When I stood up in Rochdale's Council Chamber in January and refused a 34% pay rise as a Councillor, people knew that I was on their side. Indeed, I received dozens of emails and phone calls from people across our Borough thanking me for taking a stand. Labour sneered and said I would vote against a pay rise but accept it in private. I didn't. I handed a letter to the Chief Executive, alongside Councillor Irene Davidson. I didn't want Labour's dirty money.
In all my time in politics, I had never seen such anger from the public. Labour and the Conservatives voted for a pay rise. Why? They thought they'd get away with it as there was no elections this year. They were wrong. I'm not involved in politics for the money. I want to do everything within my power to improve the Pennines and Rochdale. The Conservative Candidate in this election voted for this pay rise alongside Labour.
Locally, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, I have punched above my weight on the council. I have led the fight against building on our green belt. The plan called the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. I believe our green spaces are precious and will continue to campaign against building on our "green lungs" when elected.The Liberal Democrats are the only united political party in Greater Manchester against this. The plan is currently led by Labour Councillor Richard Farnell - he gets an extra £5,000 a year on top of his pay rise for the privilege. The Conservative Candidate for our Mayor accused the Liberal Democrats of "electioneering" as he backed plans to concrete over our green spaces. If electioneering saves our beloved open spaces then that is an insult I'll happily accept.
I am the only candidate who lives in the constituency who can win the election in Rochdale. I have always said I don't want to be MP for anywhere else. Why would I want to? This is the town I was born, the town I married in, the town I brought up my two children. I am not a career politician. I am someone who wants to right the wrongs of years of Labour neglect.
I was born at Birch Hill Hospital and went to St Vincent's Primary School, St Wilfrid's Middle and Bishop Henshaw Upper Schools before attending Salford College and studying at the Open University. Like a stick of rock, I have Rochdale running through me. I run my business from Rochdale and represent Milnrow and Newhey as a councillor.
My team and I talk to hundreds of Rochdale residents, week in, week out. How can you possibly represent anywhere without listening? One of the main issues that comes up time and time again is crime. When David Cameron came up with the idea of political police and crime commissioners I opposed it. Politics should play no part in policing. Here in Greater Manchester it has been an abject failure. Under Tony Lloyd, Labour's record on crime was criminal. If elected, I will campaign to abolish it and let police decide their own priorities. I will end the scandal that 111,445 crimes were not even investigated last year. That's 45% of all crimes. I appreciate that Greater Manchester Police have seen huge cuts by an uncaring Conservative Government. What has shocked me is the Labour Police Force's lack of priorities. Take for example, Manchester City Centre on a Saturday night. Police are tripping over each other. When was the last time you saw an officer down your street? If elected in June, I will not only fight for more resources but a fairer distribution of resources for places like Rochdale and the Pennines.
The NHS is the jewel in our country's crown. Many of you will have marched with the Liberal Democrats and signed petitions against the downgrading of our A&E and losing our maternity unit at Rochdale Infirmary. Our NHS is in crisis and Labour are as much to blame as the Tories. PFI contracts worth billions were signed by the last Labour Government which means that nearly 10% of all local NHS spending goes directly to billionaire hedge fund owners because Labour borrowed the money to rebuild many of our hospitals. Nye Bevan has a walk in centre named after him near our Railway Station; Nye Bevan would be ashamed of how people like Andy Burnham, our Mayor, and Tony Lloyd's Labour Party borrowed money for our NHS. I will be an MP who champions our NHS and ensure that it remains the lifeline that so many people rely on. Anyone who knows me knows that I have long campaigned to remove parking charges at our hospitals. I will campaign in Parliament to remove this tax on the sick.
Growing up in Rochdale made me appreciate the value of our green spaces. One of my priorities as MP will be protecting our green belt. I appreciate that building affordable housing linked with eradicating homelessness is a huge challenge. It's clear though that the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework consultation, led by Labour was a sham that cost us tens of thousands of pounds. Labour went straight to the developers when looking at land to build on. That, in my view, was a disgrace. Labour, supported by many Conservatives scared people unnecessarily. If elected, I will put forward legislation to ensure in future all brownfield sites must be built on before we even consider building on our green belt.
If elected, I will be prioritising the things that people tell me are important. Mental health is an absolute priority. For far too long, mental health has not been important. Thanks to my good friend Norman Lamb MP, mental health care has improved. The Liberal Democrats longstanding commitment to supporting mental health would make a marvelous difference to so many round here that need urgent care.
Before Christmas, Conservative councillor Rina Palucci said about me when discussing the councillor's 34% pay rise... "He is probably too interested in his Am Dram (amateur dramatics), as he loves to play to an audience." She's quite correct. My audience is you. An audience who want change. An audience that know that only I can beat Labour. An audience that knows that only I can beat Labour's career politician. Did you know that Rochdale is the only major town in Britain without a theatre? If elected, in June, I will ensure our town centre has a theatre we can be proud of.
The Sixth Form College, the Bus Station and the Metrolink were all delivered by the Liberal Democrats. The regeneration of Rochdale was started by the Liberal Democrats under former MP Paul Rowen and former Council Leader Alan Taylor. There's much to do and I will lead efforts from the front.
The future of the former Turner Brothers Asbestos factory in Spodden Valley will be a priority for if elected. I have met with campaigners on the site. I have concerns that the problems of this site and its toxic legacy are simply not being taken seriously by the Council.
Since we launched our proposal to put a penny on income tax to increase NHS and social care funding that would raise an additional £25m for Rochdale, people have told me how much they value our honesty. Our plans will raise £18m for Rochdale's NHS and £7m for social care each year in our town. Right now in Rochdale we are seeing patients lying on trolleys in hospital corridors, urgent operations being cancelled and the elderly being denied the care they need. The Liberal Democrats are prepared to be honest with people and say that to secure the future of the NHS we will all need to chip in a little more. The future of our NHS is likely to be one of the key election issues.
I want to be an MP that our Town can be proud of. When other political parties stood by and let Simon Danczuk get away with dragging our town down, the Liberal Democrats were the political party to stand up to him. It was the Liberal Democrats who caught him over claiming for his living expenses in London whilst the likes of Richard Farnell, Allen Brett and Tony Lloyd stood by and did nothing. Make no mistake, in June either Labour's man from Stretford, Tony Lloyd, will win or me. The Conservatives haven't won Rochdale since 1951 and don't deserve to.
Voting for the Liberal Democrats will ensure we see the change that Rochdale and the Pennines desperately needs and deserves. Finally, if I'm not elected in June, I will be going nowhere. I will continue to be a strong voice for the town I was born and bred in.
Printed (hosted) by Prater Raines Ltd, 98 Sandgate High Street, Folkestone CT20 3BY
Published and promoted by Rochdale Liberal Democrats, 144 Drake Street, Rochdale OL16 1PS
The views expressed are those of the publisher, not of the service provider.
Website designed and developed by Prater Raines Ltd, with modifications by Rochdale Liberal Democrats