NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 28th April 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
If you were in any doubt about the looming Brexit effect and how it is putting the brakes on Britain’s economy, yesterday’s near-standstill growth figures for the three months of 2018 were especially clear. Even though more people are working longer hours, the economy grew by just 0.1% – which is the lowest quarterly figure for six years. This means that people are working harder but producing less; our country’s productivity is now in the slow lane as the rest of the world overtake us.
You may have felt this in prices at the shops, where the weakening value of sterling has driven up inflation which squeezes the purchasing power of incomes. And it’s unlikely that incomes will be growing much further if we aren’t producing more as a country. Some economists are even predicting an ‘evens chance’ of a recession. It’s far too early to be sure of that – but we can already see that Britain has lagged by 1.5% output compared with the predictions made in May 2016 before the Brexit referendum. That lag means we’re already down by £30billion as a nation since then. And this is before Brexit even happens.
I am deeply frustrated that the Government – and sadly some in my own Party – are either oblivious or ignoring this risk for other political reasons. There is no way that all of the vital resources we desperately need to inject into health, social care, schools, housing and infrastructure can be found if we see Brexit induce a decade of austerity, on top of the awful state we are already in.
I am trying my very best to work with MPs and Peers in the Lords and Commons across all parties to build a coalition in favour not just of the Customs Union but also the Single Market / EEA and give people a chance to vote on the deal Theresa May brings forward in the autumn. There is still a chance for us to change course – and be under no illusions, if we do not do so there will not be the money needed for the things we need for a long time to come.
- If you’ve ever bought a washing machine or dishwasher and phoned up to register the warranty or extend the service plan, the chances are you were speaking with one of the team of 700 staff at the Domestic & General call centre in Nottingham East! It was very kind of their Chief Executive and team leaders to take time and show me around their recently refurbished offices, listen in to a few calls myself (pictured) and hear about their plans to improve the quality of their repairs offer as they move to an insurance basis in some of their services. Their commitment to employing local people, training and providing career pathways was impressive.
I must confess I don’t often think about what happens if appliances don’t work and need replacing – which is ironic because, by complete coincidence, I discovered on returning home that my own washing machine had broken down…but that’s another story altogether!
- A new plan to boost literacy in Nottingham, called Read on Nottingham, was launched last week. This schemes includes the creation of a National Literacy Trust Hub and is part of a partnership between the National Literacy Trust, Nottingham City Council and Small Steps Big Changes. The launch started with a literacy-themed bus provided by Nottingham City Transport, with free books and Read on Nottingham bookmarks as well as a performance from local musical entertainers the Rainbow Stripes, welcoming pupils aged between one and five. The Read On Nottingham drive is being funded by Small Steps Big Changes, a Nottingham Big Lottery programme and other local initiatives including the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
- Work is being undertaken to restore historic murals painted in dome of the Exchange Arcade. Theses murals were created by local artists in 1928 and show various moments of historical significance for Nottingham such as Danes capturing it in 868, William the Conqueror ordering the building of the castle, and the raising of King Charles I’s standards at the start of the Civil War in 1642. They have suffered many years of water damage, particularly to the mural depicting Robin Hood dulling its colours and features. Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for planning, housing and heritage at Nottingham City Council, said: “These murals are a part of Nottingham’s history and we need to protect them. She added “We are working with a great and experienced restorer, who is undertaking a complete restoration of the damaged murals and we can’t wait to see the final result.”
- Nottingham now has the world’s largest fleet of operational Bio-Gas double deck buses after the 53rd Bio-Gas bus entered service this week, completing a £16.8m investment in greener transport for the city. Mark Fowles, NCT Managing Director commented: “our Bio-Gas double deck buses are the greenest buses on the road, with significantly lower emissions throughout the entire process of fuel generation, transportation and use. With Nottingham City Transport now operating 53 of these super environmentally friendly buses, we’re delivering cleaner air for Nottingham with the largest fleet of Bio-Gas double deck buses in the world.”
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Throughout the week a fuller picture has emerged of the policy decisions which resulted in the Windrush generation scandal. On Monday, a letter obtained by the Guardian suggested that as early as May 2016, Ministers had clear evidence that their ‘hostile environment’ strategy was adversely affecting legal Commonwealth migrants, but failed to act on it. If, as seems increasingly plausible, this inaction resulted in part from cultural and institutional failures at the Home Office, where a top-down obsession with targeting illegal migration spilled over into indifference to the appalling problems created for people with every right to be in the country, then the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and her predecessor – Theresa May – have profound questions to answer. This was brought into sharper focus still by Amber Rudd’s apparently memory lapse about the nature of immigration removal targets when questioned about it by Yvette Cooper on the Home Affairs Select Committee, since when a six page memo was leaked that had apparently gone to the Home Secretary’s office. I think the basic point is this: immigration officials should be considering cases on their merits and with full regard to the evidence – rather than chase targets even when individuals may have a right to remain. If it turns out that decisions made by Government Ministers directly resulted in officials feeling under pressure to seek grounds for removal rather than be led by the facts, then it is with those Ministers that responsibility lies.
- On Wednesday, the French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the U.S. Congress in English following meetings with Donald Trump. It was especially heartening to see him speak for much of the international community in reminding those in attendance, and implicitly Mr Trump himself, of the urgent necessity to combat climate change, saying: “What is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, sacrificing the future of our children?” President Macron expressed his view that in the fullness of time the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate accords; its withdrawal is perhaps the most lasting negative consequence of the Trump Presidency so far, so we must all hope that his optimism is justified.
- On Thursday afternoon, following a string of Brexit defeats for the Government in the House of Lords, MPs from all sides of the House called on the Government to support continued British membership of a customs union with the EU as a negotiating objective in the Brexit talks. I’ve argued ever since the referendum that we should be aiming for customs union membership as a bare minimum, not least in order to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border in Ireland and a permanent tailback of lorries at Dover. For these reasons and more, it’s long been clear that a majority of MPs would support customs union membership were it ever put to a vote, and on Thursday it was obvious that this is true, with a number of senior Conservative ex-ministers speaking up in support.
At the Government’s behest, no ‘division’ on the motion took place at all, meaning the House was recorded as agreeing to the motion unanimously. This may sound very technical, but it’s become a familiar tactic under Theresa May: when the Government sees the writing on the wall, they wave motions through without a vote to avoid the embarrassment of defeat. These are only expressions of Parliamentary opinion, not votes on pieces of legislation, but that doesn’t mean the Government can ignore them altogether. On past occasions Ministers have ‘reported back’ to MPs after a period of three months, but this is still murky constitutional territory – and as such I raised a Point of Order after the debate to clarify exactly what will be expected now: you can watch my question and the Speaker’s (quite encouraging) reply at the link here.
- On Friday MPs considered a welcome proposal to provide emergency workers with additional protection from assault. The Private Member’s Bill, brought by my colleague Chris Bryant, comes on the back of an increasing number of incidents in which police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others have faced verbal abuse and physical aggression while on duty, and would impose tougher sentences on their assailants – something I support wholeheartedly. The Government have agreed to support the legislation, which means it has a very good chance of becoming law.
- Friday morning brought cautiously positive news from Korea, with Kim Jong-un meeting President Moon Jae-in, his South Korean counterpart, for a historic demonstration of mutual willingness to bring their decades-long war to an end – the first such summit in more than sixty years. The accord to which they have signed up signals a determination to ease military tensions, reunify families divided by the peninsula’s partition, set up a working group to facilitate ongoing cooperation, and most significantly of all, make denuclearisation an overriding objective. Huge obstacles remain, of course, and it always pays to be careful at such moments, but this is a welcome reminder of how quickly things can change. Perhaps the genuine prospect of a diplomatic solution to the most febrile and entrenched military conflict in the world may be in sight, which would be remarkable.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
If you’ve not heard of the acronym ‘GDPR’ yet, then I apologise for breaking this news to you…! It stands for ‘General Data Protection Regulations’ which are new rules coming into force on 25th May giving citizens more control of their data, specifying how others must protect it and keep it private.
It means that anyone sending out emails to club members, customers – or in my case to constituents – has to from that point onwards maintain a record of evidence showing when each individual gave consent to receive information, moving from an ‘opt out’ to an ‘opt in’ basis.
Although the clarity is welcome, I am afraid it will radically alter the way my MP Update emails will be operating from now on. From next week I’ll have to start shifting to new software (provided by ‘Mailchimp’) and will then be asking you for your clear permission to continue sending these newsletters. If you don’t click and give me that permission to update your preferences, then I won’t be able to keep you informed either of my work in Parliament, Nottingham or other issues that hopefully you find useful. In the meantime, if you can ensure that emails from me are recorded in your ‘safe sender’ list then you’ll receive them normally and not sent straight to ‘spam’.
As you can see, I’m approaching the 300th edition of these MP Updates, and I’d like to think they are useful for you (even if we don’t agree on everything!). In the run up to 25th May I hope that you’ll give me permission to keep in touch and I’d be really interested to know in the meantime if there is more or less information you’d like to see in the new MP Update emails. Do I give you the right balance of local / national / international news? Would you prefer shorter or clearer bulletins? Is each week when Parliament is sitting too frequent or about right?
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East