Emily Barley: We achieved a breathrough in Rotherham by being unembarrassed about our strong Conservative values

28 May

Cllr Emily Barley is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Rotherham Council. She is a councillor for Hoober Ward.

In the latest round of local elections here in Rotherham, we made the leap from zero to 20 seats, massively out-performing the national trend, dramatically slashing Labour’s majority, and becoming the official opposition at Rotherham Council.

In my second election in as many weeks, I am honoured that my colleagues put their trust in me and elected me Leader of the new Conservative Group as we get settled in and begin serving our communities as Councillors.

Our success in Rotherham was a surprise – or even a shock – to many, and I’ve spent lots of time fielding almost daily questions from journalists for whom the election of any Conservative Councillors, never mind 20, was outside of all expectations.

But the truth is that it is what we had been hoping and working for. As Deputy Chairman Political and de-facto campaign manager, 18 months ago I sat down and made a list of areas I judged we were strong in and had potential to win – and that list is satisfyingly similar the list of wards Conservatives were elected in this time around.

In our campaign we went back to basics, with only a tiny bit of social media and a sprinkling of leaflets in some areas; the bulk of our efforts focused on good old-fashioned door-knocking. When Covid restrictions were eased to allow door to door campaigning, our team stepped up beautifully and knocked on around 15,000 doors in target wards in just eight weeks.

This approach drew on tried and tested campaigning methods – identifying Conservatives and then getting them out to vote – but had extra value here in Rotherham. Because while, yes, we were talking to people and spreading our message, much more importantly we were listening to what they had to say.

I’m a real believer that this is something we all must do at every election and between elections, in every part of the country. But it’s doubly important here where people have felt ignored and taken for granted by Labour for so many years, and there’s more than a sneaking suspicion that politicians may not be all that interested in them, their lives, and their problems.

What we learned on the rainy, sunny, and sometimes snowy doorsteps across Rotherham busts the narrative that what people in these former Labour heartlands want from local and national government is some kind of Labour-lite programme that spends lots of money, no matter the consequences for taxes and the national debt.

Instead, people were telling us their belief in the need for proper financial management and good value for money, and their frustration with being forced to hand over more of their hard-earned cash every year as Council Tax is put up.

Running through the hearts of these proud working class communities is a sense of self-reliance, independence of thought, and confidence in themselves and the country they love. There’s a belief that work should pay, people and governments shouldn’t spend more money than they have, and no one should tell adults how to live their lives.

Individual choice and responsibility, good financial management, and unembarrassed patriotism, were the things that drew me to the Conservative Party 15 years ago as a teenager in an ex-mining town, and those same values are appealing to new streams of Conservative voters in similar places today.

I fear that the importance and power of these Conservative values may have gotten lost in the scramble to get Brexit done, the crisis around coronavirus, and the desire to show people that voting blue pays. It is now critical that Conservatives get out there and listen to what people have to say, rather than relying on the interpretation of the media and focus groups, or else we risk moving away from people just as they come towards us.

For our part, the new Conservative Group on Rotherham Council will be continuing with the theme of getting back to basics – just like on the campaign trail, no tricks and no short cuts; just a solid commitment to working hard, listening, and advancing our shared values.

We’ll be putting in the effort to go through Council spending and contracts, line by line, to find waste and get the best possible value for money, figuring out why services fail so often – leading to dirt, disrepair, and people feeling let down – and setting about fixing them – and always, always, ensuring we listen and act on the things people tell us they want to see change.

Emily Barley: For voters in Rotherham, the “take back control” message means control of their own lives

30 Apr

Emily Barley is the Deputy Chairman Political of Rotherham Conservative Federation and was the Conservative Party candidate for Wentworth and Dearne at the 2019 General Election.

On Thursday next week, voters go to the polls across England in a series of local elections. Though important everywhere, the Conservative Party will undoubtedly have its eye on the areas that make up the crumbling red wall, watching carefully to see if the new Conservative voters who switched in 2019 have stuck with us.

Rotherham, where I am one of three Conservative candidates in Hoober Ward, is one such place. After decades of Labour rule, and the area becoming world-famous for all the wrong reasons, Conservatives are seriously challenging this time. Our team of candidates is strong, local to their wards, and, since restrictions were lifted to allow canvassing, has been out and about knocking on doors and talking to residents.

Thousands of conversations in the last few weeks have shown that the Conservative vote is holding up well since the General Election, where we won one constituency, Rother Valley, and slashed the Labour majorities in the other two that make up the borough. Even more positively, we have been finding brand new switchers – people whose loyalty to Labour was seriously tested during the Corbyn years and then broken completely by the election of out-of-touch Starmer as the Leader.

They tell us that the party they supported for decades is lost to them and that while the Conservative Party has not yet won their loyalty, they feel closer to us than anyone else and will be voting Conservative in May.

So far, so good.

But I fear we have a developing problem: what I’m hearing on the doorstep about what people want from their Government does not appear to match what the Government believes they want.

In many ways, the easy part was Brexit. 67.9 per cent of people living in the Rotherham area voted to leave the EU, giving a clear instruction to Westminster. But though Brexit has been delivered, the story has not yet concluded, and that’s because the ‘take back control’ message meant more to people here than simply getting out of the EU.

For them, the vote to leave the EU was an expression of confidence in the UK’s ability to succeed in the world as an independent nation, and it was a vote for a different kind of government, more in touch and with smarter policy decisions to fit Britain. Most importantly, the way they feel about Britain’s right and ability to be independent is also how they feel about themselves.

That’s a roundabout way of saying that folks up here simply don’t like being told what to do, how to think, and how to enjoy their lives.

One area where the government is totally disconnected from what their new voters want is the nanny state. I live and campaign in a part of the world where people value their right, as adults, to choose for themselves on junk food, smoking, and drinking.

And so I’m worried that we’re set to repeat the mistakes of the Labour Party: who thought voters in these areas were simple to understand, easy to win over, and not smart enough to decide for themselves.

Covid-19 has changed a lot of things, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the way people in Rotherham have accepted the at-times authoritarian intrusion in their lives means that they are now more open to being told what to do, but that is not the case. As reasonable, level-headed Yorkshire-men and -women, they understand what a crisis is, and they have made an exception that will shortly run out.

As the crisis fades, there is an opportunity to move forward in a different way, showing that Conservatives understand and respect people’s desire to take back control. A shift in focus is needed – far far away from telling people what to do and lecturing them on the consequences of their actions in the way Boris and his government have grown all too comfortable with. Instead, we should be giving people information, showing them alternatives and their benefits, making it easier to make healthier choices, and leaving the decisions to them.

This means dropping any suggestion of bullying tactics like junk food taxes or minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and it means building on the helpful encouraging tone of the NHS Better Health programme.

There’s an opportunity too, to move away from the EU’s outdated approach to e-cigarettes, reforming volumes and strengths, and looking at how best to embrace new technologies.

Breaking from the EU on this would be yet another benefit of Brexit, and would go down particularly well in Rotherham, where smoking rates are higher than the national average and people are heartily fed up with being told off about their habit.

As things stand right now, the Conservative Party’s relationship with new Conservative voters is more precarious than it seems. The polls look good as we enjoy the protection of people’s goodwill, but if we repeat the disrespect of the Labour Party by telling them how they should live their lives and failing to recognise the full implications of their wish to take back control, we run the risk of pushing them away. A new approach to public health, rooted in treating people as the adults they are, is required.

Emily Barley: The Government’s Brexit plan puts us at risk of substandard and corrupt justice systems in EU member states

21 Jul

Emily Barley is Director of Due Process, the anti-EAW campaign group, and Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty.

Brexit campaigners hailed a massive victory when, back in February, the Government announced that we will be leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Finally, we knew we’d be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), be able to restore our great British tradition of civil liberties, and could protect people living here from the abuses and mistakes of the EAW processes, substandard EU justice systems, and medieval European prisons.

But there was a sting in the tail of the Government’s announcement: sure, the plan was to leave the EAW, but then replace it with something that looks suspiciously like the EAW.

The EU-Iceland-Norway agreement the Government is modelling its proposed extradition agreement on has been described by experts as the “EAW-lite”, and has all the same problems that have raised such widespread objections to the EAW.

Under the Government’s plan we would be technically outside of the ECJ, but our courts would still need to take into account its judgments – in practice continuing the same state of affairs as now and not fulfilling the expectations Boris Johnson raised when he promised to take us out of it.

This new EU-wide agreement would have the same foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” between the UK and EU member states which requires British judges to turn a blind eye to serious abuses and mistakes in the substandard and corrupt justice systems of the likes of Poland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.

This system leaves us all vulnerable. It has led to cases like that of Edmond Arapi, who was convicted of a murder in Italy that happened while he was at work in the UK; Andrew Symeou, who was held in a Greek hell-hole for ten months after an ill-fated holiday where police beat false accusations out of his friends, and Alexander Adamescu, whose case is the most infamous and egregious example of the failings of the EAW going through the UK courts right now.

Adamescu is sought by Romanian authorities to face charges of corruption in a business insolvency case. There is no evidence against Adamescu, but that doesn’t matter under the EAW – because British judges cannot look at the evidence, or lack of it, even if they wanted to.

Human rights campaigners have described the conviction in 2014 of Alexander’s father, Dan Adamescu, on the same charges in the same case as a “show trial” which violated the presumption of innocence – but that doesn’t matter under the EAW, because the foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” means British judges must have blind faith in the justice systems of other countries.

Even when evidence mounts that the case against Adamescu is a politically motivated stitch-up by an unreformed communistic state, British judges must look the other way, required to believe that EU member states always act with integrity and in accordance with the law. It would be laughable if the consequences of the UK continuing with an EAW-lite extradition system weren’t so serious.

The Government says it wants to introduce “further safeguards” into this “new” system, but the ones we really need – like asking judges to look at the evidence against the accused (a prima facie case), and not sending people to countries with corrupt justice systems and medieval prisons – are incompatible with its plan.

We need to do this thing properly, and drop the idea of an EU-wide extradition agreement.

What we need instead is a series of bilateral agreements which acknowledge the varying quality of justice systems in EU member states and introduce a diplomatic check in the process, as is already the case with extraditions to non-EU countries.

I set out exactly how this would work in my report The future of extradition from the UK: Protecting fundamental rights, recently published by Due Process. There’s a lot at stake here. The Romanian state has already killed Dan Adamescu, and has its sights set on his son.

Innocent people going on holiday to EU countries are at risk of having their lives turned upside down, like Symeou’s was. And even those who stay at home, minding their own business and never setting foot in a particular country, are at risk of accusations and convictions under the EAW, like Arapi.

Johnson won the election last year with a commitment to take us out of the clutches of the EU, and unless that includes abandoning the idea of a dangerous EAW-lite system, he will have failed.