While aware of the fact that anything I write on Brexit is likely to be out of date tomorrow, here is my take on what is now going on.
This week the Government suffered the largest defeat of any government ever, then won a vote of confidence, but only with the support of the DUP, who boasted of the money they had extracted for their ten votes while simultaneously threatening to bring the Government down if it deviated from a hard Brexit. And it was still only Wednesday.
In the Brexit debate I tried to make a positive case for re-assessing the EU and thinking again about leaving, as well as pointing out the real dangers for businesses and residents in Hammersmith of either May’s deal or no deal. In the no confidence debate I used local examples of how the Government is failing across every policy area from housing and health to legal aid and crime. The rest of this newsletter covers the same ground so feel free to opt for the video version instead.
Brexit chapter 94
After the immediate shock of the Referendum result had subsided, I think most Remainers – and probably quite a few Leavers – expected the Government to work out a way of leaving the EU that was as undisruptive and did as little long-term damage to the economy as possible. This we now know is some version of ‘Norway plus’, that is keeping us in the same trading arrangements while being outside the political set up.
Of course, we also know that this means we get all the rules of the EU with none of the influence. In any case it is too late to start negotiating a whole new deal now.
But instead the two competing versions of Brexit became a hard Brexit, taking us out of the single market, customs union and all the ties built up over 40 years of membership, and May’s attempt to appear to deliver this while not wrecking the economy quite so much.
The problem with hard Brexit is it not only produces chaos as we leave but over the long-term it damages growth to a debilitating extent. The problem with May’s ‘deal’ is it is a fantasy. You can’t please Rees-Mogg and his dreams of Empire and have an advantageous trading relationship with the EU.
I reprise these facts to counter the argument that Remainers have been arguing for a People’s Vote from the day after the Referendum. The reason this has grown more recently to be the third option – after no deal and May’s deal – is simply because they are both terrible self-inflicted wounds that we really shouldn’t be contemplating.
All a People’s Vote does is ask, in the light of a lot more knowledge of what Brexit means, whether on reflection the public are happy with their decision or want to think again. I have this option on my home insurance, I can’t see what is irresponsible (let alone undemocratic) in allowing it for the future prosperity of the country.
We didn’t need to be here. A better Prime Minister would have sought consensus on what was best – or least damaging – for the economy, our security and Britain’s place in the world. Theresa May probably does realise the damage Brexit will do – she never says that it will make us better off – but she has chosen trying to preserve the unity of her Party over her duty to the country, and for that if no other reason she should step down.
In the light of her latest statements and failure to recognise that her deal is dead, the urgent steps Parliament needs to take are to rule out no deal and to extend Article 50 to give us time to come up with a plan that can command a majority of MPs.
There are growing voices in favour of a People’s Vote but not yet a majority in Parliament. It may be that there will not be without a General Election. Either or both are needed to get us out of this log-jam and allow government to turn its attention to the very many other pressing problems that I deal with every day through my casework and inbox.
While we’re watching Brexit, this is going on
In the three years since the Referendum, austerity has begun to work its chaos and confusion in a way that was not obvious during the Coalition government whose policy it was (another reason Messrs Cameron and Osborne will not be fondly remembered by history).
Here are some of the examples I gave in my No Confidence debate speech:
Street homelessness has doubled in the last year in H&F.
According to St Mungo’s the reason for this are:
Universal Credit. The disastrous ‘reform’ of the benefits system that has led not only to H&F having the busiest food bank in London but to evictions when Housing Benefit is not paid.
‘No recourse to public funds’. The hostile environment to migrants that May herself created is leaving more and more people literally destitute with no income at all.
Tenancy takeover. Vulnerable tenants with no support are prey to drug dealers who move into their homes and either force them out or lead landlords and the police to get closure orders on the properties.
Crime is rising as Police numbers are cut
H&F is traditionally a low crime area but I am alarmed that more serious incidents are occurring because the prevention and intelligence that neighbourhood policing used to provide is no longer there in the same way.
On New Year’s Eve I visited a crime scene a few doors from my constituency office. Forty people had been arrested following an attempted murder outside Sainsbury’s in Fulham Palace Road. A number of weapons were found.
I raised this in the Commons not least because the ‘party’ where the alleged assailants were arrested was, the police told me, an Airbnb-style rental. This anti-social use of residential premises needs regulation (the Government deregulated short lets) and more policing is needed to target where it happens.
Help and advice.
Almost the entirety of my office support goes into giving help and advice to constituents (this may account for the poor quality of my speeches and articles as I have to do all these myself!). The reason is not hard to find. About half the people I see in surgery would have been eligible for free legal advice before the Conservatives destroyed civil Legal Aid. I have excellent caseworkers but there is no way we – or local community groups – can compensate for the loss of qualified legal advice. And yet it has never been more needed because of the cuts in other public services
The Charing Cross crisis has spread across the local NHS. I raised this recently with the new health secretary. The body that runs most non-hospital services -Hammersmith & Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group – is desperately trying to make £44 million in savings in the next year. Perversely, it has just started to consult on reducing the opening hours of the Urgent Care Centre at Hammersmith Hospital and those GPs who have extended opening hours. I say perversely as the expansion in these services was supposed to reduce pressure on A&Es and justify the closures at Charing Cross and Ealing.
In reality the best we could hope for from expanding GP hours was that some of the increasing demand for emergency services might have been diverted, but now we have the worst of both worlds. And despite stopgap expansion of the A&E at Charing Cross to cope with this winter’s demand, the policy is still to close it and demolish the hospital.
The campaign to save Charing Cross will continue until that policy is changed. Nothing could better sum up the disorder in the NHS than this lack of planning and vision – except perhaps the GP at Hand saga. H&F NHS has an £11 million risk on top of its deficit because a predatory private organisation has captured a local GP practice and is distorting patient lists across London. Maybe even the health secretary would intervene on this one. Maybe he would, expect he is a member of and advocate for GP at Hand himself.
We may not always love them but public buildings play important roles in local life. So I am glad to see a good new scheme for Hammersmith Town Hall that revives the listed 1930s building while adding much-needed affordable homes and a local cinema on the surrounding land. The Tory scheme for high-rise luxury flats that led to the demolition of the Odeon has fallen prey to the collapse in that market, as we hope has the Earl’s Court scheme that destroyed the exhibition centres.
Elsewhere the picture is not so good. The last court in H&F has closed despite being well-used and only 20 years old. The Government got a high price for it and the developer plans to put two large hotels on the site. But our nearest courts now – whether you have a civil claim or are a police officer giving evidence – will be an hour or more away.
When Shepherds Bush Post office moved into WH Smith in Westfield last year, we were promised it would remain a Crown Office – in other words the staff would still be post office employees. Guess what? Along with 73 other Crown Offices it is now losing that status. Staff pay and conditions will be half what they now are and staffing levels less than half at some times. Not surprisingly all the current staff, some with 30 years’ service, want to leave. I debated this in the commons last week.
I visited a local school this week that under the Government’s ‘fair funding’ formula stood to lose two thirds of its budget. It happens to provide excellent education and support for children and families in our most deprived local area. The council will mitigate this, but in doing so it will rob Peter to pay Paul. So called fair funding is about moving money from high need (mainly Labour) areas to lower need (mainly Tory) areas, which is bad enough. But it is being done to placate Tory MPs who themselves complained about the real terms cuts in school budgets for the first time in a generation. So, for us it is a double whammy.
I know every one of the policy areas I have highlighted is bad news, but it is the failure of Government to address the housing crisis that makes me most angry. In 2010 100% of funding for council and housing associations homes was cut. That has meant thousands of local children growing up in overcrowded and unfit conditions or being forced to move many miles away. It means people stay in ‘temporary’ accommodation for years, sometimes until their children grow up and they are no longer entitled to even be on the waiting list.
After the First and Second World Wars we didn’t treat people like this, despite near bankruptcy. On the contrary, we built millions of new homes, some of which are still excellent example of good quality affordable housing.
So when I am asked why I have no confidence in the present government, I can talk about their failure to deal the biggest post-war crisis, but the damage they continue to do to every aspect of our public services and my constituents’ daily lives means, Brexit apart, it is time for them to go.
But this is also going on
It is easy to get depressed by the current events. What balances this is the superb and often unremarked work that goes on in our community every day. It is invidious to single people and organisations out, but here are three examples I have seen over the past few weeks.
West London Welcome has completed its first year helping refugees in H&F. Read their inspiring story here.
The Upper Room which has been feeding, skilling and finding work for homeless people from St Saviour’s Church off Askew Road has many years of achievement but is about to grow – and it needs your help.
Adam Matan, who founded the Shepherds Bush-based Anti-Tribalism Movement nine years ago, was recognised in the New Year’s Honours List for the outstanding contribution he has made to the Somali community in Britain and internationally.