What do we do now?
The short answer has to be: stop Brexit and change the Government, though not necessarily in that order.
It turned out Theresa May preferred a bad deal to no deal after all, so the Faragists who now dominate the Conservative Party removed her and put in her place a charlatan who will do and say anything in order to fulfil his childhood wish to be ‘world king’. These are not the best of times.
What is Boris Johnson going to do? I think he realises there is no alternative deal on offer to the May deal he has won power by sabotaging, so he is prepared to countenance the disaster of leaving with no deal. Just to be clear, no deal is not only an economic disaster, it is not really a thing at all.
Yes, in the short term we will have queues at ports, food and medicine shortages and industry haemorrhaging from the poorest parts of Britain, but after that we will still have to go and negotiate a trading relationship with the rest of the world from a position of weakness – starting with our biggest trading partner by far: the EU.
Even if Trump looked kindly upon us, and who thinks that will happen, the effect of a free trade deal with the US might add 0.2% to GDP compared with the up to 8% we lose by exiting the EU.
What is the Labour Party going to do? Everything possible to stop Johnson and his cabal, whether that means a referendum or a General Election. Labour policy has moved a huge distance since I was sacked from the frontbench for voting for a customs union two years ago. The policy is now to oppose any Brexit the Conservatives bring forward and if (with the help of the other opposition parties and the few but growing Tory rebels) we can avoid Brexit on 31 October, force a referendum in which we will back Remain.
If, on the other hand, the Government collapses because it can’t achieve Brexit, we will also pledge to hold a referendum if we win the resulting General Election – likely to be this autumn or at the latest next spring. We are almost certain to have an election by then anyway as Johnson is already down to a majority of only one or two and has alienated the remaining moderates in his own party.
The missing piece in the Labour plan is what, if we are in power, the referendum question would be? If Remain is one option is the other ‘no deal’, ‘May’s deal’ or a ‘soft Brexit’ where we stay in the customs union and single market and continue to follow EU rules while not being a member? The official answer to this is watch this space – or more correctly we will make policy at Conference in September and in drawing up the manifesto, which is all very democratic but in the current crisis will not do.
Any form of Brexit, however soft, damages the economy to some degree, and a soft Brexit makes us a rule taker without a say in how the rules are made. We must have the courage to be an all-out Remain party, because that is the right thing to do in the interests of the country, of the nearly five million affected EU citizens here and UK citizens there, and to reject the far-right clique that have captured the Government.
I still say we cannot ignore the 2016 referendum result. We must give the people the final say. If Labour wins the coming General Election we must immediately hold a referendum on a straight Leave/ Remain ticket and accept the result whatever it is – whether that means heaving a sigh of relief or making the best of a decision which, however damaging, will be the clear choice of a majority after nearly four years of debate.
What am I going to do? Representing a constituency in which over 20% of residents are EU27 citizens and almost 50% were born outside the UK, I will continue to vote for the liberal, plural, open society I thought we lived in until 2016. Listening to Rees-Mogg and Johnson speaking from the despatch box last Thursday I thought there had been a soft coup and the people running the country were, for the first time since universal suffrage, unfit to hold office and unrepresentative of the electorate. So whatever other MPs of any Party do, I will be voting to stop Brexit, put the decision back to the people and campaign tirelessly for Remain.
Not my (type of) PM
There aren’t many people on the Government (or Lib Dem) benches I warm to after a decade of austerity. The human misery I see every week in my surgeries and the disinvestment in our schools, public housing and the NHS are the consequences of ideology besting good government. But my differences are political not personal.
In Boris Johnson we have a different kind of leader, one for whom the personal is the political, and someone whose unfitness for office is as much driven by defects of character as policy. Indeed, his policy is whatever in that day or that moment will secure his own advantage.
Dishonest, dissembling and self-serving: his promise to fight the Third Runway became running away from a vote on it. Does he think a no deal Brexit ‘a very real prospect’ or ‘a million to one against’?
Profligate: the £40 million squandered on the garden bridge is soon to be dwarfed by £100 million for Brexit propaganda and £1 billion on more no deal preparation, and not forgetting racist and homophobic.
This is not a jovial, clownish character. This is someone should not be let near high office – and would not be were the Tories not so fearful of losing power or splitting their Party.
£76 million wasted on hospital closure scheme
Two years in planning, seven years as the published policy of the NHS in north-west London, Shaping a Healthier Future finally met its end in March and we celebrated the survival of Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals.
Then last week a leaked document published in the Guardian revealed that the cost of the aborted project, in management consultants’ fees alone, was £76 million. In reality it is much more if the opportunity cost of staff leaving or not joining, failure to maintain the buildings and the years of battling to save our NHS are added on.
I have written to the NHS chief executive to demand an Inquiry into this waste of public money that could have been spent on patient care, and also to the Public Accounts Committee that audits government spending.
Both the hospitals and the local NHS are under new management I am pleased to say, but we cannot simply turn the page and ignore this scandal, particularly as the rest of the health service locally is in an increasingly parlous state.
I have written elsewhere about the parasitic GP at Hand scheme that allows a private company, encouraged by the Health Secretary, to scoop up patients from around the country and bill them to H&F. So far at a cost of £35 million.
Across north-west London there is a deficit of over £300 million in NHS budgets, and the backlog of maintenance for Imperial’s three hospitals is estimated at double this. Real cuts are happening every week. The urgent care centre at Hammersmith Hospital, itself a lesser replacement for the A&E closed five years ago, will no longer be 24-hour, and the Pembridge hospice, our only local end of life care service, will close all its beds.
I have written to local residents about this crisis and while doing so I realised I hardly ever had to worry about the NHS until the Coalition Government and austerity arrived in 2010 – the same can be said for school funding and the hostile environment that extends to migrants and refugees, benefit claimants and disabled people.
However, when I raised the squandering of money on the hospital closure programme as my first question to the Prime Minister last Thursday I got the surprisingly frank admission that ‘the Shaping a Healthier Future programme for north-west London has not perhaps delivered the results that we wanted.’ Was this a rare burst of honesty from the PM? Perhaps, but I reflected that Shaping a Healthier Future happened on Jeremy Hunt’s watch.
We need safe streets to save lives
The tragic deaths of two young boys, Ayub Hassan and Yusuf Mohamed, in West Ken and Shepherds Bush this year have been devastating not only for the families but for our whole community. The humanity and courage of their mums in particular has left me moved and more determined to prevent further knife crimes. I am meeting regularly with the families, community leaders, police and council to try and tackle the causes of this appalling violence.
But it is impossible to avoid the truth that everything from youth services to education and policing has been cut to the bone. Taking the police alone, for the three west London boroughs in our current command unit (H&F, K&C and Westminster) the drop in officer numbers has been more than a third since 2010, from 2803 to 1804. This is not sustainable. I would like to believe that the new PM’s pledge to recruit 20,000 officers over three years will make the difference, but, leaving aside why we have spent ten years getting rid of over 20,000 of the most experienced personnel, does this mean additional staff or just replacing those who leave? If the latter, we will do no more than stand still.
How can any group make its voice heard above the Brexit chaos? Well one is doing so pretty effectively, locally and nationally: Extinction Rebellion. Last week hundreds of H&F residents turned up to support the council as it declared a Climate Emergency. Last month I met a huge Hammersmith delegation outside Parliament – part of the national demonstration The Time is Now.
Climate change deniers lampoon this movement as extremists. I met priests and nuns, young families, people in their teens and seventies, all worried about the selfish and short-term attitude governments like Trump’s and businesses like oil and gas are taking to the critical issue of global warming and climate change.
Compared with twenty years ago we are doing a lot to promote renewable energy, cut carbon emissions and control greenhouse gases. But because we waited so long what we are now doing is not enough. I do not believe the current government is signed up to the climate emergency, and I think all of us in Parliament are distracted by Brexit and the current political crisis. We need to be made to listen.
And there is nowhere better to start than by rejecting the Third Runway – or as it is now being called, given it will be as busy as Gatwick – the Second Airport at Heathrow. Don’t forget to reply to the consultation by 13 September.
In other news
I speak a lot in debates on a range of subjects, many suggested by constituents or with a local connection. In particular I cover justice and legal aid (today celebrating its 70th anniversary), human rights here and abroad, affordable housing and refugees. In the last few weeks I have raised Hammersmith Bridge, Grenfell, the loss of our local courts, and finally getting Whirlpool to recall their dangerous tumble dryers that caused the Shepherds Court fire.
It has been a busy summer in Hammersmith too, with great days out like Playstreets, CommUNITY Day and last Sunday’s Shout out for Happiness talent show in Hammersmith Park, organised by the great Danny Hibbert, one of many unsung heroes of our great society.
A highlight for me was visiting the section of the Tideway tunnel being built at Hammersmith Pumping Station to stop millions of tonnes of raw sewage being pumped into the Thames. Amazingly we have the three biggest civil engineering projects in Europe – Tideway, Crossrail and HS2 – all under construction in our tiny borough. I know this causes nuisance to neighbours and I regularly meet the contractors to keep them under control – I’m seeing HS2 on site tomorrow. But the scale and skill of these projects is awe-inspiring and they provide thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships.
Last week I said goodbye to a very old and dear friend. Jafar Khaled was a councillor in Shepherds Bush from 1986 to 2006, the exact same years I represented West Ken on H&F Council. In all that time, and indeed in the years since, I never heard him lose his temper, say a bad word about anyone or be anything but cheerful and positive.
He served the changing community of White City and Shepherds Bush diligently, one of very few Bengali councillors in this part of London when first elected. A modest man despite the achievements in his professional and political life, he continued to support the community up until his untimely death from cancer. I last spoke to him less than a month ago.
This has been a difficult newsletter to write because in all honesty we are in dangerous times with people of poor quality running the country, but in writing about Jafar I think of the best traditions of public service. Of quiet, humble and dedicated work for the greater good. And I retain some hope.
For those who are taking a break, and those who aren’t, have a restful summer.