The news is dominated by the internal race for the leadership of the Conservative Party, a contest in which only 150,000 Tory members will get to ultimately decide who becomes the country’s next Prime Minister. This week Conservative MPs whittled down the choice to either Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson – a prospect that fills many others outside the Tory Party with serious foreboding.
At this crucial time of national crisis with a looming deadline of 31st October when the UK might crash out of the European Union with ‘no deal’, to have a wasted month of hustings and navel-gazing within government feels a totally self-indulgent distraction. It is more than ironic that in April the President of the EU Donald Tusk, on agreeing the Brexit article 50 extension, urged Britain ‘please do not waste this time’. Wasting that time is precisely what is now happening. We will spend June and July now comparing fantasy Brexit scenarios which are not going to get anywhere. Jeremy Hunt is claiming that the EU is somehow willing to revisit the ‘backstop’, though he says this entirely without evidence. And Boris Johnson has evaded questioning about how exactly he will approach Brexit when, as is highly probable, he becomes Prime Minister on 22nd July.
The Commons is going through an eerie period, with hardly any legislative proposals as this leadership contest plays out. But in July will the new Prime Minister suddenly allow MPs to get on with scrutiny of the key Bills needed on Brexit such as the Immigration Bill or Trade Bill? Far more likely that a PM Johnson will instead send Parliament into a summer recess – to avoid MPs getting in his way. We will then effectively have only six parliamentary weeks to prevent any mad or dangerous proposals that he wishes to pursue.
These are forbidding times in British politics, made worse by the lack of a real Opposition party fit for government. MPs are having to build new cross-party coalitions across the backbenches in order to step up and show leadership in the face of dysfunctional government. I am focused very much on appealing to the better instincts of MPs and urging them to think for themselves rather than merely follow tribal orders of their Party whips. This is the only hope we have of stopping real harm to jobs and livelihoods in a damaging Brexit.
Nottingham Mencap on Edwards Lane do an amazing job for people with learning disabilities in the city.
It was a great pleasure to have the chance to pop in and visit on Friday to see their amazing wall displays made by service users to depict the need for action against plastics in the oceans (see picture!).
The main purpose for my visit was to talk to the team about the need for legal reforms to strengthen the powers of the courts so that tougher action can be taken against disability hate crimes. Their work “Smile! Stop Hate Crime!” has been important across Nottinghamshire in raising awareness of incidents of hate crime against those with a disability and I will take forward some of the important arguments for change that they have raised with the Law Commission who are consulting on tightening up legislation in this area.
For several years now residents living near the City Hospital site have had to endure the dust and dirt from the hospital coal-fired heating burner settling on their homes, gardens and vehicles – an unacceptable pollutant which should have been tackled long ago. I have met in the past not just with residents but also the NHS Trust management to urge them to sort this out as soon as possible, which is why I was pleased when they unveiled plans to shift to a gas-fired heating system for the city hospital site.
However, residents have now heard from the hospital that the privately financed new heating scheme is to be ‘reviewed’ by the Government – with no clear sense for when this investment plan (along with other similar schemes across the country) will be given the green light.
This is immensely frustrating and the residents deserve far better. The City Hospital chimney is a real concern to the local residents affected and just today I have been contacted again as the black smoke is very visible.
I have written to both the Secretary of State for Health and the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging them to complete their ‘review’ without delay so this vital scheme can proceed, the hospital can modernise its heating system and local residents can get relief from the pollution they are suffering. Having come this far in finding a potential local solution it is galling to have the Treasury put a delay on implementation in this way. I hope it will be sorted out as soon as possible.
The qualifying rounds of the ‘Nottingham Open’ Women’s Tennis Association international tournament and the men’s ATP Challenger Tour kick off tomorrow at the Nottingham Tennis Centre.
I popped in to see the set up of the tournament earlier today and met with Tennis Centre Chief Officer Michael Wisner, Tournament Director Rebecca James and Antonia Flanders the regional tennis participation manager for the LTA (pictured below).
As the chair of the all party parliamentary tennis group, I’m keen to encourage more people to take up the sport – so having this major prestigious event here in Nottingham is a great advertisement! If you’re interested in attending and getting tickets go to their website at https://www.atptour.com/en/tournaments/nottingham/7740/overview
Parliament returned this week in a very moribund way, with hardly any legislative business at all while the Government focus instead on the internal Tory Party race to replace Theresa May as party leader and Prime Minister. With Labour similarly doing everything it can to avoid showing any leadership on the Brexit situation, I find this period of time intensely frustrating – because we are drifting towards a no-deal Brexit catastrophe while the main political parties twiddle their thumbs and look elsewhere.
We need far more urgency right now than is being shown – and the lack of leadership is shocking. If we get to the summer recess and Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister there is every risk that he immediately shuts down Parliament altogether until November and we have no opportunity as MPs to prevent the chaos at our borders, for industry and in the shops that crashing out onto WTO rules would entail.
The European election results showed that the country has a strong focus still on Brexit – but it was no substitute for a People’s Vote. Much attention has been paid to the tactical voting for the LibDems who shared the view of some of the smaller parties including Change UK my own party that we should give the public a final say on how Brexit should proceed.
I was glad that Change UK achieved a near 600,000 votes nationwide and disagree with some of my former colleagues who decided to leave this week. Changing the established broken politics was never going to be easy, which is why I remain determined to stand up and fight for the mainstream centre ground values that led me to leave the Labour Party only a few months ago. Fighting for what you believe in means working in good times and tough times and that’s why I’ve stayed with our new party, now led by Anna Soubry and with my colleagues Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Joan Ryan. Together we are determined to develop new policies and an organisation that is willing to stand in elections and give the public a choice, not retreat to the sidelines.
Politics is chaotic and unstable and the moment – which means it’s more important than ever to stand by the principles of long-termism, evidence based policy rather than the drive to the ideological fringes, and fighting for what’s right on Brexit. I will keep trying to do this, even when times are tough.
The European question has now despatched yet another Conservative Prime Minister. Theresa May’s departure was driven by right-wing Tory MPs who would only accept the most extreme form of Brexit and her own decision to put Conservative Party unity ahead of everything else. The task of delivering a Brexit deal to match the far-fetched promises of the 2016 ‘leave’ referendum campaign will be no simpler if the Tory membership decide to install Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab in Number 10. The details of Brexit aren’t in the hands of the Prime Minister – they have to clear both the UK Parliament, the EU Parliament and the 27 other European Union heads of government. This fact appears lost on some of the Brexiteers who defenestrated Theresa May this week.
Is there a prospect that a more conciliatory Tory leader might emerge? Not very likely, given the political views of the selectorate. When Theresa May tried to appease her Tory right-wingers with ‘red lines’ ruling out a Single Market and customs union, she pulled the rug from beneath any chance of parliamentary compromise. The likely poor performance of the Conservative and Labour parties in the European elections ought to be a wake-up call for both to change position. Instead I fear they will pander to the Nigel Farage point of view, a decision that will in future hurt jobs and livelihoods, potentially as soon as the end of 2019 if we do indeed crash out with ‘no deal’ under a different Prime Minister.
As the multitude of Conservative MPs jostle for a hearing in the contest for Conservative leader, we should all insist that the country’s best interests are not put on hold while we waste precious months on the internal wrangle in the Tory Party. I want to see future leaders competing for the attention of the public at large, not just for the affections of their hardline activists. I continue to believe British politics is in a sorry and broken state, and will keep trying to do what I can to fix it from the mainstream centre ground.
This period ahead of the European elections next Thursday was always going to be politically turbulent. But the decision by Tory MPs yesterday to force Theresa May to bring forward her departure as Prime Minister has pushed the country closer to the brink. This is because after Theresa May will undoubtedly come a Prime Minister even more right-wing and even more willing to take the country over the edge into a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The Government are planning to bring their ‘Withdrawal Bill’ into the Commons in the week of 3rd June, but it will clearly fail in the same way the PM’s three other ‘meaningful votes’ on her Brexit proposal failed. We are now hearing Ministers like Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay are saying the choice will then become between a crash-out ‘no-deal’ Brexit or revocation. In those circumstances it’s clear that we will be facing a national crisis. It is far preferable to take this whole issue back to the public, rather than leave it as a carve-up between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
The country is being left in limbo with a ‘extension’ on the Article 50 period until 31st October, which will largely be used as an internal navel-gazing exercise for a tiny number of Conservative Party members to select the new Prime Minister. My prediction is that our party system is going to break down even further still over this period, with Conservative and Labour MPs no longer able to follow leaderships chosen by ideological activists rather than the public at large.
I joined Change UK The Independent Group precisely because we need to completely break out of this failing political prism where ideological attachments – whether to Europhobia or statism – constantly overrule evidence and mainstream views. I will continue to judge these issues according to what is in the best interests of jobs and livelihoods in Nottingham East and appreciate all the feedback you have given in recent times.
I met with the new rail franchise provider for the Midlands Mainline train services – a Dutch company called ‘Abellio’ – who were confirmed to take on services for the next eight years by the Transport Minister this week.
They have made a number of commitments on train services and quality which I will try to hold them to account on. In particular I’m worried about the continued ‘slam door’ trains where passengers have to lean outside to open the door, because this makes the service inaccessible for many people with mobility difficulties.
Meanwhile, legal action has been launched by Stagecoach against the Department for Transport after the company was excluded from the bidding process for the East Midlands rail franchise due to a ‘non-compliant’ bid due to the Department’s concerns about its pension commitments.
According to Stagecoach, bidding parties for franchises have been asked to bear a full long-term funding risk. The Pensions Regulator has estimated that, to address the pensions shortfall, the UK rail industry needs an additional £5-6bn.
Stagecoach has also been barred from South Eastern’s and West Coast Partnership’s bidding process.
The works to clad and improve the high rise flats at Winwood Heights in Sherwood are due to complete in July – and the community facilities between the blocks are being converted into a new ‘extra care’ centre with some amazing communal areas for local residents to use.
I had a chance to look around the building site on Friday with Nottingham City Homes chief executive Nick Murphy who explained that the new low-rise block of 42 flats being built at a cost of £12.5million to the city council’s housing revenue account will give premium new space for local elderly residents to both live independently and access care and support in the new centre.
It will include communal areas – including a wonderful roof terrace with great views! (see picture below) – a hair dresser, TV rooms, rooms for visiting relatives to stay, and all the modern safety and environmental services you’d expect in a new build. It’s been difficult for the residents during the building works but the new and refurbished blocks look great and I hope the residents will enjoy the benefits of the new centre when it opens this summer.
The fate of the country’s future relationship with Europe has now become part of the internal psycho-drama of the Conservative Party, with Theresa May now under siege from angry Tory MPs trying to oust her, demanding her departure date and in turn the Prime Minister dangling the prospect of a second reading of a ‘Withdrawal & Implementation Bill’ potentially as early as the coming week in the Commons. Both Corbyn and May are in a holding pattern of supposed ‘talks’ about delivering Brexit at some indeterminate point, but with the Government now accepting that nothing could be implemented imminently we will be holding European elections on Thursday 23rd May.
Labour is (at best) facing both ways – still – and the Conservatives are being dragged towards a harder ‘no deal’ Brexit position as the media (and Tory activists themselves) revel in the revival of Farage. It is a depressing prospect for our country, and in the past three years none of the parties has risen to the challenge of taking on the Europhobic arguments head-on.
I’m proud to be playing my part in my new party Change UK – The Independent Group. We argue for a People’s Vote and a campaign to Remain in the European Union. With politics so fundamentally broken it’s time to shake the system up. There are so many long term issues crowded out by this Brexit limbo (including elderly social care, education & skills, climate change!) and many of which are better addressed together with our allies internationally than the pretence we can tackle them by pulling up the drawbridge. While these European elections are a litmus test rather than a panacea on the Brexit situation, it’s an important opportunity for the voice of the public to be heard.