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.
The British political system was once held in high esteem worldwide. Yet the established parties are now so broken and Brexit is such a mess it is hard to see us regaining that reputation for good governance any time soon. The revelation that the UK’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was sacked in relation to the leaking of national security information in respect of Chinese involvement in British infrastructure projects typifies the degraded state of our politics.
It now appears that neither Conservatives nor Labour can be trusted on national security matters. Both have moved to the ideological fringes, one obsessed with Europhobia and the other obsessed with command-and-control statism while failing to tackle its serious antisemitism problem. What’s worse is the sense that on Brexit they are about to do a backroom stitch-up and deprive the public of a final say People’s Vote. When there is no decent Brexit on offer and every option will leave the country poorer, a confirmatory referendum is clearly the best way forward.
Having left Labour in February, I am more certain than ever that we have to find a way to reboot our politics and completely change the choices that the public have. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for an evidence-led rather than ideology-led politics, where we have a well regulated market economy generating the money we need for decent public services and to support a compassionate society properly protecting the vulnerable. I will continue to try my best to build this – hence the creation of Change UK. Do please get in touch if you share this assessment and, like me, want to stand up now and play a part in doing something about it.
On Friday I had a chance to visit the Nottinghamshire training facility for the apprentice engineers who work for the National Grid.
We take our electricity supply so much for granted, but it is a highly skilled industry and I had the chance to look around some of their very extensive training provision (pictured below in the non-live mock-up sub-station area). It was particularly interesting to hear how electricity demand is due to double as we shift our transport energy sources away from petrol and diesel and onto the mains power grid, which will involve significant changes in the way we consume and plug into the national grid.
The visit taught me how there are some significant practical infrastructure consequences to the much-needed environmental shift away from carbon emissions.
With Parliament returning after the Easter break this week it has become clear that the urgency to sort out the Brexit limbo into which the country has stagnated has also gone. Both the Prime Minister and Labour leader are going through the motions of pretending to ‘talk’, because neither particularly want to face up to the real choice that needs to be made.
In truth, we can all now see that the Brexit as promised in that referendum three years ago is undeliverable. It’s impossible to generate extra resources for the NHS, because under all forms of Brexit the economy will be poorer and tax revenues will fall, not rise. We also now know that our trading prospects and business success will be impeded by a further three (four or five?) years of tortuous negotiations on a ‘future relationship’ deal, even if the divorce terms are settled. Add to this the impossibility of a frictionless open border in Ireland if we are outside the single market but the Republic isn’t, and it’s quite clear that this whole project is in real need of reappraisal.
I can see this just drifting along again until the end of October, like an ‘essay crisis’ government deferring the work needed until the last minute. Meanwhile European elections look set to be held on 23rd May, and I’ve been working hard as the campaign coordinator for Britain’s newest political party – Change UK The Independent Group. We believe there should be a People’s Vote with the chance to Remain in the EU. A very simple proposition and the best way out of the Brexit mess.
It pains me to see the Labour Party still prevaricating on Brexit, and we’ve come to expect ever more Europhobia from the Tories. I’m sure Theresa May would like to call off the European elections if she can, because the Tories are not polling particularly well. But at least these elections offer an opportunity for the British people to express their view – and I hope that people will do just that.
It was the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Belfast Agreement this week.
Twenty-one years of a fragile and hard-won process of peace and reconciliation. A settlement now sadly taken for granted by Brexiteer politicians pretending they can drag the UK out of the EU and magically keep all the benefits of an open Irish border. The risks to the Good Friday Agreement were overlooked in the 2016 referendum. As were the risks to frictionless free trade, to just-in-time manufacturing, to services maintained across the continent.
But now we know more. And we know – because the Government themselves have told us – that every form of Brexit will leave the country poorer.
Yet this week saw the British Government continue to take risks with jobs and livelihoods. After nearly three wasted years, Theresa May continues to prioritise the hardliners in the Conservative Party – without accepting that their ideological fanaticism can never be satisfied.
The Opposition are also preparing to facilitate their own form of Brexit. If you have a strong sense of foreboding that Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister are about to carve up a deal for their own mutual party advantage, then you’re right to be worried.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The EU Council decision on Wednesday night to extend the Article 50 deadline to 31st October means we can, if we want, take this window of opportunity to conduct a People’s Vote and let the British people bring this whole debacle to an end far sooner than the many years of drawn-out negotiations needed to strike a long-term trade relationship with Britain outside the EU.
That’s why I’m determined to fight for Britain’s voice in Europe – and if the European elections do take place, we must send this message loud and clear: we want a People’s Vote to give the public an option to ‘remain’ so we can champion the reforms needed in the EU.
Our country should be a rule maker, not a rule taker. Brexit shouldn’t proceed without the British people giving their consent. While Labour and the Tories prioritise their internal party management issues, it’s about time the best interests of the country came first. If we act now, we can all make the difference – and change politics so that those on the ideological fringe no longer call the shots.
I was very impressed with the performance statistics and plans set out by the team at Nottingham City Transport when I visited earlier today – they operate fifty routes across the city providing two thirds of our public transport journeys and have an impressive 95% customer satisfaction score.
Nottingham has one of the highest bus usage levels per head of population of anywhere in the country outside London, and they’re winning awards including ‘Driver of the Year’ on the 89 purple route via Mansfield Road!
I visited to see the roll-out of the new bio-gas bus fleet on the Brown line up to Bulwell (pictured below), a programme that will help tackle poor air quality and reduce carbon emissions as well. They are taking on 67 new gas buses of the highest efficiency in 2019, and it is a credit to this 82% council-owned company that they are prioritising environmental improvements so much.
So much has happened in the House of Commons this week:
- On Monday we voted on a second round of ‘indicative Brexit’ votes. Those proposing different forms of Brexit continued to resist agreeing to a People’s Vote. But despite this, the concept of a ‘confirmatory public vote’ achieved the highest number of votes, followed by a customs union-style Brexit. Because the evidence suggests that all forms of Brexit will leave the country poorer, I am not prepared to support anything as damaging without at the very least giving the British people a final say on whether to proceed. A People’s Vote nearly fell off the list of options when Labour MPs voted for a Customs Union Brexit. In our Independent Group we voted against it primarily because it will not on its own deliver the frictionless trade needed to avoid a hard Irish border and a ruinous hard Brexit. The Lib Dems split on the matter but the SNP and Green MP saw the trap that had been laid and joined us in the ‘no’ lobby. If we hadn’t, the Customs Union option would have won a majority and the People’s Vote campaign would have fallen to the way side. In the event PV topped the poll and we remain the only way out of the Brexit crisis.
- On Tuesday the Prime Minister’s eight hour long Cabinet meeting resulted in her asking Jeremy Corbyn in to hatch a joint plan on proceeding with Brexit. This is concerning because Corbyn’s priorities didn’t include a People’s Vote, although other Labour MPs have asserted that this must be the case. The main parties carving up a deal between them would be concerning if they both agreed to supply votes for a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement without any guarantee of a public vote with a remain option in exchange. Tonight the talks seem to have halted – bizarrely with the Government saying they are reluctant to make changes to the non-binding ‘Political Declaration’, when surely that was the whole point of No10’s talks! Difficult to tell at this stage whether this is a mutually agreed ‘pause’ or not.
- On Wednesday MPs took control of the Commons order paper to secure time for debate on a ‘Business of the House Motion’ proposing that the ‘Article 50 extension’ Bill – as a safeguard against a crash-out no-deal Brexit – could be passed in that sitting. Hilary Benn’s amendment to have another round of indicative votes resulted in a 310-310 draw, with the Speaker using his casting vote for the first time in decades, which meant that amendment fell. This is a pity because I believe the next time we run indicative votes we can find a compromise ‘composite’ between, for instance, the Customs Union-plus-Confirmatory Public vote, for which a majority should be attainable. Fortunately the main motion did pass – and we proceeded with passing the extension Bill by the slimmest of margins: 312 votes to 311 near midnight that evening.
- Working with other MPs from across parties I have been drafting different amendments, looking ahead at the protections necessary to prevent the UK falling over the cliff edge, and pressing Ministers to consider a longer extension as necessary so we can find a way through. The news today that next week’s EU Summit might be ready to grant a flexible extension suggests it is possible European Parliamentary elections could proceed on 23rd May. I hope that they do – because as long as we are in the room in Europe we ought to have Britain’s voice heard around the table, still deciding the key issues affecting our continent.
Oh, and this week we also had the Commons chamber shut down early yesterday because of a major water leak and a series of naked protestors in the public gallery. Which summed up what extraordinary times these are (and, to be fair to the protestors, I share their frustration that massive issues like the climate change crisis have been pushed off the agenda by this Brexit debacle!).