General Election 2019: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson visits Trumpington Park Primary School in Cambridge
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson made a flying visit to a Cambridge primary school this morning as part of the launch of her party’s manifesto.
She was greeted by a large group of supporters as she stepped off her campaign bus outside the school who chanted 'Stop Brexit Now' to drown out a protester who was complaining about the Lib Dems' role in austerity during the coalition government with the Conservatives.
After meeting and greeting party workers and local Lib Dem parliamentary candidates - Cambridge’s Rod Cantrill, South Cambridgeshire’s Ian Sollom and South East Cambridgeshire’s Pippa Heylings - she was whisked off to visit Trumpington Park Primary School.
Ms Swinson dropped in to see some lessons with children in the school library while a hoard of media photographers hunched over the pupils' shoulders as she sat on a rug, reading them a story. She then joined in with literacy and maths lessons at the new school, which has only been open since 2017.
The Lib Dem leader was there to discuss the launch of the party's manifesto pledges, especially their promise to spend and extra £10bn on education if they get into power.
However, Ms Swinson made no reference to Cambridgeshire's education issues, despite Cambridgeshire being one of the worst funded education authorities in the country, with some schools being forced to close early on Fridays as there are not enough funds to pay staff or school heating costs.
Ms Swinson said: “This is an investment in our children’s future. Our schools should be world class, helping every child make the most of the challenges ahead.
“But instead, they are trailing behind. The Conservatives have cut school funding to the bone and children have paid the price, especially those with the most complex needs.
“It is disgraceful that some schools feel they have no choice but to ask parents to chip in for supplies, and are closing early on Friday to balance the books.
“Liberal Democrats will build a brighter future for every child. By stopping Brexit, we can spend £10 billion of our Remain Bonus on reversing school cuts and hiring 20,000 more teachers – so that pupils can leave school happy, healthy and with the skills they need to succeed in life.
"This is just one of the fantastic policies from our manifesto that will help build a brighter future for our country.”
Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire also voted in the referendum to remain in the EU, which is one of the party's pledges. She was asked what the messages they wanted people to take away from their manifesto, apart from stopping Brexit.
“Of course the Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit but that’s because we want a brighter future for our country,” said Ms Swinson.
“Our manifesto sets out ambitious plans to make sure that families get help with the unaffordable cost of childcare, so free childcare for families at the point at which paid parental leave ends and they want to go back to work, also making sure that we deal with the mental health crisis that we face in our country. One in four of us at some point has a mental health problem each year but don’t get the support that they need so there will be extra investment in mental health.
“The climate emergency is a massive problem, a huge threat to our way of life. We have ambitious plans to tackle that and of course sitting here in a school the investment here in our children and making sure schools get the money they need to employ more teachers and have all the books and resources to help our children learn - those are the key priorities in the liberal Democrat manifesto.”
She also talked about the choice some people face of whether to vote tactically, rather than for their party of choice, in this election to ensure there is a second referendum on Brexit.
Ms Swinson said: “I certainly would encourage them to vote Liberal Democrat in the vast majority of seats. There must be some seats where we have come to an agreement with the Green Party or Plaid Cymru in Wales and other remain parties. But Labour aren’t a Remain party, they say it themselves so if people want to remain and that’s very important to them the Liberal Democrats are the party to vote for to stop Brexit.”
Talking about how the party hoped to fund these plans, Ms Swinson said it would come from the money saved by not leaving the EU.
She explained: “The Lib Dems have set out a penny on income tax to go into our national health service we have said that we will increase corporation tax by a small amount we have also said we will change allowances on capital gains tax so we are being very straightforward about where the money we are going to raise and where we are going to spend it.
“But I think it is absolutely right that people understand that staying in the EU brings with it more money to spend on public services and that’s where Labour and the conservatives who want to deliver Brexit are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by suggesting they can have all of these things despite the fact that the economy will suffer, we will all be poorer, it will be bad for jobs and there is going to be less tax revenue to spend on schools, hospitals all the things we want to ensure they have the money they need.”
Ms Swinson did not answer any questions about Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire or East Cambridgeshire.
Rod Cantrill, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, spoke ahead of the visit. He said: “Cambridgeshire local children are at the bottom of the pile in the already-low national per pupil funding. It’s desperately important that this is addressed. The Lib Dems want an emergency cash injection of £4.6bn next year to reverse school cutbacks, rising to £10bn by the end of the next Parliament which will see 20,000 more teachers appointed. This is a priority for me as Cambridge’s MP.
“Stopping Brexit, as the Liberal Democrats want, will enable us to address the country’s real concerns like this one. Providing a £50bn ‘Remain Bonus’ for our economy, will allow vital investment in the future, including in education.
“The reality today is that due to government cuts, over-testing and overstretched, shackled teachers, our schools are on their knees. For example St Matthews Primary School in Cambridge is set to lose £166 per pupil amid an overall loss to the city’s schools of £2.6m in just one year. This is on top of the £45m which schools in the county continue to lose just from the way money is shared around the country.
“Teachers are our nation builders: we need more of them, we need to invest in them and we need to let them get on with the job.”
Following Jo Swinson’s visit to a Cambridge school, Labour parliamentary candidate for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner, who spent the morning with teachers from Long Road and Hills Road said: “There is a crisis in our classrooms, and that started under the Coalition Government when Jo Swinson and her pals spent five years propping up a Tory-led government that tripled tuition fees, slashed education funding, axed support for the poorest teenagers, cut FE funding year after year, took thousands from teachers’ and staff pay, and cut the adult skills budget by a quarter. She’s never said sorry and frankly I think it’s a bit of a cheek now just turning up and using Cambridge kids for a photo opp.
“Parents tell me about rising class sizes and being asked to chip in for essentials. We can do better than this, and we will with a Labour Government.
“I spent the morning with teachers from our sixth form colleges making their feelings known about the crisis in college funding. The cuts have gone on for longer than any other school sector. Like so much of the education sector our Sixth Form Colleges have been hung out to dry by this Government.”
More by this authorAlex Spencer