This year’s Nottinghamshire Pride has already painted the city in rainbow colours and is set to be an entertaining and inclusive event for all to enjoy – kicking off with a march from outside Marks & Spencer in ListerGate from 10am tomorrow (Saturday 27th July).
It’s been great to see the flags, street rainbow painting and awnings adorning lampposts in the city (see pictured!) as a symbol on the whole community’s celebration of diversity and equality.
There will be lots of events this weekend with live entertainment, stalls and music especially in Hockley up to 6:30pm on Saturday. My thanks to all involved for all their efforts and the support they’ve received from local businesses and the city council.
It was magnificent to attend the performance of songs from ‘Les Miserables’ (pictured below!) at the Sherwood Open Voices concert in St Martin’s Church this morning – a special group for adults with learning difficulties, established by volunteers who coordinate ‘Music For Everyone’ in Nottingham.
The chorus of performers were supported by other singers from Music for Everyone’s ‘Daytime Voices’ group and it was great to have the wider community come together with Mencap Nottingham and other carer’s groups to make this a very special occasion.
Music is a great way to help boost social inclusion and give a real sense of purpose to those who might be otherwise isolated and it was especially good to hear the news of their recent success with a National Lottery grant!
Boris Johnson’s arrival as Prime Minister this week was hardly a surprise – yet there is a strong sense of unreality and disbelief permeating not just Westminster but also across the rest of the country. How on earth did we end up with such a right-wing administration, seemingly happy to embrace the catastrophe of a ‘no deal’ Brexit? Theresa May’s failure to get her withdrawal agreement through Parliament is partly to blame. Perhaps even more so the abject failure of HM Opposition to offer a viable, credible alternative.
By sacking more moderate Conservatives and replacing them with a set of Ministers forced to ‘take the pledge’ in favour of a no-deal Brexit, Boris Johnson has thrust an anti-European pro-deregulation agenda on the country. It is highly unlikely that he can secure a sustainable majority in the Commons, because if even just three or four Conservative MPs vote against his plans, he doesn’t have the votes. However, in our unwritten constitution it is the person who holds the executive keys to Downing Street who can wield phenomenal power – sometimes even in the face of objections from the House of Commons (see below re Jacob Rees-Mogg comments to me this week).
Priti Patel is a new Home Secretary who apparently supports the death penalty. Gavin Williamson is in charge of education even though it’s only a few months since he was sacked for allegedly leaking secrets from the national security council. Grant Shapps is in charge of Transport who is an individual who used to go by the pseudonym Michael Green! While it will be interesting to see how the more moderate Philip Hammond / David Gauke / Greg Clark’s now behave in Parliament, once out of office they are out of power.
I have many objections to the Boris Johnson agenda – especially on Brexit. But underlying this is an even more troubling tendency towards populism, in the same way Donald Trump has used in the States. He makes unrealistic sweeping promises which he knows cannot be fulfilled, but they are grand enough to hook in the support and often channel anger, division and resentment, sadly often directed at migrant communities. Selling snake-oil policies to dupe the public is the lowest form of politics, ultimately destined to dash the hopes and trust of those who fall for the sales pitch. We find this approach now in the UK on both the hard right and hard left, with ideology-driven politicians who promise big solutions at apparently no cost. Yet these are fake promises and most people in their hearts know it is unreal and undeliverable.
Unfortunately for those of us who urge people to follow evidence, look at both sides of an argument, consider affordability and to think about the long term and not just the short term, it is hard to counteract the allure of instant grand promises. My hope is that most people will see through the populism and ideologies of those on the fringes and recognise that the best approach lies in the centre ground, where we deliver a strong and well-regulated market economy that generates sufficient resources to pay for decent public services and protect the most vulnerable in society.
By a margin of 41 votes, MPs yesterday took necessary action to prevent the next Prime Minister from shutting the doors to the House of Commons and suspending our parliamentary democracy so he can ram through a no-deal Brexit on 31st October without any scrutiny from elected representatives.
It is utterly staggering that we had to take this precautionary step – but it was vital that we did it – a cross-party backbench initiative inserted into the Northern Ireland Bill. And thank goodness MPs defied the Government to put this insurance policy in place.
The vote coincided with a stark reminder from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility of just what a massive risk to our society a no-deal, no-transition Brexit would present. If we can’t stop the country falling off this cliff edge in October, the consequences are now very clear.
First, the OBR scenario predicts a £30billion per year cost to Exchequer from next year onwards as tax revenues fall. That’s less for our vital public services. And 12% of GDP added to national debt by 2023. The OBR say: “There is no war-chest or pot of money set aside” and that their scenario is “relatively benign…compared to some”!
They predict the value of the pound would fall by around 10% because of no-deal weaker competitiveness and inflation rises as a result. That we would see an immediate hike in tariff and non-tariff barriers hits UK exports. Pensions would be hit by adverse market reaction in equity prices. Wages & salaries could be 2.6% lower at the start of 2024.
A no-deal outcome would drag the UK into recession this year as business investment falls 8% and consumer spending is lower. Unemployment could rise to over 5%, adding £2bn in extra welfare costs.
All these risks. All these real, human consequences. And yet there are still Brexit ideologues who think it’s a price worth paying. I’m going to keep doing all I can to prevent this damaging Brexit and give the public a choice on the way ahead. And I am determined not to let the Government get away with shutting down our parliamentary democracy in the process.
In the past year I’ve had lots of cases from local residents getting in touch about welfare and immigration issues, but also a significant number relating to social housing allocations, repairs and maintenance. So it was useful today to have a chance to see for myself how Nottingham City Homes manage their programme of repairs when I visited the NCH Harvey Road Depot to talk with staff about the workload they undertake.
We discussed how queries about repairs come through to the team and are allocated to over 350 staff working on day to day repairs across the city in the over 25,000 properties that NCH manage.
I also had a chance to visit the housing allocations team to hear about how they let properties, minimise ‘voids’ and how housing need massively outstrips the supply of homes available – diminishing still by around 400 a year because of the right-to-buy.
They have their own training facility at the depot (pictured below with Delroy Beverley Director of Construction & Repairs) where not just their own workforce but also tenants can come and update maintenance and repair skills.
With a new report from international scientists suggesting that climate change will radically alter weather patterns in the next thirty years, it is essential that we start a national conversation about the steps we need to take to reduce carbon emissions to ‘net zero’ by at least 2050. The report from ETH Zurich’s Crowther lab suggests that by 2050 our weather could resemble that seen in North East Spain, with summers getting warmer in Europe by 3.5C and winters warmer by 4.7C, equivalent of shifting Nottingham south by about 1000 kilometres.
Earlier today I visited school pupils in year 4 at the Djanogly Northgate Academy primary school in New Basford, who have been learning about issues around climate change and deforestation (pictured below with their School Council who asked some amazing questions!). The engagement of young people in this issue is impressive but also vital; they are the generation who will have to reap the consequences of our inaction today.
We are going to have to completely rethink the way we build residential and commercial property, with different heating arrangements and of course a significant and modal shift in our transportation as well. Electricity generation has made some good progress moving away from fossil fuels towards renewables but there is still much further to go. Our land use and ‘disposable’ culture will also need to change.
Nottingham has had a reasonably good record in local initiatives in recent times, but there is still much more needed to do in boosting recycling and providing infrastructure for electric vehicles. I’ll be asking questions not just of the local authority but nationally as well – and I hope that in Parliament we can take steps to promote international change as well. The UK accounts for just 1% of carbon emissions, so we must try to influence others, especially in country’s like Brazil where the rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate. My greatest fear is that our withdrawal from the European Union – with 500million residents – is that we lose influence in pressing our own continent to act more thoroughly and more quickly.
This morning I met with representatives of ‘Midlands Connect’ the strategic transport body overseeing road and rail long term investment plans for the East & West Midlands (pictured below together with Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry).
We discussed the plans to better connect Nottingham with the wider rail network and specifically the importance of the HS2 phase 2 route from Birmingham to Leeds via Toton, a crucial interchange that could radically boost rail capacity and new connections for our city.
I also raised the need for a longer term approach to low carbon vehicles – specifically the need for more thought to go into electric vehicle charging capacity both in residential areas and on main routes, without which we will see a slower take-up of lower carbon emitting transportation.
While the Conservative leadership contest continues at a snail’s pace, Parliament is relatively quiet with very little legislation being considered. This is, of course, incredibly inappropriate given so many urgent priorities facing the country. But it’s a reflection of the fact that – in the British constitution – the ‘Government’ is essentially an institution built around the personal choices of the Prime Minister. With the current PM’s departure now imminent, everything grinds to a halt as we wait for the new Prime Minister and, effectively, the new Government.
We can get a sense of this new Government from some of the reports from the Conservative leadership hustings. There are some bizarre ideas floating around from Jeremy Hunt, who this week ridiculously implied that fox hunting could be made legal again. But the reality is that Boris Johnson is the favourite of the Conservative membership, and his agenda is even more right-wing. Take for example the preposterous priority of giving a tax cut to the wealthiest 10% of society which is wholly designed to appeal to the Tory old-guard selectorate. And worse of course is the “do or die” Brexit approach, almost relishing the prospect of crashing out into a no-deal WTO Brexit which the Treasury say could stunt our economic development in the East Midlands by nearly 10%.
With the new Prime Minister will come a reshuffle, a whole new set of Ministers, and many of the existing crop who will face the sack. Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Greg Clark all look likely to lose their Cabinet posts because they will refuse to toe the line on a no-deal Brexit – which is to their credit. Chancellor Philip Hammond is today reported to have been helping coordinate up to 30 Conservative MPs who believe that it would be wrong to crash out of the EU without a deal, and that they are prepared to use parliamentary time ahead of August to secure an ‘insurance’ date in October for legislation to prevent this. I hope this is the case – because so far too many MPs have found an excuse to avoid acting, just as sadly they passed up the opportunity to amend this week’s ‘Estimates’ to place conditions on the new Prime Minister in the autumn.
So we find ourselves in the unedifying position of waiting for Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister, and to see how the parliamentary arithmetic may change thereafter. Until that ‘next Government’ arrives, I doubt very much that the fundamentals of the political scene will alter.
When Britain secured a six month extension to the Brexit Article 50 deadline in April, European Union President Donald Tusk said “please do not waste this time”. Sadly that is exactly what is happening. The month long internal Conservative leadership contest is a competition between which of the candidates can present a more hardline stance, even shrugging off the very real dangers of a ‘no deal’ scenario.
Just yesterday the Government’s own data showed how foreign direct investment projects coming into the UK has fallen by 14 per cent in the past year, after a contraction in the previous year since the referendum. The blight and uncertainty of Brexit is already taking its toll on jobs and our economy.
What makes this tragedy event more frustrating is the absence-without-leave of the official Opposition, as Labour’s leadership continue to duck-and-weave any real effort to make the case for our European alliances and the crucial trading and social links that are at stake. The Shadow Cabinet keeps kicking the can down the road on both whether a People’s Vote should take place and whether Labour is in favour of remaining in the EU or not.
So rather than hang around any longer, I have been working with other backbench MPs such as Conservative Dominic Grieve who have spotted an opportunity for the Commons to assert the majority view that we shouldn’t crash out without parliamentary authority.
On Tuesday the Government have to get authorisation from MPs to raise revenue for the functioning of many Whitehall departments, in something known as the ‘Estimates’ financial process. That’s because – for all their talk of ignoring Parliament – in our system the legislature should outrank the executive branch. Dominic Grieve and Margaret Beckett have tabled an amendment which I have supported seeking to place a condition on this financial authorisation, which would force Ministers to come back to the Commons before Brexit to either approve a Withdrawal Agreement or approve (or disapprove) of a no-deal scenario. This is an important chance for MPs to actually take action now, rather than waste any more time and hope that ‘events’ will come along later.
I find it incredible that the Commons is going to twiddle its thumbs in July, go off for a recess in August, and come back only for two weeks in September and then swan off to Party conferences, at the height of this crisis! That’s why I’m looking for every single opportunity to put the question and place safeguards at this vital moment. I will keep trying my best!
It was a pleasure to go along to the ‘Lightest Night’ event organised in the grounds of St Mary’s Church yesterday (pictured below) on the summer solstice – in juxtaposition to the ‘Light Night’ events which have been such a success in Nottingham in recent years.
The music, entertainment and food was a real draw and it was lovely to meet so many people from across the community.