We all have our favourite low point of the Leave/Remain campaigns so far. These can range from the trivial, like Remain leaving the Gs off its adverts to look down with the kids, to the dishonest, like Leave doubling the amount the UK pays for EU membership and painting the false figures on the side of its bus.
Election campaigns are getting more hysterical (Cameron’s slurs on Sadiq Khan, whom he now calls a proud Brit and Muslim, being the most recent example), but are nothing compared with the behaviour in this Referendum.
And yet the decision we will make on 23 June is historic and will affect all our lives and those of the next generation.
I have been canvassing for Britain to remain part of the EU, and the good news is that the conversations on the doorstep are a lot more rational than those at rallies and public debates. The problem is people feel uninformed of the consequences of their vote but mistrustful of many who are advocating for it.
Anyway, here are my reasons for voting Remain.
Firstly, the British economy benefits enormously from our membership in the EU in the form of jobs, growth and investment – far outweighing our financial contribution.
Europe is our biggest trading partner with almost half of our exports going to EU countries – worth £227 billion last year to the UK Economy. This is a huge figure when compared to British exports to China worth £16 billion a year, or the USA worth £95 billion.
Independent research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research shows over three million British jobs are linked to our trade with Europe. If EU countries buy less of our goods and services, UK jobs are put at risk.
And while we could continue to trade with the EU if we vote to leave, we would still have to follow EU rules when we do business there but would forfeit our say in the making of those rules. I think it is better for Britain to have a seat at the table and a say in the rules.
We receive on average £26.5 billion of investment every year from other EU countries.
Major companies from all over the world choose to locate their headquarters and factories in the UK, providing thousands of jobs, because we are a gateway to the European Single Market. Leaving the EU risks businesses taking their investment and jobs elsewhere.
Secondly, being in the EU is good for British workers. It was Labour that made sure Britain’s EU membership gave us rights to minimum paid leave, for agency workers, paid maternity and paternity leave, equal pay, anti-discrimination laws and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership.
These rights are guaranteed at the EU level and I am concerned that leaving would allow this or future right-wing governments to cut back on employment, social and environmental protections. This would be a race to the bottom and erode rights we now take for granted.
Lastly, being in the EU is important for peace and security. The European Union has been successful in bringing the countries of Europe together and securing 70 years of peace. At a time of instability in Ukraine and the Middle East, it is important to be part of a group of nations committed to peace, security and democracy.
Forty years ago, at the time of the last Referendum, Spain, Portugal and Greece were emerging from decades of dictatorship, to be followed a decade later by Eastern Europe. The soft power of the EU has been a major factor in locking human rights and democracy into the politics of the continent.
Many of the problems Britain faces today have to be tackled internationally, including terrorism, climate change and cross-border crime. The European Arrest Warrant has been particularly useful in combating organised crime and human trafficking and in bringing criminals back to the UK to stand trial. It was used to extradite Hussein Osman, the failed bomber who tried to blow up a tube train in Shepherds Bush two weeks after the 7/7 attacks.
The European Union has many faults, but so does our own politics. The EU can lack accountability and transparency. It is bureaucratic and can be wasteful. It needs reform. But it brings together 28 independent and diverse countries with common values and principles. We should be proud of its achievements and work to remedy its faults. Leaving is not only a leap into the unknown, it is a counsel of despair.
Ps. If you are not yet registered to vote, you can do so here. You only have until 7 June.
Is our health service on life support?
At last I managed to reconvene the meeting between the west London MPs and the people who run the NHS in north-west London. We originally met almost a year ago, along with the health minister, to try and establish better relations after the General Election.
I’m afraid the promises of more dialogue and openness have not come to pass since, but we did at least get an update on the plans for our hospitals. Nine Labour MPs from Harrow, Hounslow, Ealing, Brent, Westminster and me from H&F met the senior managers responsible for the ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ project.
This is what we learnt.
The financial crisis is dire. All the west London hospital trusts are in huge debt – Imperial’s is running at over £50 million this year - as are most around the country. One solution is to use £1 billion of the £3.6 billion national capital budget this year and next to cover part of the deficit in day to day spending.
This is obviously no long-term solution but it also makes it less likely that there will be money for the major changes to west London hospitals. SaHF is asking the Government for between £800 million and £1 billion on its own – mainly for changes to the Charing Cross and St Mary’s sites.
You could see this as good news – it makes it less likely that the money will be there to demolish Charing Cross and build the new primary care services on the site. But the nightmare scenario – one of four options now being considered – is to leave the existing buildings but close or move the emergency and acute services anyway and try to run the reduced services from partly-mothballed unsuitable premises.
It is clearer by the day that the proposals are driven by the financial crisis in the health service. Last week Imperial was named as one of 16 Trusts to be offered emergency help with its financial management.
We will know more about the future of Charing Cross and the other hospitals when the ‘Implementation Business Case’ is published. But this has been pushed back to September at the earliest. This means we have not had an update on the plans for three and a half years – evidence in itself of how flaky they are, in my opinion.
Meanwhile, all the proposals for downsizing seem to go on in a vacuum, with the NHS unable to cope with current demand let alone the aging and growing population. A&E waiting times are the worst ever – only two thirds of people have been seen within four hours at Charing Cross and St Mary’s in the past few months. Ambulances are queuing outside hospitals again. Constituents report waiting rooms are full with patients standing and staff rushed off their feet. And yet the plans to cut 500 acute beds are still being implemented.
Prisons and Human Rights
Once again Justice issues were at the centre of the Queen’s Speech as Parliament opened for another year. The appalling violence, squalor and drug addiction that blights many UK prisons, including Wormwood Scrubs is at last getting some government attention, with a Bill announced that will try to improve conditions for staff and inmates alike. But, with a 40% cut in staff and a 30% increase in violence in recent years it will take more than warm words to turn things around.
Visiting the Koestler Centre for prisoner arts, based in the old governor’s house at the Scrubs, I saw fantastic artworks from over 100 prisons, and bought this ornate inlay table and chess set – it will go in the reception of my constituency office to entertain the people waiting for a surgery appointment.
For the second year the Tories announced the repeal of the Human Rights Act, but they are struggling both to get a majority for this outrageous act and to draft a law that doesn’t fall foul of our international obligations and both the Scottish Parliament and the Good Friday Agreement. This is why I think we must fight to keep the Act.
The Upper Room
The Upper Room, our local Shepherds Bush homeless charity, has been shortlisted by Jewson's for a £100,000 grant to build a whole new floor on their base at St Saviour’s Church. I am their Patron and can testify to the wonderful work they do helping disadvantaged people improve their lives. Jewson will award the grant to the charity whose bid receives the most votes on Facebook. Votes will be counted on the 19 June.
Visit the Jewson website for further details, and to vote to support the bid by the Upper Room.
Westfield Community Grants
As part of its expansion plans, Westfield London has recently launched a new community grants initiative. This is part of their efforts to ensure that the investment in the shopping centre is felt across the local area. The community grants scheme will support local organisations, who are looking for funding of up to £1,000 with up to 40 projects being selected over the next two years.
Applications by 17 June. Further information and a copy of the application form here.
Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre
The Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre is hosting a Gala Dinner on Friday, 11 November at the Hilton Hotel in Olympia to help raise funds for their excellent work with children with special needs and disabilities. More information here.
Lastly, you can still donate to the Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre. Our staff recently took part in the London Legal Walk and have so far raised nearly £3,000. If you don’t know what they do, read this article by housing lawyer Sue James. You can donate here.