We have the most dishonest and corrupt UK government in modern times. People are experiencing real hardship as a result of the economic crisis and the Chancellor’s failure to respond to it. The state cannot deliver public services from health to policing to an acceptable minimum standard. And in two weeks’ time we will have the chance to give a verdict on what we think of Boris Johnson and his cabal in the local elections.
My full and growing inbox shows people care about – and are angry about – all these issues but have space also to focus on the Russian war on Ukraine. Tragically, it is not the worst example of genocide and crimes against humanity in my lifetime . It is not the only major refugee crisis the world is currently experiencing. It is not the first war in Europe since 1945.
But it is horrifying in its inhuman devastation of a whole country and people. It is undiscriminating destruction of cities and murder of civilians by a nuclear-armed power led by a man unrestrained by either his own conscience or those around him.
It is a nightmare for the people of Ukraine and it shows to the rest of Europe and the world how fragile our security and thin our civilisation can feel.
The West’s response – trying to tread an almost invisible line between supporting Ukraine and not escalating the war beyond its borders – is the right response. The US, UK and many NATO countries have given practical as well as political support to the Ukrainian armed forces and population. Imagine if Trump were still US President, or if Le Pen became President of France this weekend.
The courage of the Ukrainians from their president to their troops to their citizens is inspiring. Common humanity means we must continue to give them the means to defend their country and to give refuge to those who have fled the fighting.
Ukrainian refugees have begun to arrive in Hammersmith, thanks to the generosity of local families and the efforts of both the council and voluntary organisations like West London Welcome. Well-drilled routines have been restarted as sadly this is only the latest group of people arriving here fleeing persecution, whether from Afghanistan, Syria or other war-torn countries.
However, families have faced weeks of delays stuck on the borders of Ukraine as the Home Office demands documents, form filling and checks to an absurd degree while blocking any requests for information.
This is a repeat of the Afghan crisis last summer. The Government is so geared up to saying no or saying nothing to asylum seekers and refugees that it cannot accommodate legitimate needs even in extreme crises.
And far from learning from their mistakes, they are doubling down with the latest attempt to punish refugees for their plight with cruel and calculating plans by the Home Secretary to export refugees to Rwanda – a country with a poor human rights record – and leave them there even when their claims of persecution are proved right, as most are.
While they partied
The sudden and premature announcement of the Rwanda scheme was to distract from the news last week that the Prime Minister had broken the law. Struggling to defend his actions on their merits, his supporters have used the war in Ukraine as a reason for him not to resign. Even more bizarrely some have said he should get a free pass because he did so well in dealing with Covid and Brexit.
Where to start? Johnson’s conduct is so poor – undermining the whole response to Covid and treating those who followed the rules at great cost with contempt – that any mitigation is insufficient. But what is his mitigation? The distraction of Partygate and the other sleaze and scandal of his premiership – not to mention the self-enrichment of his coterie – make him incapable of keeping on top of government in a time of crisis.
Brexit has been a disaster and our record on Covid is average internationally on some issues, like vaccination, and dreadful on others, like fatalities.
His whole tenure has been a disaster for the UK. Problems created, ignored or made worse. He will be no loss and his conduct and character mean he has to go.
As indeed do his whole Government. He has surrounded himself with second rate people whose overpromotion mean they only hold their office because of him and therefore will say or do anything to protect him (i.e. themselves).
Now he has made them defend his criminal conduct so they are all compromised. The Tory Party must look outside the current government for its next leader. And Johnson must go now – he is destroying not only politics but the rule of law and our constitution.
The most likely date for a general election is May or June 2024, which feels a long way away. But we have council elections across London and most of the UK in two weeks on 5 May. These are the only opportunity this year for millions of voters to give a verdict on the Government, and I expect it will be a damning one. I also think a lot of residents will remember the last time we had a Tory-run council in H&F: their attempts to demolish Charing Cross Hospital and whole estates of affordable homes to exploit the land values saw many traditional Conservatives change their votes.
But I hope first-time Labour voters feel they made the right decision for positive reasons and will vote Labour again. The council has an impressive record, especially so given it has lost half its funding through government cuts.
H&F has the third lowest council tax in England and is freezing its share of the tax this year, yet it still has some of the most generous policies for those most in need. It is the only council in the country to offer free homecare. This is down to good management of its finances.
There are growing problems with anti-social behaviour which the police are unable to deal with: the six-officer neighbourhood teams introduced under Labour disappeared under austerity and are still only one or two-strong. Across London 700 officers left the Met last month, only 500 joined and they take two years to train. So, the council has created a 72-strong Law Enforcement Team to support policing and tackle ASB.
The Government has refused to fund the reconstruction of Hammersmith Bridge. It is the council that has stabilised the Bridge so it can reopen to foot and cycle traffic at a fraction of the predicted cost and which is planning a quicker and cheaper rebuild to open it for all vehicles.
These are initiatives which only a progressive, confident and competent administration can implement. Having been MP for Hammersmith under both Tory and Labour control I know what a difference good local government makes.
If you are intending to vote, check you have received your polling card or postal vote. If not, contact Electoral Services on 020 8753 4466 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find where you vote has changed – the borough hasn’t changed its boundaries but the individual council wards within it have. You will get either two or three votes depending on the size of the ward you live in. I hope you will vote for the Labour candidates. I am really impressed by the quality of people selected to stand and the range in ages, backgrounds and experience.
The good news is that our local hospitals are performing better than most around the country on waiting times: whether for ambulance handover at A&E, being seen at A&E, consultant appointments or elective treatment. The bad news is these are still…bad.
Covid has not gone away. Around 150 beds have patients with Covid locally. 1500 people have waited over a year for planned treatment. Waits for emergency care are the longest on record with a growing number waiting more than 12 hours.
If you add to this the shortages in clinical staff and the exhaustion of the current staff who have been coping with the pandemic for over two years this is a chronic failure in our health service which is simply not being addressed. Satisfaction levels are very low, not because people doubt the ability and commitment of NHS staff but because there is a failure of leadership and of funding.
Yet, rather than address this, the Government is forcing through a Health Bill which will threaten the future of the NHS. In particular, it gives power to the Secretary of State to alter services without challenge. They say this is to close or intervene where services are failing, but had they had these powers when Charing Cross was under threat, we may never have had the time and opportunity to save it.
One consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that it has flushed out the apologists for Putin and their methods of infiltrating the UK. Oligarchs have bought their way into politics, used the courts to silence opponents, and even attack the law enforcement agencies investigating them. I have raised this numerous times in the Commons. The Government has moved from reluctance to act to saying the right things but doing very little. Their ill-advised acceptance of millions in Russia-linked money makes the Tory Party appear compromised.
The same is true on other human rights issues. It was only when forced by a debate in the Commons last month that the Foreign Office finally conceded UK judges should not be sitting in Hong Kong Courts, a year after Labour called for this. Saudi Arabia has embarked on an orgy of executions and continues to wage war in Yemen, but Johnson rewarded them with a visit.
Occupation continues in Palestine as it does in Crimea – but for decades rather than years. However, the UK Government refuses to recognise Palestine now nor to say war crimes there should be subject to the International Criminal Court. But MPs from all Parties challenged this in a debate to mark the eighth anniversary of Parliament’s historic vote to recognise Palestine. And by contrast Keir Starmer, at a reception for the Palestinian ambassador, promised both immediate recognition by a Labour government and to follow international law.
The Government continues its culture wars on everything from the Human Rights Act to Channel 4. Refugees are locked up for years without charge, public protest is criminalised. Even the courts themselves are under attack. I have been leading for Labour in opposing the Judicial Review and Courts Bill since last year, which seeks to limit the ability of citizens to challenge the state when it has acted unlawfully. But with time running out before the Parliamentary session ends next week we forced a concession that means judges will no longer have their hands tied when applying the new law. A small but significant victory.
In an action that shocked not just the local community, but the media and even other developers, the City Mission Church in College Park was evicted without a court order last month making the congregation, nursery, foodbank and many other services that operate from the site homeless.
I spoke about this in the Commons and there has been a lot of media coverage and support for the Church from the community, Brent and H&F councils and the Old Oak Development Corporation. But as I write the Church is still locked out. What makes this so outrageous is that the developer that owns the site, Fruition Properties, has got a court date in June to argue out its difference with the Church, and will also have to re-provide the community services as a condition of getting planning permission for the site. So, the pain and misery being caused are pointless as well as spiteful.
I am delighted to see Hammersmith Town Centre coming on apace with the development of the Town Hall campus (rescued by the Labour council from the terrible Tory scheme they inherited). Also the opening of IKEA in the now-renamed Livat Mall. But disappointed that HSBC are closing their Hammersmith Branch and that the Post Office have still not found a new location for their main Hammersmith office.
I hope this is not the sign of an evacuation of Hammersmith by the banks as happened at Shepherds Bush. It is true that footfall to branches has not recovered post-Covid as internet banking has risen but we still need banks and Hammersmith is a busy and growing commercial centre.
Residents who saw their homes flood with sewage last summer are still waiting for Thames Water to come up with a plan to prevent it happening again. With other west London MPs we were back debating this in the Commons again today. Some Hammersmith streets have flooded more than once and it is clear we need government to put pressure on the water companies and insurers to come up with real protection – here is a link to the debate and the Minister’s response.
Many parts of the constituency are seeing a rapid growth in investment and development: Old Oak, White City, Shepherds Bush Green, Olympia, Hammersmith Centre and shortly West Ken/Earl’s Court. Much of this is good and would be envied by my colleagues around the country. The test is how does it accommodate the existing population, to enhance not reduce our quality of life and to give opportunities to those who need them most.
Meanwhile local charities and the local authority are acting to help those affected by the cost of living crisis, as they did during lockdown. If you are struggling with the rises in energy and food prices or the hike in taxes this month, here are some of the places to go for help and advice.
Comings and goings
Askew Road Church celebrated 50 years of worship as a Methodist and United Reform place of worship and it was a joy to address the congregation and celebrate with them.
I was very pleased to greet Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall when they visited the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith on St Patrick’s Day. It is such a great venue, thanks to the local community, the council and the Irish government which saved and rebuilt the original centre when it was at risk. A happy morning watching the heir to the throne play drums, line dance and pour Guinness. I spoke later in the Commons about the Irish contribution to Hammersmith.
Another night to remember at Craven Cottage yesterday as Fulham secured promotion to the Premiership. We will be playing alongside Chelsea and Brentford next season. Just need QPR up there to get West London football in its rightful place.
And finally, a fond farewell to James Horada, whose family have run a business in Shepherds Bush Market for the past 100 years and who has chaired the market tenants’ association during their last turbulent 16 years. Following Boris Johnson (then Mayor) selling the market to developers, repeated attempts to close it and build on the land have been seen off by James, the traders and Goldhawk Road shopkeepers, including a public enquiry and judgment by the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Appeal. I was able to pay tribute to James and Peter Wheeler, his successor, in the House of Commons.