At last, Theresa May is going, her deal is dead and the stalling-for-time talks with Labour are over. It’s like a sink being unblocked. One upshot of all this is that it makes Labour’s position clearer. There is no possibility of an acceptable deal (in my view there never was), so whatever May’s successor comes up with must now be put to a public vote.
It is not a secret that most Labour members and MPs have been pressing for the Party taking a more robust line on supporting a second vote on EU membership, with the objective of defeating any deal on offer and staying in the EU.
In the absence of this, some Labour voters thought they should lend their European Election vote to one of the smaller parties that are more brazenly pro-Remain in their campaigning, either to encourage Labour to follow suit or to be certain they are registering a vote for Remain on 23 May.
I think that is a wrong analysis but also a dangerous one which if acted upon could give the far right its biggest electoral win in post-war politics.
Firstly, Labour is an overwhelmingly Remain party, especially in London where most people reading this will be casting their vote.
Secondly, by squabbling over and fracturing the Remain vote the minor parties are giving the advantage to Farage’s vehicle, the Brexit Party.
And thirdly, painting Labour as equivocal about or even pro-Brexit will minimise the Remain share when the votes come to be counted.
Labour accepts the plethora of independent and government studies that show any version of Brexit leaves the country worse off. We have also, rightly in my view – and I voted against triggering Article 50 – said the Referendum result should be respected unless and until it is revised by another popular vote.
If in theory there could be a deal the Party would support, in practice that is not going to happen: both because the talks with the Tories have collapsed and because a majority of Labour MPs are resolved to vote against any deal that is not subject to a popular vote.
The reality is that it is Labour doing the heavy lifting on defeating Brexit. Had Mrs May and all but a handful of Tory MPs got their way we would have left the EU two months ago.
But over 200 Labour MPs have consistently and repeatedly voted for a second ballot and against leaving the EU with May’s deal. Yes, we have been joined by about 60 minor party MPs, but the strategy that has kept the hope of Remain alive came from Keir Starmer’s team not the depleted ranks of the Lib Dems or SNP who cannot get all their MPs to vote for a People’s Vote despite their self-righteousness on the subject.
Many voters I have spoken to mistakenly believe that they can vote for any Remain party with equal effect as these elections are run on a proportional system. That is not so however as set out in this explainer.
Parties getting a high share of the vote are rewarded with more seats than their percentage alone justifies. Farage, attracting votes from the implosion of UKIP and the Conservatives (who are below 10% in some polls) will be the main beneficiary of this. In London, the Brexit Party is on 20%, only 4% behind Labour. Votes slipping to other Remain parties may not translate into seats for them but will bolster the Brexit Party.
Voters should be moving to Labour from the minor parties, not the other way.
This week the European Movement held a hustings in Hammersmith. Labour was represented by the excellent Seb Dance MEP. Seb, like almost every Labour candidate in this election, MP, councillor, and party member is a passionate pro-European. Our Council was the first to back a People’s Vote.
Too much attention is given to the handful of pro-Brexit Labour MPs which gives a distorted picture of where the Party sits. As does the media obsession with the half dozen Tory supporters of a People’s Vote – if there were 60 rather than six of them we would be having that Vote by now.
Sending Labour MEPs to Brussels means progressive centre-left parties in the Socialists and Democrats group can be the biggest party, elected on a platform to end austerity and tackle climate change.
This is the only way to stop the populist right gaining the upper hand in the Parliament and our country being represented in Europe by Farage’s far right extreme nationalists.
Farage praises Putin but scorns the NHS, would relax gun controls but is unrelaxed when he hears a foreign language spoken on a train.
Despite the buffoonery, his is a well-funded and organised campaign. It can be stopped but only if everyone who fears and loathes what Farage represents uses their vote most effectively. And that is best achieved by a cross next to the Labour Party.
Theresa May’s deal now looks certain to be defeated for a fourth time if put to a vote in the first week of June. Unless, that is, it is made subject to a confirmatory vote – ie a referendum in which the question is do you want to go through with Brexit on May’s terms or would you rather stay in the EU?
Instead of making progress we have six weeks of talks that went nowhere, Euro Elections that no one had prepared for, half the Cabinet plotting to become the next Prime Minister and a series of minor and new parties all scrabbling for attention and survival. Truly it is not politics’ finest hour.
We now know Theresa May will be gone in June or July and we will have a new Prime Minister, almost certainly a hard Brexiter who will want to cut our close relationship with Europe, meaning no customs union, no single market and no freedom of movement.
That at least makes the choice simple. The Brexiters’ best argument seems to be ‘let’s just get on with it’, that is, break the deadlock by leaving and then sort out what happens next. But almost every piece of authoritative and impartial evidence in the last three years has shown the country will be worse off with any form of Brexit economically, politically and in terms of our future on the world stage. That may be why every poll now shows a significant advantage to Remain.
The Remain view, which I share, is that it is reasonable on a decision of this magnitude and with so much having come to light in the past three years to check that people still want to leave the EU once we know what the deal means.
Let’s hope, whoever is Prime Minister in three months’ time, we can bring finality to this issue which is crippling government and, combined with almost ten years of austerity, leaving our public services and those who rely on them in a parlous state
Forgive me if I remind you once again what an achievement it was to save Charing Cross Hospital from the wrecking ball. I do so for two reasons. Firstly, such a comprehensive U-turn on a longstanding and major government project is rare, and it was achieved by a sheer act of will by the tens of thousands of residents who value that great institution and were not prepared to see it destroyed.
Over a period of seven years, legal actions, a commission of inquiry, pressure from the Labour councils in H&F and Ealing and above all the Save our Hospitals Campaign built an irresistible case for keeping the hospital and its A&E open.
We were told the Hospital was not needed, that the replacement services would be an improvement, even that we were risking lives by opposing ‘progress’. There was no regret or apology in the Minister’s announcement that the closure plans were off, not even an acknowledgement that tens of millions of pounds had been wasted on a misguided political project.
So the second reason to remember is that the same incompetent and mischievous people are still running the NHS today and there are present and future battles still to be won.
Our local NHS made nearly £10 million of cuts last year but still had a deficit of £8 million. This year it has identified £11 million further cuts, including cutting GP and urgent care centre hours, but has a further £8 million to find. This in spite of this part of London having the worst GP to patient ratio in the country already.
Bad enough you might think, but the accumulated debt from the private Babylon GPatHand digital service promoted by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock is already £35 million on top of this – an impossible target.
Everyone I have spoken to in the NHS from clinicians to managers to patients wants this predatory organisation brought to heel.
Separately Imperial, who run Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s are also looking for savings of £50 million just to reach their target deficit.
Perhaps it is no surprise therefore that Save our Hospitals turned its celebration in Lyric Square into a protest and has segued into the newly-formed H&F Save our NHS or HAFSON. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another seven years to get the resources we need for a 21st century health service.
Is there any doubt that Hammersmith Bridge is both the most elegant of the Thames bridges and also the most temperamental? Perhaps the two are connected. A bit like Joseph Bazalgette’s London sewers currently being supplemented by the massive Thames Tunnel project, his Bridge needs a complete overhaul.
Easier said than done when it is a unique and listed cast iron structure built 130 years ago for horses and carts and abused for many decades by heavy car and bus traffic.
So much so that the majority of enquiries I have had since it closed for safety reasons following an inspection a month ago are asking for it to remain closed to motorised traffic. I see the appeal of that as an option, but the Bridge is an important part of the London road network, so it will need to be strengthened to at least its former capacity – cars and single decker buses – and possibly to take double decker and electric buses as well.
This is a complex job with every nut and bolt requiring bespoke manufacture and fitting. I am told by the engineer in charge of the project that H&F and TfL are working closely together, but my own attempt to get Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to also own the project met with a predictable rebuff this week. Given he has snaffled nearly £800 million a year from TFL’s budget this is irritating to say the least.
The feasibility study is complete and the design I am told will be ready shortly. They still need to tender the work and no one thinks it will be a quick job – they were already planning to replace the roadway and strengthen the supports but now they are dealing with major cracks in the iron girders supporting the whole south side of the bridge.
In the meantime there are changes to the bus routes that crossed the Bridge. Details here.
I will continue to chase progress and give regular reports. This is our major landmark and the symbol of the Borough. It has been bombed three times and is well into its third century. But unlike Boris’ garden bridge (the £43 million wasted not building that would have allowed a Rolls Royce job to be done on HB) Hammersmith Bridge is of use as well as ornament and the sooner it is restored as such the better.