The death yesterday of Jeremy Birch was a sad but important reminder of how many men and women of all parties and those who are Independent of all parties give a great deal of their lives, time, energy and money to try to improve the lot of those around them. I have personally met some Politicians who I would not wish to shake hands with, and some others who I was unsure about, but the vast majority are really decent hard working and dedicated people like Jeremy. The fact that some of them hold diametrically opposing views on all sorts of fundamental issues does not change that in the slightest. Thank goodness there are still people who are prepared like Jeremy did, to give their lives for others. For their sakes and more importantly for the sake of our society we must continue to try to make democracy work. If as so many are doing today, we are to urge people to vote, then we need to clean up the parties, and do so quickly and openly. If Labour want to pay their respects to Jeremy they could begin by doing just that, and the same for all the other parties. We need to open the way for more voices to be heard including those who are Independent of any Party, and reduce the barriers, many of which are erected by the parties inadvertently but which are barriers to entry nevertheless. We also need to provide an alternative to voters to register their disagreement with the options being presented to them. I am certain that Jeremy Birch would have disagreed with the idea of None of The Above being on the ballot paper, but in my view it is the only way we can offer a way for people to say they want a better choice. The voting system itself needs reforming and whilst my ideal result in Brighton & Hove would be 2 Red and 1 Green, a proportional result would be 1 Red, 1 Blue and 1 Green. We need all Parties to appreciate that they can tell us they don’t know answers to some questions and prove that they are willing to learn from us, but also from one another. We should extend suffrage to all those who are able to earn a living and pay taxes, to all those who can marry, to those able to join the Army. Whether we reduce the age to 17 or even 16 I am not certain, but as the Independence Referendum showed, 16 year olds can be trusted to vote. I also believe we need to extend representation to those in Prison. Only when young people and people in prison are represented by elected people will their needs be taken seriously. Again whether the franchise is extended to all prisoners or not is for me a detail. However the blanket denial is wrong and needs to be changed.
I met Jeremy Birch when we served on the South East England Regional Assembly together, we sometimes clashed, often agreed and he was a genuinely nice bloke. Hastings will miss his influence. The last time I saw him was at the De La Warr Pavilion when he was attending the launch of the Ladybird Books exhibition. I know I will miss him, his family will miss him dreadfully, he will be missed in the count tonight in Hastings but also many people who he helped in their difficult circumstances will be the poorer for his death.