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Why I am a Liberal Democrat

I have supported the cause of Liberalism/Liberal Democracy since the 1979 when the Liberal Party seemed the voice of reason between the damaging left-right swings of two party politics. The advent of the SDP gave me my first insight into practical politics - and the euphoria of electoral victory - when I campaigned at the historic Crosby by-election.

With a young friend

Equality and internationalism underpinned the thinking of Social Democrats, at a time when Labour was committed to pulling out of NATO and the EU, while the Conservatives denied there was such a thing as society. The values of liberalism, with a deep respect for freedom and human rights, alongside a clear programme of support for the poorest in society was and remains crucial to the parties and its successor and are key reasons why I am still an active Liberal Democrat thirty years on.

with lucy v small

Discussing the future with a sixth-former

But the intervening years have altered the international environment beyond all recognition. Where we faced recession and sought national solutions in the 1970s and '80s, now the challenges of the economy are global, and our responses must inevitably be international. And dangerous climate change, not even mentioned then, is now top of the agenda - we need European and global solutions to which the Lib Dems are whole-heartedly committed.

Talking busines with local market trader

Talking busines with local market trader

High quality education is vital both for individuals' life chances and to the economy as a whole. Early years and primary education are crucial to ensuring that children get the best start in life. If you leave primary education unable to read and write you are unlikely to be able to achieve your potential, however bright you are. As a former Vice-Chair of Governors at Newnham Croft Primary School, I've seen what fantastic chances some children already have. I'm wholly committed to the idea of the pupil premium, designed to ensure that children from more deprived areas can also receive a really good education. As an academic who benefited from free Higher Education, including a maintenance grant, I know it's important to enable our young people to benefit from a first degree (whether full- or part-time) free from the shadow of student loans and debt. Free tuition is therefore a key Lib Dem policy - and one which I publicly supported at Federal Conference last Autumn - which will benefit both local youngsters hoping to go to university and students at both of Cambridge's universities. But if students need to be free to concentrate on their studies so Universities need funding in order to deliver excellence in both education and world-leading research. It's essential that as Liberal Democrats we address the best ways to create sustainable funding streams for universities, which is crucial in a university city like Cambridge.

Environmental policy - Liberal Democrats have long been seen as the leaders on environmental politics. We've set the standard in leading the 10:10 campaign (to which I've signed up) and adopted policies for a 'zero-carbon Britain'. As part of the Regional Policy Committee, I drafted a Regional Policy paper on the impact and mitigation of climate change as it affects the East of England and I have been involved in negotiating with our European sister parties to help raise the standards for emissions targets from 20% to 30%. The recently adopted Natural Environment policy offers scope to local residents to be more involved in policy-making on open space and, as I said at Party Conference, I believe this will be particularly attractive to the citizens of Cambridge, who are rightly proud and protective of our green spaces. Action to curb light pollution is also to be welcomed and users of the Observatory would confirm.

Liberty and Security - In 2007/08 I chaired the party's working group on Security. Intended to go beyond more traditional issues of defence, we considered global and domestic threats, including terrorism and climate change, which will have significant impact on refugee flows in some parts of the world, as well as cross border crime. In line with the Canadian Liberals, we advocated a 'responsibility to protect', i.e. the intervention should be for humanitarian reasons, have UN backing with wide international engagement, have clear aims and a realistic exit strategy. If only the Labour government had used such principles over the last decade we could have avoided the disastrous war in Iraq. Our security policy was developed after years of constraints on our civil liberties as the Labour government, often supported by the Tory opposition, argued that somehow reducing our freedoms will make us more secure. I strongly reject this false dichotomy - reducing our freedoms is dangerous and must be resisted.

Immigration and integration - As I have argued at Conference, the UK has benefited hugely from immigration over the centuries and many parts of the country, including Cambridge, continue to see the positive effects on a day-to-day basis, whether in the form of workers from other EU states or the thousands of international students who attend our universities and language schools. I am proud that as a party we still have the most liberal policies towards immigration but we also recognise that immigration has consequences on host communities. Thus it is essential that planners take movements of people into consideration so that we ensure that the infrastructure is adequate, be it in terms of housing, school places or the health service.

Julie discussing immigraton 2009

Speaking on immigration at Conference, 2009

International and European - the Liberals have been the most European party since the days of Jo Grimond and I am proud that we have retained our positive approach to the EU despite the Eurosceptic message peddled by much of the media. The EU might not be perfect but it has contributed to half a century of peace and prosperity in Europe and brings benefits that the UK alone could not achieve. In an age of economic interdependence it is essential that we work with our European partners to achieve positive results in a wide range of policies, from competition, cross-border crime and the environment. As an academic, I have written widely on European issues and as a Liberal Democrat I have contributed to policy-making on Europe, serving on the last two European working groups on and the manifesto group for the 2009 Euro elections. Internationally, I strongly believe that multilateral solutions are essential - unilateral British action or Anglo-American expeditions should be a thing of the past.