By more than nine to one Hammersmith constituents contacting me want to stop Brexit.
Two qualifications to that. I want to know the full range of views locally and so I am conducting my own pro-active survey. If you haven’t already taken it (it takes less than two minutes) please do so now and ask your friends, family and neighbours to as well. Here’s the link – only one go per email address.
It is also obvious that there is no agreement on what to do now. So, let me suggest the way forward.
I don’t think we need to trouble ourselves with appealing to the Prime Minister. I’ve written previously why I think he is unfit for the job, indeed any job that involves honesty and acting in the public interest. He should have resigned after the Supreme Court unanimously found he had acted unlawfully and outside his powers, but he doesn’t play by the rule of law. This is dangerous, but whether driven by bad character or calculation, our focus must be on defeating him.
We know he has done no work on building consensus here or with the EU, so he will either present a deal at least as damaging as Theresa May’s or, more likely, no deal later this month.
Parliament has to stay around until either of these options is off the table, which probably means no election called until after the extension to our membership of the EU has been agreed, which should happen by 19 October but might go to the wire on 31 October.
The next decision is: should what happens with Brexit be decided by an election or a referendum? There is a logic to the latter: an election fought on Brexit would side line other important issues. My inbox may be full of Brexit but my surgeries are about bad housing, education cuts and Universal Credit forcing people to foodbanks.
But I have never been able to see a majority for a referendum in the current Parliament. Even among the expelled Tories there are only a handful who prefer that to Theresa May’s deal.
Equally it is proving difficult to take over government through a vote of no confidence, which requires not only deposing Boris Johnson but agreeing on a new Prime Minister.
I suspect there will be an election either two months from now or early in the New Year and the winner(s) of that will decide quite swiftly what happens with Brexit.
The Tories will take us out immediately, which probably means no deal. The Lib Dems say they will revoke Article 50, though with the significant caveat that they will revert to their previous policy of a People’s Vote if they don’t win an overall majority (something that last happened in 1906). Labour says it wants a referendum on any deal – and that if we are in government that will be a soft Brexit deal: staying in the customs union and single market with full rights for EU citizens and alignment on policies from employment and the environment to security.
I think I have made the case for why the Tories’ policy is ruinous. On the economy alone it will subject us to short-term chaos and long-term relative decline. It will also be the start not the end of the real Brexit crisis as we try to negotiate new trading arrangements from scratch and from a position of weakness.
Revoke, even if it were a plausible option, is a perilous one. 52% of people voted Leave in 2016 and I think it is wrong to say to them that parliament knows better. In practical terms it would not put Brexit to bed any more than crashing out will put Remain to bed.
On the other hand, I think the vast majority of remainers and leavers will accept the outcome of a People’s Vote which allows them to decide between a credible leave option and sticking with the EU.
I am happy with Labour’s position. When I was sacked from the frontbench two years ago for voting against Party policy we had not signed up to the customs union or single market, let alone a second vote. Now we support a People’s Vote in all circumstances and if it comes before an election we have said we will support Remain.
I also agree that we should put up a soft Brexit deal in that referendum if we are in government by then. Cynics say we should make people choose between a hard Brexit/no deal and staying in the EU to concentrate minds. But that is irresponsible.
A soft Brexit would minimise the damage to the economy if there is a further vote for Leave, but it is still worse that staying in and it means we accept EU rules without any say on making them. I am convinced we can make the case for Remain against any Brexit option.
I would prefer Labour to say now we will support Remain in a vote after a general election – and I am confident that we will given 80-90% of Labour MPs and members take this view. But as far as Hammersmith residents are concerned, they will definitely get the final say if Labour is in government after the election and I and the whole of Hammersmith & Fulham Labour will be campaigning flat out for Remain.
This is important given the way voting patterns work here. Two years ago the votes broke: Labour 60%, Tory 30%, Lib Dem 5%, Greens 1%.
The Lib Dems did a lot better than this in the Euro elections earlier this year but as the recent by-election in Fulham showed they do not have enough support to win locally – Labour held the seat we won from the Tories five years ago. The danger is that the Lib Dems take enough remain votes from Labour to let in a no deal Tory.
Now you haven’t forgotten that survey, have you? www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/brexitopinion
The NHS: separating the facts from the spin
Never has a promise been so over-sold as the announcement from Conservative Party Conference on Sunday of money for new hospital building. Never mind the small print, the big print revealed that only six projects would get funding, another 34 would share £100 million ‘seed’ money to prepare business plans which might be approved to deliver in six to ten years’ time.
Imperial Healthcare Trust should receive around £9 million to plan improvements for Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s Hospitals. The best news about this, especially for Charing Cross, is that is further proof of the climbdown from the attempt to demolish it which we fought for seven years until the ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ project was abandoned in April.
But it is a wholly inadequate sum of money, dwarfed by the £76 million wasted on management consultants, the £170 million local NHS deficit (see below) and the huge £1.3 billion backlog of maintenance for Imperial.
I asked Imperial if they knew any more, but all they had received was a Conservative Party press release, which says a lot about what is motivating this, as I told the Health Minister.
I just have just had my quarterly catch up meetings with the local NHS and Imperial so am up to date on some of the critical issues I wrote about in my last newsletter.
Last month I reported the deficit for north-west London had more than doubled this year to £112m. However, this did not include the figures for hospital trusts. Adding these in takes the total to £173m. This is what has led to the advice to GPs not to refer patients to hospital if possible and then only to local hospitals and a single consultant. If this doesn’t work the next step I am told is longer waiting lists for elective surgery. All the good work done under the Labour governments after 1997 is being stripped away.
Hammersmith &Fulham NHS has identified £11 million of cuts as its contribution including overnight closure of the Hammersmith Hospital urgent care centre, but this is likely to be only the start. A fresh blow is the closure of the Parson’s Green walk-in centre from next April. I should declare an interest as I was born there (it used to be a maternity hospital).
The government is closing all walk-in centres, which I find ridiculous. Many H&F residents use the Parson’s Green centre, it is popular and has high standards of care. And because it is an instruction from on high there is not even a consultation on its future.
Better news on GP at Hand, the private offshore company that has billed the local NHS £35 million by sucking in over 50,000 patients to its digital service based in Fulham. Lobbying by local health campaigners, the BMA and Royal College of GPs led to a climbdown by NHS England which will now insist GP at Hand sets up local offices rather than running a national scheme from the Lillie Road.
This is still only a partial solution to a disruptive and predatory company that is too close to government to be judged impartially.
I have had regular meetings with Hammersmith & Fulham and Transport for London and can report the following. The decision has been taken to return the bridge to full operation meaning four single-decker buses can use it as any one time, including the new heavier electric buses. Unfortunately, that is going to take three years and cost £120 million. Work is beginning on strengthening the anchors at both ends straight away (finding cracks in these is what led to the emergency closure) but this is only the start. The towers, chains and deck all need replacing or major works. In order to do this safely and without restrictions a temporary footbridge is to be constructed just south of the existing bridge.
There are further changes to bus routes and an expansion to dial-a-ride during the closure. H&F and TfL have been working closely together. The borough owns the bridge but cannot afford to foot the bill. TfL has put up £25 million so far, but is not allowed to spend capital money on an asset it doesn’t own.
It is the Department for Transport that has let the side down. Having cut over £700 million from TfL’s budget it is now refusing to contribute a penny to restoring a strategic route in and out of London.
Some thriving Hammersmith institutions
Even if we are struggling with democracy and the rule of law at Westminster, civil society in Hammersmith is in rude health.
The Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) has been commemorating the start of the Second World War with an exceptional exhibition of works by exiled artists and by marking the opening of the Polish Memorial at the National Arboretum. I was privileged to be asked to speak on the contribution Poles made not only to victory over fascism but to British society in the past 70 years.
Excitement is mounting at the re-opening next month of Riverside Studios after five years of redevelopment. I had a preview tour and can say that the space for drama, film and TV is superb. Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush will once again have three brilliant theatres.