NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 8th September 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
With the House of Commons reconvening this week after the summer recess, my priority has been to focus on the overriding challenge of Brexit. Theresa May’s Government are no nearer to concluding how Britain is going to depart from the EU. There’s a new Foreign Secretary and Brexit Secretary, but no progress on a ‘deal’ with the EU for a smooth transition or any agreement on what our future relationship with our nearest trading allies is going to be. If anything, we’re going backwards.
The Government’s ‘Chequer’s Plan’ (proposing a convoluted twin-speed tariff collection system in exchange for agreeing to a goods-only common rule book) falls a long way short of the access to markets needed for 80% of the British economy which is in services. And this week EU Commissioner Michel Barnier gave the impression to the Brexit Select Committee that it was dead in the water as a proposition. So Ministers are going to have to go back to the drawing board.
This is by far the biggest issue that will shape Nottingham’s future. Whether we have jobs in many industrial sectors; whether we have students able to study abroad and vice versa; whether we have the revenues we need to improve our schools, hospitals and local services. Everything will be shaped by this.
Yet I am sorry to report that there are attempts to pull my focus off elsewhere. You may have seen news reports this weekend that one local Labour branch passed a resolution attacking me. There are ideological reasons why they don’t want me as the local MP. But I’m determined not to let it distract me from the most important work that needs doing.
I’m not going to be gagged from speaking my mind, whether condemning antisemitism or urging Labour to back a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit. This might not make me popular with the small number of hard left activists who’ve joined Labour recently. But my priority first and foremost will be to use my judgement to represent the best interests of the people of Nottingham East where over 28,000 residents gave me a vote of confidence last year.
I’ve been advocating Labour values consistently for over thirty years and if you want to know more about what I stand for, please read my recent pamphlet at the link here.
- I’ve been pressing Ministers this summer to give firm commitments on an improvement plan for Nottingham Prison, where there have been far too many deaths in custody, levels of violence unacceptably high and a severe problem with drugs getting into the building. I asked the Prisons Minister about a specific timeline for action in the Commons this week and you can watch the exchange on this at the link here. Rory Stewart the Prisons Minister says that he wants to statistics on drugs and violence to fall significantly within the next six months and I will be holding him to that promise.
- Over the next two weekends various venues, both across the city and the wider county, will be opening their doors to visitors as part of the annual ‘Heritage Open Days’. An exciting programme of events has been put in place, including tours of buildings usually closed to the public and activities bringing life to local history and culture. The will also be the first national Heritage Open Day photography competition. Further details, including of event going on locally can be found here.
- A £1 million redevelopment of the Clocktower dining area in the Victoria Centre was announce at the end of last month. This follows the recent closure of five restaurants in the centre. The outlets are designed to offer ‘more quick, casual options’. The General Manager Nigel Wheatley said ‘With centre occupancy at an impressive 99 percent, we’re now able to make this investment and create a compelling space that offers our customers even more. Expect a big change in both tone and ambiance, lots more natural elements and a mix of food kiosks for a quick bite to eat, alongside sit-down dining experiences perfect for family outings’.
- A recent report has shown that the number of visitors to Nottinghamshire increased by 1.3 percent to 35.89 million in 2017, up from 35.42 million in 2016. The value of tourism to the local Nottinghamshire economy also saw an increase of 3.6 percent to £1.814 billion compared. Nottingham City had the strongest growth of anywhere in the county with the value of tourism to the city increasing by over £10 million. Cllr Dave Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Localities, said: “It’s pleasing to see that the value of visitor economy to the city has once again increased – this time by 4.1% and is now worth £629 million annually. This is an important contributor towards local jobs and encouraging additional secondary expenditure for our city’s wider retail, food and beverage offers. To help support our vibrant city, Nottingham City Council continues to promote a wide range of annual events and activities and with the investment now being made in Nottingham Castle; is also looking to further build on this important aspect of our local economy.”
- Nottingham City Council’s Clean Air Zone consultation closes on Monday. This follows a number of proposals made by the council, including modelling and analysis on air pollution levels, with the aim of reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide to meet legal limits. You can see the council’s proposals and take part in their consultation here: http://transportnottingham.com/cleanair.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- I’m afraid I failed in my efforts to persuade members of the House of Lords to amend one of the key Brexit Bills on Tuesday by adding in a negotiating objective that the UK should participate in ‘a Customs Union’. This would have helped ensure we maintain frictionless trade and minimise inspections and checks at the border especially important in Ireland. While the Customs Bill could have been amended in this way, my Labour frontbench colleagues chose to let the issue pass, without pressing any amendments, on the grounds that it touched on ‘financial’ matters which the Lords normally don’t get involved with. In fact they didn’t object to the Bill passing all its stages in one day! This is especially frustrating because the Commons Speaker had refused to certify that Bill as a ‘Money Bill’, so there was no legal impediment for the Lords doing this. I wish I could report that there is a hard fight taking place against a Tory hard Brexit, but on Tuesday in the Lords there was certainly no evidence of this.
- This week at the International Trade Select Committee, I pressed the Trade Minister George Hollingbery on where things stand in light of his predecessor-but-one Lord Price’s false promise that the dozens of countries with whom the EU currently has a bilateral trade treaty have all ‘agreed to rollover’ – i.e. to copy-and-paste these arrangements into fresh deals with the UK, ready at midnight on exit day. In what’s become a familiar routine, the Minister was unable to reassure us that Lord Price’s confidence was justified. The best-case reality, it seems, is that some – though not all – of the countries in question (in this case developing economies which have a regional ‘Economic Partnership Arrangement’ with the EU) have agreed to discuss the outlines of a new trade deal – but not to ratify an agreement on the same terms and certainly not at the moment we leave. This is too just big a gamble for British households and businesses to take, and Government Ministers need to get real. You can watch the exchange at the link here.
- It has been deeply frustrating and frankly embarrassing that throughout the summer Labour has been drawn into a series of circumstances which deepened rather than alleviated concerns about antisemitism within the Party. It is not acceptable to see senior figures making sweeping generalisations about ‘Zionists’ nor honouring groups responsible for attacks on Jews. The irrational resistance to accepting even the basic definition of antisemitism – as set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance together with the examples they give – has only heightened concerns among many Jewish constituents who have expressed their anxieties to me. I can only say that I have always stood alongside that IHRA definition and voted with 205 of my colleagues in the PLP to incorporate it in our Standing Orders this week. I am sorry that Labour’s National Executive Committee took too long to do so and that when it did it felt that caveats, terms and conditions needed to be applied in a way which so many other countries and institutions across the globe have not quibbled about. Energies have been expended on defending a shameful position which ought to have been channelled towards fighting for progressive policies and against the agenda of this Conservative government.
Criticising the policies of the Israeli government is perfectly consistent with the provisions of the IHRA definition. I am in favour of a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state, the sharing of Jerusalem and the withdrawal of illegal settlements, and I deplore Trump’s decision this summer to cut funding for UN Palestinian refugee support. But defending the Palestinians does not require generalised attacks on the Jewish community or characterising them as somehow alien in the UK or stoking notions of a Jewish conspiracy or denying the Holocaust. It is not difficult to identify antisemitism and demand an end to anti-Semitic behaviour and I am very disappointed to see this saga persist.
- On Wednesday the Crown Prosecution Service announced charges against two Russian nationals, known as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, in relation to the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and subsequent death of Dawn Sturgess, earlier this year. The evidence linking the two Russian active intelligence officers to the Salisbury attacks, as laid out by the Scotland Yard counter-terrorism chief Neil Basu and presented to the House of Commons by Theresa May, is compelling and comprehensive. Equally clear is that the chain of command within Russian military intelligence means the order will almost certainly have come from the highest levels in the Russian government. The breadth of support Britain received when presenting its analysis to the UN Security Council on Thursday further demonstrates the seriousness of the evidence which led to this week’s announcement. While Russia’s refusal to extradite its citizens means it will be an uphill struggle to bring the pair to justice, I welcome the detail which has now been made available, and hope it reinforces our determination to stand up to this deeply nasty regime.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The pattern of knife and firearm incidents occurring in Nottingham this summer has been deeply concerning and completely unacceptable. Just this week three teenagers were arrested on suspicion of murder after a fatal stabling on Hawksley Road in Hyson Green. Separately, a man has been charged following a shooting in Radford in June this year. Officers were called to the junction of Ireton Street and Portland Road at around 10.50pm on Friday 29 June 2018 where a 17-year-old boy had sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries. A 30 year old man has now been charged with attempted murder and possession of a firearm with intent.
I’d like to hear if your neighbourhood has been affected by crime during the summer months, or if you have any views on how best to tackle this situation?
I took time this week to meet with the local police to discuss the recent pattern of incidents over the past few months, and to hear about their efforts to combat the problem. I was encouraged to hear some of the initiatives they are now taking to gain intelligence on some of the key perpetrators and would encourage anyone with information to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.