that any isolation periods for children and staff would be completed by Christmas (so that everyone gets a break during the Christmas holidays) and also to help reduce the rate of spread of Coronavirus at this most critical time in the pandemic.

But the government intervened to ban schools doing this.

Please do write to your MP to express your thoughts on this.

Lib Dems withholding support on tier system amid Tory rebellion

A party press release brings the news…

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey has slammed the Government for failing to build a plan to “bring the virus under control and keep people safe” and warned that Ministers must address growing concerns before his Party can vote for the new system.

In a letter to the Prime Minister ahead of the vote on the new measures in Parliament, the Liberal Democrat leader made clear that “without the assurances the public need” the Liberal Democrats “cannot in all conscience vote for this plan.”

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Prime Minister to first address a series of concerns before the party’s MPs will vote for a new system. They include:

  • Full release of the scientific evidence underpinning the tier system, including economic and health impact assessments.
  • An ongoing commitment that tier decisions and local rules will be made in partnership with local authorities, and subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • A new approach to the failed test, trace and isolate system that partners properly with local authorities on tracing, and provides proper incentives for people to isolate, to keep people safe and prevent new surges.
  • Urgent financial support for pubs, including removing the requirement for alcohol sales to be accompanied by a substantial meal in outdoor areas.
  • A clearer exit route from tiering with a comprehensive strategy to roll out a vaccine.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

As it stands, we cannot in all conscience vote for this unsafe plan. The Government has failed once again to put together a plan to bring the virus under control and keep people safe.

The new tier system is arbitrary, confused and chaotic and the Government has failed yet again to deliver the test, trace and isolate strategy to beat this virus and end this pandemic.

Boris Johnson’s incompetence is now clear for all to see – with his failure to engage local authorities, failure to explain the criteria for the tiers and failure to communicate with the public and keep our trust.

What the country needs is a transparent system of local restrictions, an exit plan with a comprehensive strategy to roll out vaccines and a test, trace and isolate system that works.

Time and time again, the Government has squandered the sacrifices the British people have made through Ministers’ unbelievable incompetence.

Full text of Ed Davey’s letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

The country is desperate to get life back to normal, particularly given how much has already been sacrificed.

For months, Liberal Democrats have been urging the Government to get to grips with test, trace and isolate and deliver what has been continually promised. Getting that right is the best hope we have until a vaccine is ready, but Ministers have been far too slow to ramp up testing, have failed to work properly and consistently with local authorities on tracing and have been utterly lamentable in implementing a workable scheme to encourage people to isolate.

Moreover, given less than 50% of people understood the rules last time, it is clear you and your Ministers have again failed to put together a plan to bring the virus under control and keep people safe.

The new tier system that you are putting before Parliament is arbitrary, confused and chaotic. It has been created without proper engagement with local authorities while the criteria for the tiers has lost the trust of the country.

For the Liberal Democrats to continue to support Government restrictions – as up till now we have throughout the pandemic – we need to see:-

  • Full release of the scientific evidence underpinning the tier system, including economic and health impact assessments.
  • An ongoing commitment that tier decisions and local rules will be made in partnership with local authorities, and subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • A new approach to the failed test, trace and isolate system, that partners properly with local authorities on tracing, and provides proper incentives for people to isolate, to keep people safe and prevent new surges.
  • Urgent financial support for pubs, including removing the requirement for alcohol sales to be accompanied by a substantial meal in outdoor areas.
  • A clearer exit route from tiering with a comprehensive strategy to roll out a vaccine.

I look forward to your response.

Ed Davey
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Top Awards for West Cumbria Lib Dems

Two highly respected West Cumbrian Liberal Democrats have been awarded president’s honours for their exceptional service.

Elizabeth Barraclough is a high-profile environmentalist in Keswick who served as town, Allerdale and County Councillor for Keswick until she retired. Elizabeth was well known for cycling round the Keswick area listening to everyone and getting everything sorted out.

Roger Putnam is hugely respected across Copeland for his dignified political service and wise advice and comment over many years. His core passion is for outdoor education, however his detailed policy work on challenging topics such as nuclear energy is highly respected across the party.

Both Roger and Elizabeth are still very active within West Cumbria Liberal Democrats – Roger as party secretary and Elizabeth as honorary local party president.

West Cumbria Liberal Democrats Chair Stephen Barnes said: “Roger and Elizabeth are inspirational role models to those of us who are passionate about dignified, evidence-led, values-based politics in West Cumbria. It is unusual for two awards to be made but in this case, we felt unable to nominate one without the other. I’m delighted this has been recognised at the top of the party.”

Cumbria County Councillor for Cockermouth North Rebecca Hanson said:
“It’s difficult to describe how hard both Elizabeth and Roger have worked for West Cumbria. They’ve always both been phenomenal support and inspiration for me.”

Elizabeth Barraclough
Roger Putnam

Tory Education Failure

The government’s mishandling of exam results for this year’s A-level and B-Tec students shocked the nation. The additional stress it caused for our young people is indeed shocking – but sadly should come as no surprise. The exam results fiasco is a logical outcome of the Tory approach to education: to treat our children as statistics rather than human beings preparing for life through learning. 

In 2013 Michael Gove axed coursework as a component of GCSE and A-level grades, one of his reforms pushed through without consultation with the teaching profession. Gove wanted to inject more ‘rigour’ into education, by which he meant tipping the balance back from skills-based to knowledge-based learning. He wanted to ‘raise standards’ by prioritising the ability of primary school children to recognise a fronted adverbial (no, me neither!) over the enjoyment of reading. 

Gove’s reforms placed ever greater demands on their performance in high-pressured exams, easily translatable into league-table data. He claimed this would ‘equip them to win in the global race’. In 2019, a survey of teachers and support staff warned that the mental health of their pupils was at ‘crisis point’.

Then the pandemic hit. Schools needed government to support the incredible efforts of teachers to adapt school learning to the new circumstances, and tackle the long-standing inequalities in education. Instead it relied on a ‘schools must re-open’ mantra, began shifting blame onto safety-conscious teachers and parents, and spoke as if education had ground to a halt.

Having put all their eggs into the final exam basket, the government tossed it aside. Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced in April that exams were to be scrapped, since adapting them to lockdown was too difficult; then promised he would find a fair way to grade pupils; and finally the bombshell in August: actually, we are just going to distribute grades statistically. Forget individual effort – you’re fodder for an algorithm that defines you by where you come from.

Our children don’t need a ‘world-beating’ education, but one that will help them become skilled and resilient in the creation of their own futures. We should explicitly value pupils’ wellbeing and core skills such as critical thinking and creativity, continue to improve mental health provision, and reinstate assessed coursework. 

Squeezing pupils back into a building will not resolve inequalities in education. Equal access can only be achieved by carefully designing effective policies, guided by teachers and other experts. In tackling the next phase of this pandemic, our young people need their government to do a lot more homework. 

Cockermouth excels on all fronts

Cockermouth has led the way in excellence in our COVID response.

County Councillor Rebecca Hanson said: “Cockermouth Emergency Response Group swung into action immediately coordinating an inspirational band of volunteers.

Thank you to our CERG leaders Jo Crozier and Brian Mitchelhill.

Thank you to our key workers.

Thank you to everyone who stayed home.

Thank you to our inspirational traders.

Thank you to our volunteers – including those who havenʼt
been needed.

All Cockermouth traders need you now. Letʼs support them!”

Managing and Funding Care Services Properly

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a harsh light on some of our most vital services. Despite setbacks, our NHS has emerged with great credit from this testing time. People recognise and applaud the quality of the work and the selfless resilience of doctors, nurses, and the thousands of hospital support staff.


The same cannot be said of our provision for caring for the aged and those suffering serious illness in care homes or in their own homes. During Covid-19, the UK suffered one of the highest death rates across Europe for care home residents. This is in no way a criticism of the exceptional work of thousands of care workers, showing great dedication, risking their lives often without adequate protection, usually on woefully low pay.


The problem is that social care is not integrated into the national health system. Local authorities are nominally responsible for care homes, but the majority are now run by private companies. Many of the larger operators, some managing dozens of homes, are based offshore, draw substantial fees and pay desperately low rates of pay to their workers. Whilst NHS services are ‘free at the point of delivery’ social care is ‘means-tested’ – provided according to ability to pay. Cancer patients in hospital pay nothing; many with dementia, in care homes or cared for at home, pay impossibly large sums for an under-resourced service. Local authorities have had their financial support cut to the bone; they are in no position to improve the funding they provide. Staffing is a long-standing problem. Care homes are closing at a time of increasing need.

We are faced with a major crisis, which must be addressed as we emerge from this pandemic. Radical reform is urgently needed. The answer is to end the distinction between the NHS and social care and create a coherent single entity, a National Health and Care Commission, which integrates these two inter-dependent services. Care workers at all levels should be properly rewarded for skilled work, now recognised as essential. Market forces and privatisation are entirely inappropriate in what should be a major public service commitment.


Liberal Democrats have long called for a new Health and Care Tax on the basis of wide consultation and engagement with the public. We would establish a cross-party health and social care convention to agree on the long-term sustainable funding of a joined-up system of health and social care, involving if necessary an increase in tax. Our ultimate objective is to bring together NHS, Social Care and public health. Should any future pandemic strike, we must be much better prepared.


Roger Putnam