On Saturday I’ll be marching to support a People’s Vote – but there are problems other than Brexit we are facing as a community.
Two weeks ago a seventeen year-old boy was stabbed to death on the North End Road in West Kensington. A fifteen year-old has been charged with his murder.
Last week another young man was killed less than a mile away in Munster Road, Fulham.
The deaths of Ayub Hassan and Nathaniel Armstrong are unusual as well as tragic events, but the growing trend of young men carrying and using knives is not. Nathaniel’s cousin, Alex Beresford a weather forecaster for ITV, had made a prescient and passionate plea to do more to tackle the causes of knife crime only a few days earlier.
Ayub lived and died in my constituency. For most of his short life he lived and went to school in White City. His family and the whole community are mourning and searching for answers. Meanwhile an inquiry into how he came to die is underway, as well of course as criminal proceedings.
Last Friday, when I was visiting Ayub’s family and talking to neighbours and community leaders, coincided with another horrific event on the other side of the world. The massacre of innocent families at prayer in two mosques in Christchurch is sickening and its repercussions reach us here. I visited local mosques in Shepherds Bush and spoke to the police to check additional security was in place.
The overwhelming response from people of all faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities has been one of love and solidarity, but we have also seen attacks on mosques, and individual Muslims in the UK.
These are issues I was engaged with before Ayub’s death, but that gives it additional urgency. There are ways of countering both the rise in violence and hate crime, but they are complex and do not provide instant results.
Schools, youth work, child mental health services as well as law enforcement all have roles to play. I believe from conversations with the police, the Mayor and council and with local people including those of school age that there is a will to stop this senseless violence.
I also think we have the expertise to do this and have discussed ways of tackling violent crime with judges, psychiatrists and trauma surgeons among others. What we are lacking are resources. The safety net that used to exist is full of holes. From neighbourhood policing to children’s services, from the NHS to youth projects, the effect of almost a decade of austerity and 50% cuts in many services is impossible to ignore.
I hope I do not have to meet any more grieving parents and that we can focus our full attention and resources on not just saving lives but giving young people alternatives to lives afflicted by crimes of violence.
Where Brexit brinkmanship has left us
On Saturday I will be joining hundreds of Hammersmith residents and hundreds of thousands of UK and EU citizens on the People’s March. Please join us. Alongside the petition to revoke Article 50, that has so far topped three million signatures in a couple of days, it will be an expression of the determination of the British people to sort out a problem that our Government has not just dodged but compounded over nearly three years.
The CBI and TUC are speaking as one to oppose the Prime Minister’s tactics. Parliament has decisively rejected her deal and crashing out with no deal. Yet these are the only options Theresa May will consider.
The question for MPs is can they, in the few days remaining, seize the power to decide from her and agree something less damaging for our economy, our place in the world and civil society here at home?
There are several options for this – perhaps too many, as each has its adherents and none a consensus. We could simply revoke Article 50 and unilaterally stop the clock. This would be audacious and some Leave voters would undoubtedly see it as Parliament disregarding the Referendum result. In theory we could revoke and then reconsider our position in Europe after a popular vote or General Election, but I think this is stretching credibility too far.
I will support revocation if it is the only alternative to no deal/May’s deal but I would prefer not to go down that route. It is not going to heal the country.
Any other option – a soft Brexit, a General Election or a People’s Vote – would require the EU to agree to a long extension of Article 50, perhaps to the end of the year. Given that anything which keeps us in the EU or economically aligned is good for the other 27 countries I think this is achievable provided we don’t run out of time.
A very soft Brexit (staying in the customs union and single market with freedom of movement as well as free trade in goods and services, solving the Irish border issue) would be the least economically damaging Leave option, though still worse for the economy than staying in. But it means we follow all EU rules with scarcely any say in what these are, an invidious position which has led some Leavers to say they would prefer Remain to this limbo. It would certainly not settle matters. Within a short time Leavers would be wanting to be properly out and Remainers properly in. Again, I will vote for it as an alternative to May’s deal/ no deal, but with no great enthusiasm.
I want a General Election for a hundred and one reasons that will be familiar to readers of this newsletter. I believe the current and Coalition Governments are two of the worst I have experienced in my lifetime both in their policies and their competence. I think we will have a General Election this year or next, and if we had one now I think it is possible that a majority of MPs standing on Remain platforms could get elected. So, this is one route that could see public and Parliament resolving Brexit together.
The problem is that it currently takes a two-thirds majority or a no confidence vote in the Government to dissolve Parliament and Tory MPs don’t look keen. Once May has gone a new Prime Minister may well try their luck in an Election or be forced to by continuing divisions, but that will take some months at least to come to fruition.
My favoured option is a public vote. I do not see why this need be divisive in the long term even if the campaign is fairly heated. Everyone will get a say and, in a crowded field of choices on the way ahead, it gives the largest number of people some skin in the game. Some Leavers say this is Remainer bad losers asking to spin the wheel again, but I don’t agree.
We voted to leave three years ago, but only now do we know what that means in practice. If the majority are happy to leave on those terms I promise to shut up about Europe and urge other Remainers to do the same.
By ‘leave on those terms’ I mean the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement May has agreed with the EU. The type of public vote that now seems to make most sense is a ballot to see if a majority of voters will support that Agreement. If they don’t they will know they get the status quo ie remaining in the EU.
Some of my colleagues have queried this because Parliament would be letting May’s deal go forward to a popular vote despite having rejected it by huge majorities twice. I see the force of that – May’s ‘deal’ is not a deal at all, it is a procedure for leaving the EU and has nothing binding to say about future relations. If passed by Parliament or a public vote I have no doubt she will be immediately ousted and a hard Brexiter Prime Minister will set to work unravelling our links with Europe.
But it is the only deal that is available despite three years of negotiations. It does mean leaving the EU and, for those who wish to affirm that, it delivers Brexit.
I won’t try and predict in detail what happens in the coming week, let alone in what order. Labour and the other opposition parties will try and amend May’s deal – if she puts it forward again and if the Speaker accept it is different from the last time she did so – to make it subject to a public vote. If we lose that we will try and vote her deal down, and will probably succeed in doing so.
Parliament will try to carve out enough time when we, not the Government, decide the business of the House of Commons and, if we succeed, use it for a series of votes on the various options in a search for consensus. And with or without a clear way forward we will try to pass legislation delaying the date of exit to prevent us crashing out next Friday, 29 March.
If we do extend time – with or without the Government’s help – it will only be until 12 April (the longer extension to 22 May only kicks in if the PM’s deal is approved). We will then have a maximum of two weeks to put forward an agreed way forward – a different deal, Election or public vote – to have any hope of the EU agreeing a longer extension
This is no one’s finest hour but the responsibility for this debacle lies overwhelmingly with May and those around her, and her decision to pander to the extremists in her own party rather than seek a solution a majority of MPs could support. A majority of her cabinet and even of her MPs I believe now accept this and they need to find the will to remove her before she does any more damage.
That is a matter for them. My job is to use my vote in what I believe is the best interests of my constituents and the wider country. And the past three years have convinced me more than ever that that means staying in the EU.
Life During Brexit
While it is true that Government is almost at a standstill thanks to Brexit, Parliament continues to function. If you don’t believe me have a look at this website that records everything each MP says from questions to long debates.
In the past few weeks I have debated (ie complained about) fire risk, both building standards post-Grenfell and product safety, Freedom of Information, Airbnb as a nuisance neighbour, human rights in the Middle East, housing conditions and homelessness to pick a selection.
Locally there is a lot going on too. Lots of meetings about Old Oak where HS2 and Crossrail are supposed to provide the infrastructure for huge housing and commercial development. Last week the Mayor’s Development Corporation was awarded £250 million to kick-start building work, but this is a difficult project that Boris over-egged when he was Mayor and is having a number of reality checks.
We took protests about post office closures and nursery school cuts to Downing Street and, on a happier note, QPR Community Trust run by the amazing Andy Evans were at the Commons twice, to celebrate their ten-year anniversary and to be awarded London Community Club of the Year.
Meanwhile the judicial review of the third runway has been running at the High Court. No judgment is expected until next month, but a strong showing from west London as the hearing opened followed a packed public meeting that brought Hammersmith, Chiswick and Acton residents and their MPs together in opposition to the diabolical scheme.
Health Service check up
The threat to Charing Cross Hospital has receded but not gone away. Although it remains Government policy to demolish the buildings and downgrade the services, the money to pay for this simply isn’t there. So ironically it is the NHS cash crisis that is saving Charing Cross, alongside of course local campaigning and the reality that demand is going up not down. A&E is actually being expanded, while figures for waiting times – which have missed their targets for years – are quietly dropped.
This ‘good’ news comes at a price. Across our local NHS swingeing cuts are being made. GP hours are being cut back and the Hammersmith Hospital urgent care centre is likely to close overnight. The hydrotherapy pool at Charing Cross may close, as may palliative care beds at the Pembridge.
I am meeting clinicians and managers regularly and they are doing their best to find savings in a way that protects services, but it is just not possible. And yet more than £10 million a year is being siphoned out of our local NHS by a private company, GP at Hand, that has the ear of the Secretary of State for Health. We have raised this in Parliament and I am seeking a full debate and inquiry by the Heath Select Committee.
Good news corner
Although a lot of what I report is gloomy, in practice I come across wonderful people doing selfless and essential work every week in the borough. So, I thought I would let a few local organisations promote themselves. Here are two for starters.
Maggie’s West London, Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham Palace Road W6
Maggie’s centres can be found all across the UK, offering free support to people living with cancer and their family and friends. You might have seen their iconic building in Hammersmith, in the grounds of Charing Cross Hospital, and you may have wondered what goes on within those vivid orange walls! This wonderful building was, in fact, the first Maggie’s centre outside of Scotland, designed by world-famous architect, Richard Rogers, and won a RIBA Stirling Prize for its design.
Step through the doors of this unique building and you are immediately enveloped by a sense of calm, far from the clinical sterility and endless noise of the neighbouring hospital. Once inside, you can access various forms of free support open to anyone living with, or caring for someone with, a cancer diagnosis. This support ranges from one-to-one counselling with a clinical psychologist, benefits advice, nutritional advice, practical support from cancer support specialist, yoga, tai chi, Nordic Walking, and so much more. As a charity, it costs nothing to visit and receive this help, but it does cost the organisation some £660,000 to keep the centre open each year.
If you would like to support the work of Maggie’s you can donate online by visiting www.maggiescentres.org/donate, or you can organise your own event, like a “Maggie’s Kitchen Table Day”, which is a great way to get family and friends involved. Or, most importantly, for cancer support simply drop in – no appointment is needed and you don’t need to call ahead.
The Upper Room, St Saviour’s Church, Cobbold Road, Shepherds Bush W12
The Upper Room runs three linked projects which focus on giving the socially disadvantaged the tools or skills they need to restore their dignity, reduce their risk of homelessness and help them to become economically independent. Our aim is ‘improving lives’.
UR4Meals provides evening meals and essential survival services to 60-80 homeless people per session. Last year, we served 23,656 meals and takeaways to over 500 people. 1,870 toiletries and 1,655 items of clothing/bedding were distributed.
Testimonial – Sam
I have used The Upper Room for well over 5 years and it has literally saved my life. When I was made homeless and had nowhere to go, TUR was there to offer me a warm healthy meal, a sleeping bag and clean clothes, even to help me wash my clothes. Being able to go there to address my housing situation, as well as help getting back to work, was incredibly helpful and the staff and volunteers were always respectful, knowledgeable and extremely kind. They are always smiling and happy and make you feel better about your situation. Without TUR I think I would still be on the streets. Instead I am now happy, healthy, with my own flat and a great job.
UR4Jobs is a multilingual employment support service which provides one-to-one support to help people become work ready. In 2017/18 UR4Jobs helped 197 people and placed 13 people in work.
UR4Driving is an award-winning project which teaches ex-offenders to drive in return for 80 hours of voluntary work. Since 2010, 190 ex-offenders have obtained a driving licence. Approximately half have found work, or entered into further education. A recent Evaluation showed that 70% of participants did not re-offend within a five-year period.
Nick Hardwick, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, says “The deal on offer here is brilliant – it says ‘we will help you and get you back on track but in return you have to help your community’. Instead of being a problem they are becoming part of the solution.”
To find out how you can support The Upper Room, please visit their website www.theupperroom.org.uk.