INTERVIEW: Beki Sellick, Lib Dem MP candidate for Peterborough
Ahead of the Peterborough by-election on Thursday, we spoke to Beki Sellick, the Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats. She discusses Lib Dem values, the shift away from Brexit and her three point plan for Peterborough.
Following the European election results, and the success of both the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party, many expect this by-election to be dominated by Brexit. Sellick agrees “absolutely”, saying it has been a big issue on the doorsteps.
In the 2016 referendum, 60 per cent of Peterborough constituents voted Leave. According to Sellick, however, this figure is not representative of the views of the residents.
Describing the result of the referendum, Sellick argued: “53,000 people voted Leave; 34,000 people voted Remain. Almost the entire difference, 17,000, couldn’t vote because they were citizens of an EU country other than the UK. A further tranche of people [who were unable to vote], who were entitled to vote in the Scottish referendum, are the 16 and 17 year olds.”
Because of this, demographics and results are not so easy to predict: “It depends how you frame the electorate: Peterborough could have easily been a Remain city in 2016.”
Beyond the initial referendum, Sellick is positive that the balance may have swung to Remain: “we’ve been engaged in conversation and people have been shifting their position. The same trend, year-on-year, is that businesses have been getting increasingly cold feet [about Brexit].”
With this shifting demographic, Sellick believes that Peterborough could be representative of a wider shift on Brexit: “People were promised a lot: 'it will be easy', 'it will be great for the economy' – it is patently not.
“The most ardent proponents are now even saying it won’t be beneficial in the short run. It is getting less credible and people are not accepting that it will be better in the long run.”
The same trend, year-on-year, is that businesses have been getting increasingly cold feet [about Brexit].”
A key question that faces the Liberal Democrats, and all those who call for a second referendum, is what will be written on the ballot paper.
For Sellick, “it must include the option of Remain: we are absolutely passionate about this. We know that Remain is the best for Britain. In framing the question, we want to do it in a way that brings people together. In Peterborough, we have an extremely diverse community and while we used to work well together, that has had a knock from Brexit.”
Prior to announcing her candidacy, there was significant media attention on the possibility of a joint Remain candidate, something which eventually fell through. Commenting on this, Sellick said “We worked extremely hard, from a position of strength, to come up with a common Remain candidate.
“It actually damaged my campaign as we were willing to do this up to the last minute. We really tried from a position of strength and in the spirit of generosity: that is the Lib Dem approach.”
This idea of the underpinning values of the Lib Dems was also raised when discussing the coalition. Sellick stated that despite knowing that it would be electorally damaging, the party was driven by their “passion for the right thing.”
We really tried from a position of strength and in the spirit of generosity: that is the Lib Dem approach.”
With their success in the local and European elections, the Lib Dems are now leading the campaign for Remain. Key to their success has been their clarity of message, something Sellick highlights: “We are famous for not being populist: we go with our passion and integrity. We want to dispel all the popular myths, the scapegoats and the divisiveness with our evidence-based, Lib Dem approach.
“Lib Dems are always working to pull together and to make things effective and functional at both a national and local level.”
Beyond national politics, the by-election will also be decided on these local issues. Sellick’s plan is based around three key areas: the economy, the environment and public services. As a business owner herself, working as a sustainable transport engineer, she sees these three issues to be linked.
Identifying Peterborough’s economic growth, she warned of the low skilled nature of many new jobs and their risk of being automated. To combat this, she stated that “a priority will be building up Peterborough’s economy and skills, supported by the independent university.”
The second key priority is the environment, particularly focusing on congestion and air quality. By reducing congestion, she hopes to improve transport, health and sustainability in one.
This, according to Sellick, could also be supported by investment in public services: “If we put proper funding into our schools and proper respect for teachers, all schools will improve and then people won’t feel they have to drive to schools across town.”
Alongside this investment, Sellick is also campaigning for “proper funding for the NHS, proper funding for teachers and beyond this, proper respect for professionals.”
Referencing Michael Gove’s now infamous quote that he public have had “enough of experts”, Sellick argues that “our body politic has suffered from the knocking of experts which is a bald, populist, divisive and scapegoating approach. We are offering something different.”
These three interlinked areas are key to Sellick’s approach and her goal, referenced repeatedly, of “empowering individual human beings to flourish.”