Voting local, thinking national
Since the lockdown ended I have been back knocking on doors around the constituency to find out what residents’ concerns are, but also to support Labour candidates standing in the council elections this Thursday, 5 May.
It makes a difference who runs important local services like care, education, environment and housing. But I also know people will use these elections to express their view of the Government’s record. Some want to do both which can lead to contradictory feelings about how to cast your vote, but not I think on this occasion.
We have a council that is both compassionate and efficient, with the third lowest council tax in the country, but alone in making no charge for homecare. They have the top ranking for tackling the climate emergency and the biggest ever local investment in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour – 72 law enforcement officers.
I used to lead the council in easier times and I can tell you that Stephen Cowan and his team have worked miracles to maintain and improve services when their budget has been cut in half by successive Tory governments.
They also had to clear up a terrible mess left by the eight years the Tories were in charge in H&F. Beating the Conservative plan to close Charing Cross Hospital and reversing the housing policies that saw the number of affordable homes actually fall due to sales and demolitions. Labour is now building hundreds of new council homes ever year.
But it is impossible to ignore what is happening nationally (though the Conservatives would like you to – their council candidates in many places are styling themselves ‘local Conservatives’).
Not least because the effect of government policies is being felt by everyone in H&F through the cost of living crisis. Labour has policies nationally and locally to tackle this. H&F is freezing its share of council tax, giving free breakfasts to all primary school children and cutting parking charges for visiting friends and families. Nationally, Labour would tax excess oil company profits to take up to £600 off fuel bills, abolish VAT on fuel and reverse the national insurance tax rise.
But in those doorstep conversations something else keeps coming up. Not the usual commerce of local or national politics but a real revulsion at the corruption and brutality at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government.
‘Partygate’, the rather flip term for setting draconian rules for others to follow then ignoring them in Downing Street, is just the tip of this iceberg.
Last week as the Parliamentary session ended the Government used its majority to push through six extreme laws despite the attempts of all opposition parties and the non-political members of the House of Lords to stop them
- The Elections Act will make it more difficult for poorer people to vote and gives the government power over the Electoral Commission that sets the rules for elections
- The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act gives the power to ban noisy protests
- The Health and Care Act gives the Secretary of State power to force through changes in services – like the closure of Charing Cross – but does nothing to solve the care crisis or the shortage in clinical staff
- The Nationalities and Borders Act allows the Home Secretary to take away someone’s nationality without informing them and legalises offshoring of refugees – like the barbaric scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda permanently
- The Judicial Review and Courts Bill asks the courts to limit the rights of citizens to challenge government decisions, even where it has acted unlawfully (this is the Bill I have been working on for the past six months. It did originally tell the courts to do this – a small victory)
- The Building Safety Bill fails adequately to protect residents of high-rise buildings from the risk of fire and allows leaseholders to be charged up to £15,000 for remedial works.
We know this government thinks the rules don’t apply to them – any rules. But over 1000 constituents have written to me this week just about these changes to the law. People are fed up with Boris Johnson and all the incompetent, corrupt people he has surrounded himself with. They are fed up with the Conservatives after 12 years that has seen austerity taken to extremes, the response to covid bungled, and the self-destruction of leaving the EU.
Although I hope you vote positively for your Labour councillors this Thursday, I won’t be disappointed if you also give your verdict on the worst Prime Minister and worst Government of my political lifetime.