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ROBERT BARR


A. PEACE

1. Are you in favour of Britain renewing its Trident nuclear weapons system?


I believe that the principle of nuclear deterrence, while uncomfortable and unpalatable, has deterred conflict between the major powers and Britain’s role in maintaining that virtuous stalemate has been important.


I do not favour a like for like replacement of Trident because I believe it is too expensive, overkill and too dependent on the US. However I do favour Britain retaining a cost effective lesser nuclear deterrent option, preferably one which is not so dependent on US technology and costs less.



2. Do you think our country is right to be involved militarily in the Ukraine, even if in a training and support role?


The Ukraine is the front line of, on the one hand what is perceived by Russia as an expansionist European / NATO zone of influence and on the other a zone Russia wishes to annexe to re-instate the control they had during the Soviet era.


I believe it is the right of the people of the Ukraine to determine their own future allegiance, though I accept that may lead to partition. I would prefer that to be a civil democratic process rather than a military conflict and would welcome any process that deescalates the situation and demilitarises the conflict. However, if there is a danger that military might is going to be used to subjugate any part of the Ukrainian population I believe the advice necessary, or the means, to prevent that should be provided.







B. ENVIRONMENT


3. Do you give full weight to the urgency of minimising global warming? In the light of this, do you accept that much of the known fossil fuel reserves should be left underground, especially the most environmentally damaging such as tar sands and Arctic oil?


I see man-made global warming and the resulting change in climate patterns as one of the greatest threats facing mankind. I support the Guardian’s campaign to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and am strongly against the destruction of, or damage to, pristine natural environments just to extract ‘cheap’ oil. I welcome, and am involved in, a range of initiatives to reduce energy waste and to develop renewable energy sources. However I accept that the transition will take time that we do not have so I want to see a transition to clean carbon technologies as a stepping stone to a carbon free energy future.


4.  What is your attitude to fracking?

I have an open mind in relation to fracking. I do not believe that the safety or effectiveness of fracking, in the UK context has been proven so I do not believe that any licences should be granted for commercial fracking operations until their safety has been fully established and the environmental impact assessed and found to be as low, or lower than other clean carbon and renewable alternatives.

However I think the concept of fracking, with the necessary environmental safeguards does need to be investigated. We are already dependent on very much more dangerous and environmentally damaging carbon based fuels, which cannot be quickly replaced by renewables. If fracking has the potential to safely substitute for, and replace those damaging sources of energy in the short to medium term I believe it must be fully investigated.

5. Many people can’t afford to heat their homes over the winter. We can’t afford to ignore climate change either. How would you tackle fuel poverty in a long-term, sustainable manner?

Through my involvement in Housing Associations this is an issue that is close to my heart. I have worked hard to ensure that we do as much as possible to insulate existing and new homes, install solar panels and energy efficient heating systems. I am concerned that the need to build more homes fast is sometimes traded-off against energy efficiency on grounds of cost, I believe this to be a false economy. I have taken similar measures in my own home and am involved in community low carbon and energy efficiency initiatives.

I think current energy tariffs are very unfair to those suffering from fuel poverty with the poorest users, often those on pre-payment meters, paying the most for their energy, while the richest and most profligate users of energy pay least. I would like to see ramped tariffs brought in where low level essential energy is cheap, but the more you consume the more expensive the energy becomes, incentivising the better off to maximise their energy conservation measures.

This combination of investing in energy saving and renewable energy measures for those in fuel poverty and bringing in a more progressive and re-distributive set of energy tariffs could do much to reduce the adverse impact of fuel poverty.


C. ECONOMICS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE


6. Do you think our economy can or should go on growing indefinitely?


I do not believe that the economy as measured by GDP or GVA can or should grow indefinitely, or that that is the route to maximising happiness. We already fail to distinguish properly between those parts of the economy that satisfy human needs and wants, and those that are based on exploiting consumers by forcing them to consume and pay for goods or services they do not want. Both contribute to GDP even though the former satisfy human needs while the latter simply exploit people.


I support Ellen McArthur’s Foundation which campaigns for a ‘circular economy’ where all goods are re-designed to be fully recyclable and where rarely used commodities are shared to maximise their utility. I have learnt that so often less is more, and am trying to wean myself off my worst consumerist and hoarding instincts. I feel better for it, and I have been following the literature on the economics of less with interest.


7. Are you opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?  If so why; if not, why not?


I believe in the benefits of free trade and of competition. But ‘free’ must really be ‘free’ and competition must be real and not artificial or predatory. TTIP is highly controversial because sceptics believe that it is an agreement that will allow multi-national companies and those who control capital to undermine collective activities such as the provision of the Health Service. If TTIP was to do that I would not support it.


However I do not believe that the European Union will enter into TTIP if it undermines the continent’s essential social democratic instincts. I believe Vince Cable, who is to the left of my party and a strong believer in the NHS, when he tells me that such institutions will be fully protected and that the version of TTIP the EU will agree to will not undermine public provision, or the freedom of the EU nations to provide public goods for the common good. If those freedoms of national choice are preserved then the facilitation of easier trading terms between Europe and the US has the potential to create jobs and improve living standards.


I do not share the nostalgia for closed centrally controlled state monopolies, which a rejection of free trade and treaties such as TTIP implies, but TTIP will only work if the sanctions against companies trying to exploit it to gain unfair advantage or monopoly status are strong enough to prevent them from doing so.


8. Do you intend to help shrink the yawning gap between rich and poor and check the extraordinary concentration of wealth in very few hands? If so, how?


This can no longer be achieved entirely through taxes on income and expenditure. I see the introduction of a range of wealth taxes as inevitable. I see international action to prevent the abuse of tax-havens to avoid or evade tax as vital.


All taxes are unpopular and wealth taxes are no exception, however, if the intergenerational accumulation of disproportionate wealth cannot be controlled, inequality can only rise.


I do note however that when equality was at its highest in Britain and much of the EU during the mid-1970s, it neither led to the abolition of poverty nor to support for re-distributive governments. Current inequality is too high, but what the ‘right’ level of inequality is to provide incentives to work hard and take risks, while ensuring that no-one is enslaved by poverty is very hard to determine. I am not sure I can think of a political system or a country that would claim to have got that right. What I am sure of is that inequality is too high in Britain at the moment.


9. Do you recognise that low wages and benefits, plus harsh and arbitrary stoppage of benefits, is causing serious and unjust hardship? Do you want to restore the safety net which ought to protect British people from serious want?



I do, but to use that old cliché, I believe that the safety net should act as a trampoline not as a hammock. It has proven too easy in the past, out of a kind heart and sometimes perceived political advantage, to give up on making individuals or communities more self-reliant by making conditions on welfare tolerable, or even comfortable, while offering little or no incentive to escape the welfare trap.


During the Blair years Housing Associations were strongly encouraged to introduce programmes to help their tenants transition from welfare into work, but the dis-incentive to earn because of how little extra net income it brought in and the adverse impact it had on benefits was strong.


The transition to Universal Credit and the welfare changes in general are proving to be extraordinarily difficult and are probably not being introduced as fairly or effectively as they might be. However with a growing economy and far more jobs the transition from welfare to work needs to be fully supported.


Those genuinely unable to work, or in need of education, training, social or medical support must be fairly treated and given the help that they need. For those with none of those needs a combination of ‘guaranteed jobs’, sometimes less flatteringly termed ‘workfare’ and supported job search, as at present should provide the right combination of pressure and incentive to help those able to work out of welfare.


Those with disabilities should be helped to work, if that is appropriate for their situation, and provided with appropriate sheltered or protected work, or therapeutic settings. It is hard to distinguish between the two sometimes as was the case with some Remploy settings.


It is important that those with disabilities share the same opportunities, if possible, as those who are physically and mentally able bodied and can choose whether to join the mainstream labour market or work or live in protected settings. It is a problem however that ‘disability’ has been used in the past by both employers and employees as a mask for redundancy, or early retirement for those who remained fit to work or to work in a less demanding role.. This has rebounded on those with genuine needs but distinguishing between genuine and non-genuine needs is a very difficult problem and this needs to be done compassionately.


Benefits should not be stopped ‘arbitrarily’ or ‘harshly, and certainly the system should not intentionally be punitive. However a ‘yellow card’ system that more formally warns claimants of the consequences of not working within the rules of the system, before sanctions are applied, would be helpful.


There does appear to be very widespread support for a system of welfare which is seen as a temporary ‘safety net’ and not one which encourages permanent welfare dependency for those who are capable of work. Delivering a fair and compassionate system to achieve that should be the aim of any fair government.