Wera Hobhouse MP Visits Our University: One event, two student perspectives

Editor’s note: Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP as well as the MP of our constituency, came to the University of Bath to give a talk as well as a Q&A to students. If our Bath Time contributors are passionate about one thing it’s politics, and the competition to report on this event was fierce. This is why we decided to provide the opportunity to two of our contributors, Finn Lawrence-Knight and Ellie Whitwell, to describe their own recollections of the event. This is to allow our readers access to multiple perspectives, hopefully creating a more insightful reading experience.

Lastly, Bath Time would like to thank the Politics Society for organising this event!

MP for Bath Wera Hobhouse talks to our societies! by Finn Lawrence-Knight

An opportunity to hear directly from an MP is golden for a politics student – I, and many others, got to ask questions to Bath’s MP, Wera Hobhouse, on the 1st March. Hobhouse has been the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath for seven years, hence her introduction by a member of the Lib Dem society, and PolSoc committee, Will Darling. I asked Will about the decision for her to speak on campus: “With a general election set to take place within the next 9 months, we were delighted to host Wera to come and talk about her politics and give students an opportunity to quiz their local MP. Wera has been Bath’s MP since 2017 and in that time she has been a strong advocate for policies which align well with the values of our Bath community; such as stronger actions to tackle climate change and championing legislation to protect women like her recent upskirting bill.” The event was well-organised by the Politics Society, and seemed popular – attendees kept arriving even after the talk had started. In attendance were students of all different politics – including other members of the Lib Dem society, members of the Bath University Left Union, and the Conservative Party Society (BUCU).

Hobhouse began with a short speech describing her childhood in West Germany, and her political career, beginning as a councillor in Rochdale, and then as an MP in Bath. Whilst she failed to mention her beginnings as a Conservative, Hobhouse’s speech was engaging and summarised her career well. The speech also helped her humanity come across – Hobhouse herself pointed out the general perception of politicians as detached or robotic, but her sense of humour came through. The majority of the talk was spent answering questions from the audience, however. All of Hobhouse’s answers were detailed, well-measured and animated, with a distinctly German directness and objectivity. In answering one question about women’s safety, she made clear her rigid sense of right and wrong and opened up about her own struggles with online trolling, sexism and xenophobia. The questions ranged from participatory democracy to the legacy of the British Empire, climate change, and Brexit. I felt that by the end, most modern political issues had been discussed. Hobhouse also seemed in no rush to leave, staying to talk to members of the audience well past the question period.

I asked several attendees what they thought of the experience and Hobhouse as a politician. Every person I asked had an overall positive response. One area in particular where she received praise was the nuanced nature of her answers – one person raised the example of her response to a question about the legacy of the British Empire. Whilst most opinions in media are divided in two, Hobhouse gave a well-thought-out differing opinion, that emphasised the need for public education and a culture shift surrounding the collective memory of the Empire, instead of just saying statues should be removed forever. Respondents also appreciated Hobhouse drawing on her own heritage to inform her answers to questions, in particular, her example of the national shame in Germany surrounding their nation’s past crimes, used as a comparison to British nostalgia for the Empire, drew praise. I personally respected her acknowledgement of mistakes – Hobhouse discussed one in particular, surrounding her steadfast rejection of Brexit, weighing up her successful and unsuccessful decisions. In an era where acknowledging fault is rare amongst politicians, it came as a breath of fresh air. One of my peers was critical of Hobhouse’s struggle to stay on-topic – indeed, the questions would be answered with a series of comparisons and talking points on other issues, before a return to the matter at hand.

Overall, the talk was a highly informative and engaging experience, in which Wera Hobhouse certainly came across as a politician, but one with a distinct humanity, humour and moral compass. I, and all the attendants I spoke to, would happily take part in an event like this again.

‘Democracy Doesn’t Work If People Stay at Home’ – A visit from our Liberal Democrat MP by Ellie Whitwell

On Friday 1st March at 11:30, Wera Hobhouse, Liberal MP for Bath, was welcomed onto campus by the University of Bath Politics Society.

Following an engaging applause, Hobhouse introduced herself, actively connecting with the audience in sharing her involvement within politics since her Sixth Form years, many of which those in the audience could align themselves too.

Hobhouse outlined her involvement in student politics during her youth when she lived in West Germany, acknowledging that she had been born into a great global political debate in Berlin when the wall came down.

Hobhouse then stressed one of her fundamental motifs that “democracy doesn’t work if people stay at home”, encouraging her audience that involvement in civic and political societies is influential, provoking change and highlighting the importance of politics in our everyday lives.

Hobhouse further emphasised the importance of democracy, that whilst serving as a councillor of Rochdale from 2006 to 2010 she learnt about the importance of transparent practices to create accountability. It is this that will lead to a healthy democracy.

Hobhouse concluded her brief yet informative introduction by highlighting her key issues of concern as an MP, these being the climate crisis and solving women’s equality issues.

Her passion to take domestic abuse seriously for both men and women was her concluding note and following this a 50-minute Q&A session began.

To set the ball moving, the first question asked related to the best way to get more women involved in politics.

Speaking on female representation in parliament, Wera Hobhouse acknowledged that it remains unequal and nowhere near the 50/50 representation mark. However, she expressed that the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs as of 2024 are women, achieved by the party through a range of training and encouragement for women to stand for election. Hobhouse urged that barriers must be removed for women to enter politics, stressing that one of the most off-putting issues women face in the political arena is the disproportionate amount of online abuse they receive in comparison to men. Wera concluded her answer with a silver lining, arguing that the next generation of women may be better equipped than the current one to call out this abuse.

Whilst Hobhouse’s audience was particularly male-heavy, many other questions linked to gender and the issues women face in the workplace arose. One member of the audience related their question to the current inquiry into Sarah Everard’s case, questioning the MP on how she would combat sexual harassment and institutional harassment problems within the police. The MP responded passionately, referring to a recently implemented bill she has been heavily involved in which shall create an employer responsibility in keeping workplaces free from sexual harassment. She highlighted that this would increase compensation for victims and lower the thresholds for receiving this compensation.

As for the police, the MP acknowledged that the culture cannot be changed within a singular day or piece of legislature. Yet, she gave an encouraging response regarding the Somerset police force, claiming it is heading in the right direction in terms of combatting institutional harassment.

Wera Hobhouse alluded to her efforts in encouraging the passing of the ‘Upskirting’ Bill in 2019. Depicting herself as a pioneering MP in fighting for women’s rights, the audience seemed satisfied with Hobhouse’s response to the question.

The shift away from feminism occurred when an audience member questioned whether Hobhouse thought it appropriate for politicians to change their names if they had links to the slave trade, and questioned her views on whether statues linked to the slave trade should be removed.

Hobhouse acknowledged the past of her home country, claiming she feels guilty for the atrocities of the Nazis. However, she also acknowledged that in Britain there is less of an acceptance that the Empire was atrocious in its actions too, unlike Germany where accountability and shame are associated with its past. Hobhouse believes to educate the public and hold those involved in our empire’s slave trade accountable, the statues must remain with the context reframed to provide more accountability.  

In the final moments of the Q&A session, Hobhouse concluded that in the long-term future, the Liberal Democrats would like to see Britain as a part of the EU again. She did concede, however, that people who think this shall be done in the next 5 years should reconsider. Hobhouse offered a solution that to improve our relations with the EU we must confer with them, acknowledging that she would talk to the liberal party in Germany to do so.

Overall, this Q&A was both an informative experience and a wonderful chance for many members of the audience to ask their own questions. There was little controversy amongst these, and the atmosphere remained pleasant and controlled throughout. Hobhouse covered many key attitudes found in today’s world and most, if not all of the audience, went away either satisfied with her answers to their questions or pondering Hobhouse’s wave of political thought.

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