This time next year we will either have just elected a new government or, more likely, be about to start a general election campaign to do so. There are all sorts of theories about how each of the parties will fare in that campaign and who will form the next government (I hope Keir Starmer), but there is a growing consensus about how we are to be governed in the interim.
According to the Times this week, Rishi Sunak ‘is being told to front a period of hyper-political government…That means a sharp focus on divisive problems where the Tories believe they enjoy public support — a hard line on Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, immigration and transgender rights — and a drum-beat of leaflets and adverts attacking Starmer personally.’
Similarly, the Guardian says ‘ministers simulate the business of serious administration but with a singular focus on trapping and unsettling the opposition’.
The five years of Coalition government gave us austerity, an unnecessary and ideological rolling back of the state, fully supported by over 50 Lib Dem MPs, which weakened our response to Covid, climate change and the cost-of-living crisis.
But the ensuing near decade of chaos has in some ways been worse. First Brexit, sold on a prospectus of lies; then the Nero-style reign of Boris Johnson, emboldened to think you can lie your way out of any tight corner; then Truss and the explosion of economic self-harm.
Sunak, unable to fill the job of Prime Minister or give new direction, has opted for culture wars politics. Given he will not have the support of any other party for a new coalition and is unlikely to win an overall majority, his brief is damage limitation. Sadly, that is damage maximisation for the rest of us.
It does matter if Sunak and Co squander the next year or so in seeing out their term with no investment in the future. The opportunity cost of doing nothing or creating more division and uncertainty is real.
Three of his five pledges were on the economy – which he thought was a safe bet as indicators improved post-Covid. But the UK – hamstrung by Brexit and Trussonomics – is performing badly.
A fourth was to get NHS waiting lists down. Last week they reached their highest level ever. The fifth and most notorious was to ‘stop the boats’. We know how that is going, but let’s look at the last two pledges in more detail.
NHS in distress
There’s nothing new about Conservative governments underinvesting in the NHS or favouring the private healthcare sector. But, as we know locally, this is on a different scale. Hospitals are falling down, private companies are destroying the model of care while themselves failing and people closely linked to the Tory Party have benefited from the Covid crisis.
In an earlier newsletter I wrote about Charing Cross, Hammersmith & St Mary’s Hospitals being pulled from the investment programme despite Imperial Healthcare Trust having the biggest repair backlog in England. I followed up with a question to Sunak at PMQs, a debate and questions to the Health Secretary.
The Government’s response says a lot about their integrity. They do not deny that the three Imperial hospitals have been removed from the list of those to be rebuilt by 2030, they simply make a false statement that the works have been confirmed. But if they are not in the spending programme, they have been unconfirmed.
Jeremy Hunt, Greg Hands, Matt Hancock all pretended Charing Cross was not under threat when they spent seven years trying to demolish it, then claimed they had saved it when public pressure – your pressure – forced them to back down. Now Hands is gaslighting us again.
If you support restoring the funds for rebuilding our local hospitals and want the Government to keep its promise, please sign the petition here.
Meanwhile Hancock’s future plan for GPs – the private firm Babylon – is about to go under having caused huge disruption and damage to the NHS. The respected journal Pulse commented this week: ‘it was highly controversial at the time to accept GP at Hand as an NHS-approved “practice”, in that it was allowed to enrol young and healthy Londoners and later Birmingham-based patients to its service while leaving traditional general practices to continue to shoulder the burden.’
The government thinks migrant bashing is a vote winner, but it was still a surprise to see them hold ‘small boats week’. The outcome was predictable: tragedy for those drowned, danger for those housed in unsafe accommodation and chaos at the Home Office.
This is the ground on which Sunak and Braverman choose to fight their culture wars. If nothing else it shows a lack of judgement. Two things are needed to resolve the crisis they have created. An agreement with France and the rest of the EU on processing applications – like the one we tore up – and fast processing of asylum claims.
That would make small boats and people smugglers redundant and remove the need to use hotels, army camps, barges and Rwanda.
Everything about the Government’s doomed projects costs money and human suffering. And their policy is built on false statements: about the need to apply for asylum in a first safe country, about their breaches of international law and about the status of asylum seekers in the 170,000 backlog. They are not liable for deportation unless and until they are found to have no claim. That will, on past experience, apply to about 25% of applicants who can be removed. The rest can become productive members of society as most do. Either way they need not be a burden on the public purse.
Refugees and asylum seekers are being treated as political pawns. Two years ago Afghan families were admitted to the UK, their lives being at risk for the help they gave our armed forces before the Taliban took power. Today many are still housed in hotel rooms and are often shunted round the country. Radio 5 Live gave me the opportunity to highlight one family whose daughter Yalda was stopped from taking her GCSEs until I raised the matter in Parliament.
There are thousands of such cases and I am grateful to refugee support groups like West London Welcome for their work. This month they brought a group of refugees to Westminster to meet me and for a tour of Parliament.
Every month, Ukrainian Open House at the Quaker Meeting House in Hammersmith offers help, advice, and a lot of cake, to Ukrainian refugees, while local resident, Dennis Charman, and Good Shepherd Primary School hosted Ukrainian children on a trip away from their daily experience living in a war zone.
Crime figures are falling for some offences, but there have been some serious cases recently. A young man was murdered on the Grand Union Canal near Scrubs Lane. A local resident died in police custody following arrest. Incidents of anti-social behaviour and street and vehicle crime often linked to drugs are common across Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith. I speak to the police almost every week and also liaise with the council, health service and supported housing charities. I have met Home Office officials and experts in the field to discuss knife crime. The H&F Law Enforcement Team is becoming an effective local organisation, deterring as well as tackling anti-social behaviour, and the police are using their legal powers to control crime hotspots.
But more is needed. Last month I joined other west London MPs to debate these issues in the Commons. It is taking too long to rebuild the Met after it lost so many officers during the austerity years, and also tackle its internal problems.
I recently visited Ed City, the major project being built on the eastern side of the White City Estate to provide a new school, youth centre and 100% affordable housing for local residents. At last significant numbers of affordable homes are being built in the borough thanks to the council and the Mayor of London. But these only begin to address the housing crisis locally for those in unfit, insecure, overcrowded or unaffordable homes.
Housing is always the biggest issue in my inbox, and the current crisis has been 40 years in the making. First the Thatcher governments stopped councils building – housing associations were supposed to take their place – even while sales went ahead. Then the Cameron government cut funding for new schemes altogether, and in Hammersmith, with the Tories in power locally, hundreds of good quality council homes were auctioned off.
Housing associations, admittedly short of funds, lost their way and started building market housing and selling off their stock quicker than it could be replaced. Recently Notting Hill Genesis has acquired new management, Peabody has merged with Catalyst and Shepherds Bush Housing has been taken over by Guinness. Whether these changes – which affect the the lives of tens of thousands of H&F residents – will prove successful remains to be seen but with work delayed on major regeneration sites like Earl’s Court and Old Oak for years, it will require an incoming government to tackle the rip-off housing market in London.
We marked the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell fire with another silent walk. 72 months and 72 deaths, few answers and little action. I spoke in the Grenfell debate in Parliament annoyed that it was three weeks after the anniversary. There are so many issues unresolved – around cladding and fire safety, inspection and management, manufacture and testing. Almost no work has been done to retrofit sprinkler systems, fit fire alarms or extend testing of material beyond those proven to have failed.
HMP Wormwood Scrubs
I visited the Scrubs recently and spoke about my experience in a Commons debate on prisons. There are dedicated officers and governors doing their best to run many of our prisons but Victorian institutions like the Scrubs warehouse addiction, mental health problems and recidivism. They should be pulled down, but they won’t be as the system is full and the new prisons being built are already filling up. I am particularly concerned with the level of suicide and self-harm and the delay by coroners’ courts to hold inquests which might identify the causes. I have raised the issue of preventing future deaths (which applies to fire safety as much as prison and custody deaths) in the Commons and am promised a meeting with the minister to discuss.
In June I raised the issue of water supply to Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, where many households have found themselves without running water for a number of days this year. Meanwhile, the remedial work to prevent the sewer flooding of two years ago is still in its early stages, and of course discharges of sewage into waterways is now a national scandal.
There are few clearer cases of negligence and self-interest than the way successive owners of Thames and other water companies have siphoned off money for executives and shareholders while failing to invest in their infrastructure. Again it will take government action (obviously not this one) to force them to do their job.
It isn’t just Ukraine that is suffering for trying to determine its own future. Popular and democratic movements across the world are being violently suppressed simply for asking for their rights, from Tunisia and Sudan to Myanmar and Xinjiang. I raised the case of Thailand in the Commons recently, where the military is blocking the elected parties from forming a government. I regularly raise human rights abuses in Iran following the execution of my constituent Alireza Akbari and the situation in Palestine where violent settlers are destroying property and lives with the encouragement of Israeli government ministers. Far from censuring such behaviour the UK Government is changing the law to prevent public bodies taking action against illegal settlements, for example by refusing to invest in or trade with them.
The Music Festival at Rivercourt Methodist Church was wonderful as was Love West Ken, organised by Josh Lees, priest in charge at St Mary’s, run by many volunteers and opened by me.
I attended Eid on the Scrubs with thousands of Muslims from across west London celebrating Eid Al-Adha. Also on the Scrubs -which is celebrating its Green Flag status – I was asked to judge the ‘Best Paw Shaker’ competition at the now annual dog show. Then the heavens opened.
I spoke to the AGM of the Iraqi association, helped London Citizens with their work empowering local communities, and went to some great parties from CONGA (College Park) in the north to Queens Club Gardens in the south.
Sadly neither College Park nor Queens Club Gardens will be in my patch after the next election (though I hope I’ll still get the party invites). As previously reported, the parliamentary boundary changes are going ahead and I lose the north and south of the Hammersmith seat and become the candidate for the new seat of Hammersmith and Chiswick. You can check which new seat you will be in here.
Perhaps predictably I am finding it easier to make the transition with Ruth Cadbury (current MP for Chiswick) and Rupa Huq (who will be the candidate for the two northern H&F wards), than with Greg Hands, who is rightly worried that adding West Ken and North End to the Chelsea & Fulham seat will see him lose to the excellent Ben Coleman.
For the avoidance of doubt, I remain the MP for all the current Hammersmith seat until the next General Election.
I’ve been asked by Read Easy H&F to advertise for volunteers. Read Easy support local people who want to improve their reading, organising free one-to-one coaching for local adults who want to learn to read and offering a second chance to people who struggle with reading.