NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 15th September 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
This week’s revelations about the Russian GRU military intelligence agents suspected of the Salisbury novichok attack on the Skripals – and the death of Dawn Sturgess – have hit the headlines because of the farfetched excuses offered up in the face of the meticulous evidence unearthed by British security professionals. We take for granted that foreign operatives cannot walk into Britain and attempt to assassinate UK citizens but the overwhelming body of evidence now suggests this is what happened.
There are several lessons to take from this. First, we need a firm response to Putin’s behaviour including stringent financial sanctions against his associates, tighter controls on Russian intelligence officers posing as diplomats and also more rigorous checks on Russians entering the UK. Second, we need the wider international community to keep up the pressure on Putin’s regime and show that collectively such flouting of rules-based international rules is unacceptable. Third, we should recognise that Russia’s use of chemical-based attacks extends not just to the UK but most intensely in Syria where Putin’s allegiance with the Assad regime has seen the use of chemicals against civilians. And fourth, here in the UK our first instinct should be to give the benefit of the doubt to British security and police forces, not to sow seeds of doubt about them.
I am glad that Europe-wide arrest warrants have been issued for the two individuals under suspicion and their implausible story about tourist weekend visit called off because of the snow would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. The time has come for Russia to drop the propaganda and extradite these individuals so justice can be done.
This issue came up during the filming of this week’s BBC1 Question Time programme from Oxfordshire where I was a guest on the panel. You can watch the full episode here. We were asked also about Brexit, a People’s Vote which I support, the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the debate about the ‘gig economy’, and the state of the prison service – where I discussed the situation at Nottingham Prison.
- Following the arrest of five boys allegedly connected to the appalling murder in Hyson Green of 20 year old Esrom Ghide, I have been in discussion with the police and city council about the urgent need to address the incidence of knife crime and the underlying causes which in general may be contributing to the higher number of offences in recent months. I hope that the criminal justice system will ensure that the specific cases we know about are brought to justice and that any evidence is presented to the police. More widely and in respect of other recent incidents, it is clear that two things in particular could make a real difference. First, we need to divert young boys off the streets and into more productive, positive activities such as music and sport – which means a rethink and investment in youth services locally. Second, we have to send a firm message to deter fights, attacks and skirmishes in our neighbourhoods. While it is harder to prevent pre-meditated criminal acts, if we have tougher sentencing for those found carrying knives without just cause, then maybe we can reduce the chances of the opportunistic lashing out with knifes which can have such devastating consequences. I will be pursuing these issues locally and nationally with the Government and there are further meetings and discussions taking place in the weeks ahead to try to progress some of the response we need.
- According to figures published by the National Infrastructure Commission, Nottingham is the 5th most congested city in the UK. The National Infrastructure Commission, a body which advises the government on national infrastructure strategy, obtained this data by using a number of factors to work out the ease with which people could drive from one part of an area to different times. Councillor Dave Liversidge, portfolio holder for transport pointed out ‘these figures cover a wider region than just Nottingham, including Gedling, Broxtowe and Erewash’ and noted ‘figures released just this week by the Department for Transport showed Nottingham achieved the biggest reduction in per capita car traffic of any English local authority outside London’.
- Voting is open for the Green Flag Award scheme’s People’s choice award, this means you can vote for your favourite park amongst those that have been recognised with a Green Flag Award. These include a number in Nottingham East which I hope you will consider supporting before the deadline at the end of the month. You can cast your vote here by finding your favourite on the winners map, opening the park description and clicking the voting button on the right.
- Congratulations to Nottingham Business School which has been shortlisted for Business School of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards. Professor Baback Yazdani, Dean of Nottingham Business School, said: “Being shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Business School of the Year Award is a recognition and an endorsement of this great work and will encourage our team and students along this journey.” The winners will be announced on the 29th November at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday the Boundary Commission for England unveiled their final proposals for redrawn Parliamentary constituencies, which pending MPs’ approval will be in place for the next General Election, due in 2022. The Commission continues to suggest significant changes in Nottingham East, which would see Berridge and Sherwood wards reallocated into an expanded Nottingham North seat, and the remaining city areas combined with parts of Gedling to form ‘Nottingham East and Carlton’ – details are at the link here (on page 56). I’m disappointed that in spite of less disruptive alternatives raised during the consultation process, the Commission have not reconsidered their plans for Nottingham. The bigger issue for me, though, is that the Government are going about this review in entirely the wrong way, on the basis of incomplete population data which effectively dilutes the votes of students, private renters and others in the community not counted properly on the register. The effect is to – surprise surprise – advantage the Conservatives, and for as long the perception of partisanship hangs over the process it will be very unlikely that a cross-party majority of MPs will back the legislation. It’s so important that this process is – and is seen to be – above party politics, and as we’re still four years from an election I think the Government should go back to the drawing board and go about this in a collaborative way.
- On Tuesday, when Treasury Ministers took MPs’ questions on infrastructure investment, I felt I had to draw attention to the elephant in the room – that a huge chunk of the finance on which these projects depend could disappear in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This is both because schemes such as the Midlands Engine rely on direct EU funding, and because if our economy is pushed over a cliff with a ‘hard Brexit’ perhaps with no deal, investment will plunge across the board. We all stand to lose out if this happens, but the Prime Minister, held hostage by the Rees Mogg / Boris ERG group, is too frightened to ignore them. That’s why – as I argued – we need to put this issue back in the hands of the people. You can watch my question this week in the Commons at the link here.
- This week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, led calls for police services around the country to be properly resourced, following a worrying report from the National Audit Office which criticised the Home Office for making cuts in an uneven and arbitrary way and failing to plan for the resulting negative impact on frontline policing. There are now nearly 20 percent fewer police staff than in 2010, and senior officers have long-warned that this belt-tightening attitude is seriously reducing their ability to combat crime. The NAO report, which you can read at the link here, highlights a persistent failure by Ministers to get to grips with the consequences of investment decisions on a local level and an unwillingness to engage constructively with forces around the country. There’s a broad political consensus that the current funding formula is unfit for purpose, and it is three years since Theresa May as Home Secretary promised to reform it – but we’ve still had no detail on how this will be achieved. And for the second year in a row, the Government has chosen to give officers a smaller pay award than the one recommended by the independent pay review body, itself set up to take these issues out of politics. Nottinghamshire Police are disadvantaged by the current funding formula and we need this to better reflect local needs now.
- With the Commons now going back into recess while each political party has a party conference, I will be taking up the chance to lead a delegation from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir (which I chair) to the Pakistan-administered side of the line of control next week. There are very many local residents in Nottingham of Kashmiri heritage who frequently tell me about the long-standing partition of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, despite the United Nations resolving 70 years ago that there should be an opportunity for a referendum on self-governance. Sadly despite contacting the Indian High Commission in the UK on numerous occasions, our group of MPs has been unable to get any significant engagement with the situation on the Indian-side of the dividing line, where there are many reports of human rights violations, curfews and disappearances with legal repression and laws which exempt the military from redress. The Pakistan authorities have agreed to facilitate our visit to Azad Kashmir and I hope to see for myself the conditions near the disputed border and speak with refugees and those living in this area. Britain has a historic obligation to the communities in this region given our role in the partitioning process, and I hope that the recent United Nations Human Rights Council report will be an opportunity for some movement towards a more peaceful and stable path for the future.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I think Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury was entirely right to voice his worries about the erosion of employment security and standards in the ‘gig economy’ in his recent remarks. But I’d be keen to know whether you or those you know have any experiences of short-term contracts, ‘freelancing’ or zero-hours commitments.
While there are some people for whom short term temporary work is what they are looking for, perhaps students at weekends or out of term time, I don’t think it is fair for the system to allow employers to pass off staff as ‘freelance contractors’ when in reality they have a dependent relationship sometimes year after year. In those circumstances, workers need to be given their rights to decent holiday and sick pay and we cannot turn a blind eye to those missing out on pension contributions or other rights. I hope that there will be an opportunity in Parliament soon to discuss the shifting balance of employment rights for the so-called ‘casual’ and temporary workforce.
I had a constituent case just this week of a man who a decade ago had an employer insisting that payments were made via an atypical loan arrangements – which only now HMRC are clamping down on and chasing those affected. If employers cut corners it is sadly the workforce who end up losing out, and we need to modernise the labour market to avoid injustices and exploitative practices.
These MP Update newsletters, as ever, will return when the Commons resumes for business after the Party conference season ends in October. In the meantime do get in touch if you have any comments, observations or questions I can help with.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East