NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Thursday 29th March 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
As Parliament breaks up for the Easter recess today, there are many big issues of real importance that aren’t being adequately addressed – our future trading relationships; the state of the NHS; national security concerns and welfare changes to name just a few.
Yet this week must be one of the most depressing I’ve known in my thirty years campaigning for the Labour Party. I am mortified and disgusted that antisemitism has found its way into my Party and threatens to derail the total focus needed on the biggest policy questions of the day.
Last weekend saw revelations that Labour’s leader had questioned why a mural depicting grotesquely anti-Semitic imagery should be removed, on grounds of freedom of speech. He has since apologised for this and earlier today – after a week of protest from the Jewish community – Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Labour members quite rightly telling them “It’s important to develop a deeper understanding of what constitutes antisemitism. Often it takes familiar forms, but newer forms of antisemitism have also appeared, sometimes woven into criticisms of the actions of Israeli governments….Zero tolerance for antisemitism means what it says. We will not accept it.”
It should be straightforward to separate valid debate around the policies of the Israeli government from wider anti-Semitic tropes, conspiracy theories and generalities about ‘powerful special interest groups’ and so forth which are clearly racist, yet too many people seem incapable of doing this. If this saga is to be tackled effectively, the persistent examples of further problems have got to be dealt with more firmly and with resolute leadership.
For instance, The Times newspaper reports today that Labour National Executive (NEC) member Christine Shawcroft tried last Sunday to get the suspension of a Holocaust denier overturned by emailing party officials – even though she chaired the Party’s dispute committee. Although she has now resigned from that committee post, she remains on the powerful NEC. Frankly, that is unacceptable. Zero tolerance of antisemitism must also mean zero tolerance of those who sympathise or excuse anti-Semites. Shawcroft should be referred herself to the dispute committee that she has been chairing and suspended from the Party.
It would be wrong to turn a blind eye to this and hope it just passes. There will sadly be some members of my own party who will criticise me for complaining about this repeated failure to take serious action against antisemitism. It takes my breath away that there are people willing to criticise those who complain about this problem, rather than criticise those responsible for anti-Semitic behaviour.
For example, after I joined in solidarity with the Jewish community in Parliament Square on Monday evening, I was attacked on social media with threats, I was accused of ‘exploiting the situation’ and ‘smearing’, told I was ‘insincere’ and a ‘disgrace’, told I must be on the payroll of ‘Soros’ and so on. Yet the mild abuse I have experienced pails into insignificance when compared with the torrent of attacks on my colleague Luciana Berger MP who called out this problem initially.
Politics, and especially politics on social media, can feel a bit like wading through a sewer at the moment. It is deeply unpleasant and I am sorry to have to report on this state of affairs in this way. But I promise you this; the more I and my colleagues are attacked or threatened on this issue and the longer it persists, the more determined I will be to root it out.
- Are we on the verge of seeing some of the best acute healthcare in Nottingham’s NHS deteriorate? Local healthcare provider Circle have announced that they are withdrawing from the re-tender process for the NHS Treatment Centre at QMC, which they have operated for a number of years now. Treatment Centres were put in place around a decade ago to help the NHS catch up with the backlog of operations and procedures that were keeping patients on long waiting lists because of under-capacity in the NHS. Circle management say “Circle Nottingham has taken the difficult decision to challenge the tender process with regard to the Nottingham Treatment Centre in the coming years. We do not feel that the tender – as currently proposed by Commissioners – will allow high quality services to continue to be delivered at the Treatment Centre for the people of Nottinghamshire.” Reading between the lines of this ‘management-speak’ I suspect what Circle are saying here is that those wanting to re-commission the Treatment Centre are reducing the resources available to pay for the service. This is worrying because falling back on the existing NHS Trust capacity could also mean a return to the waiting lists for some of these vital operations that we thought were a thing of the past. While we all would prefer the NHS to have full in-house capability to fulfil the health needs of our local community, the potential degradation of Nottingham’s Treatment Centre facility would be deeply regrettable. I hope that my suspicions are wrong.
- Since October last year, Nottingham University Hospital has spent £500,000 on updating its IT systems. More than 380 outdated computers and 577 dual screens in offices and clinical work areas will be replaced with the objective of having no device in the Trust that is more than five years old. This investment comes after senior clinicians expressed concerns with the IT system in the trust. The problems besetting the local NHS data systems have caused real frustrations for some clinicians – so the test for whether this represents good value will be if patients experience swifter and better treatment as doctors and nurses access data more efficiently. At this point in the 21st century it is concerning that so many basic information issues are still not properly resolved.
- Congratulations to everyone who was recognised at the NCH Tenant Awards last Thursday, including two Nottingham East constituents. Elizabeth (Betty) Charlton from St Ann’s was won the ‘Street and Block Champion Award’ – Housing Patch Manager Victoria Morrise said of Betty ‘she promotes social inclusion within the service and brings the community together’. Jenny Thirtle-Denman, of Sherwood, was voted Tenant of the Year – Abigail Greenwood who nominated her said she is ‘highly respected and a pillar of the local community, Jenny is a real champion for social housing. She works hard to challenge and change the perceptions that some people have of social housing residents’.
- The cost of travelling on Nottingham’s tram network will be frozen for the third year in a row after a recent review of ticket prices. Whilst there will be a small increase in multi-operator fares, the cost of all NET tickets, including single, return and season tickets and tram journeys paid for with a MANGO Card – will remain the same..
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday the Prime Minister reported to the Commons on the EU Council meeting where Britain was granted a ‘transitional’ period of time of 21 months after ‘exit day’ to negotiate further on our future trading relationship. I asked the Prime Minister why she was so attached to the reckless strategy of taking the UK past exit day without settling this future treaty. I made the point that she really shouldn’t call it an ‘implementation’ period because nothing would apparently be agreed by 29th March next year, which to me is a ridiculous risk to take. With a year to go until Brexit, we still have time to do the right thing for future generations and to prevent a decade of austerity hitting ahead.
- I was pleased to be part of cross party group of 98 MPs including 21 select committee chairs and 30 former ministers from both sides of the Commons, who wrote to the Prime Minister to ask her to set up a Parliamentary Commission on Health and Social Care.
Such a commission, which would be similar to a special select committee of both Houses of Parliament, would be able to take an independent, cross Party approach to an issue of national importance and help to break the political deadlock that has prevented a realistic approach to increasing resources for health and social care. I am keen to ensure a proper long term solution to the growing need for health and social care, and believe that it is best that we approach this and other issues in a cross-party way to ensure that a lasting consensus can be reached.
- Parliament held a general debate on Russia and national security on Monday, where the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader led debates on the aftermath of the Russian nerve agent attack on Salisbury and the positive response from across the world where countries have expressed their own disapproval from what can only plausibly appear to be an act of aggression by the Russian state.
- Yesterday in the Commons I voted for the two Opposition Day motions despite the Conservatives boycotting the divisions and absenting themselves. We voted on the impact on local authority services of the massive reduction in direct grant for councils since 2010. We also voted on problems facing communities because of the reduction in police funding and the numbers of police officers and community support staff in recent years.
- Despite the scepticism voiced in some quarters at the time, I was glad to hear the Defence Minister report to Parliament on Thursday that ISIL / Daesh have been “all but destroyed” in Iraq and Syria. I supported the action taken to eradicate Daesh and am glad these efforts have proven successful. I would like to place on record my thanks to the professionalism of our RAF for their brave work standing up to such murderous extremism, which could not be allowed to flourish. For those who object to all intervention in all circumstances, this shows that the international community can make a positive difference – and that each separate circumstances needs to be considered carefully on its merits. There are many other atrocities across the world, and indeed still taking place in Russian/Assad-controlled Syria, where intervention has been less feasible. The United Nations Security Council constitution requires unanimity of permanent members – yet Russia’s vested interest in perpetuating anti-democratic tyranny has left this international forum powerless in too many instances as a result. I believe we need to start looking at reform of the UN so that intervention to save lives and prevent brutality can take place with legitimacy when the vast majority of world opinion believes action is needed.
- A little bit of Easter good news: in an announcement quietly sneaked out as parliament rose for the break, Welfare Secretary Esther McVey finally agreed to drop the harsh cuts planned for 18-21 year olds in need of housing benefit, as part of concessions in the new Universal Credit regulations. This proposal – put forward by David Cameron in his 2015 manifesto – was widely criticised as likely to make the least well-off young people find life particularly tough. Young people need support for housing in tenancies if their incomes are low and this is a victory for those entering adulthood across Nottingham and the rest of the country. I remain concerned, however, that some of the other reductions and changes planned will still leave some of our poorest citizens badly off, something that will hit hardest when the Universal Credit roll out is due to take place in Nottingham from October this year.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I hope you enjoy a peaceful and restful Easter weekend. From Tuesday next week, I have been called to undertake jury service – which means I will be out of normal circulation for a while. Obviously, it is an offence to discuss evidence or cases I may be sitting on and so I won’t be able to report on my specific experiences in court.
When I was the Minister for the Courts & Criminal Justice at the then Department for Constitutional Affairs, I was involved in changing the law so that people from every walk of life should be eligible to serve on a jury; and so for the second time I will have been asked to do so. While I wouldn’t want to go into any details of any cases, I would be interested in any general observations you have about our criminal justice system and whether you think that the principles of trial-by-jury are still working well.
Is justice being done swiftly and efficiently in our city? Do victims and witnesses encounter unnecessary or upsetting circumstances in the court system? Are the police, prosecutors and judicial services working as well together as they should? As ever, your observations would be welcome.
My MP Update emails will return after Parliament is back later in April. But please do email me or contact my office if you have any issues I can help or assist with.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East