Launching the campaign at Charing Cross
Launching the campaign at Charing Cross

Just when it looked like we were facing six more months of government by abdication, Rishi Sunak called a General Election. It took almost everyone by surprise – the last July Election was 1945, though that didn’t go badly.

Was this his attempt to steal a march? Had it always been his intention, as suggested by his techy ‘second half of the year’ hint.

Probably not, since no one seemed as surprised by the announcement as the Conservative Party, and even Rishi himself. Getting soaked, campaign gaffs  and bizarre policies plucked out of the air have been the narrative of the first week of campaigning. We have another five to go, but it already looks as though the PM’s heart is not in it and he just wants it all over with.

Who could blame him for wishing he were elsewhere? He has jettisoned legislation his government spent years promising, like renters’ rights and even his personal quest to phase out smoking.

Prisons are full, prisoners are released 10 weeks early, with the police encouraged not to arrest suspects lest there is nowhere to put them. The boats are still crossing the channel. The economy is mired in debt. Tax is at an all-time high. Nothing is working as it should.

This would be a formidable challenge for any Prime Minister. Rishi is not up to that job, and he carries not just his own legacy but that of his four predecessors: austerity, Brexit, dishonesty and financial chaos. One of these would be bad enough, the totality is unredeemable.

It is time for the Conservative Party to leave the stage and let someone else take on the role. Their own MPs acknowledge that. They are defecting, going on holiday or recommending a vote for another Party. In the middle of an election campaign.

None of this makes it easy for an incoming government. Labour and Keir Starmer still need, over the next five weeks, to persuade a broad swathe of voters that we are up to this considerable task. I think securing the confidence of the public is essential, because the years ahead will not be easy.

There are some positive and achievable policies already announced. More will come shortly with the manifesto. But they need to be framed with an analysis of the seriousness of the situation and carried out by people with a real sense of public service. That has been missing from the past decade, but I believe Starmer and his team are well placed to restore our public services as Labour did in 1945 and 1997.

Labour’s mission is to the needs of children struggling in schools, patients in hospitals, families queuing for foodbanks, and victims of crime and antisocial behaviour.

Beyond that it is creating a new economy based on efficiently-run railways and utilities, freed from the profit-taking and venality of their current owners. Of green energy that also creates jobs and lowers bills. Of restoring standards in public life, adhering to the rule of law and having a justice system that works.

Internationally it means defending democracy, humanity and international law, whether in Gaza, Ukraine or Sudan.

I don’t underestimate the task. But there is an urgency in the Party, as in the country, to get started on the process of restoring our values and our strengths as a nation. 

The Local Picture

Charing Cross Hospital
Charing Cross Hospital

I know from the responses I get that people who read this newsletter are spread across west London. We will all have to get used to a different political landscape whatever the election results as constituency boundaries have changed quite dramatically.

There are no MPs since Parliament was dissolved on 30 May and I have had to say goodbye to parts of the old Hammersmith seat as I am now the candidate for Hammersmith & Chiswick.

This means I will, if elected on 4 July, have the pleasure of representing Chiswick Homefields, Riverside and Gunnersbury wards. But I will lose Wormholt and College Park & Old Oak that I have represented since 2005 and also Fulham Reach and West Ken wards, the latter for which I was elected councillor in 1986. It is a wrench and while I will be spending the next five weeks doorstepping people in Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith and Chiswick, I will be keeping an eye of what happens elsewhere.

One of the hottest election battles in the country is being fought in Chelsea & Fulham, where Labour candidate Ben Coleman is taking on – and narrowly leading in the polls – ex-Tory Party Chairman Greg Hands.

Of course, I am not neutral in this battle but I have a particular interest in Ben winning. Not just because he will then be MP for West Ken and Fulham Reach. Or because he is a fine candidate with a 30-year track record of achievement for people in the area.

The issue that has dominated my time as MP in Hammersmith is our local NHS and in particular the future of Charing Cross Hospital. That won’t change as many Chiswick residents also regard CXH as their local hospital. But there have been some shocking recent developments that will impact on the upcoming election.

Hands and local Conservatives supported the plans to demolish the Hospital and sell the site, retaining less than 20% of the land for primary care and treatment services. The A&E and 90% of the beds would have been lost along with all specialist care. A 7-year battle by residents, the Save our Hospitals group and Labour saved Charing Cross. Greg Hands then announced that he had won the reprieve!

Charing Cross, along with Hammersmith and St Mary’s, Paddington, was placed in the ‘40 new hospitals’ programme with a price tag of £1 billion each to rebuild them to modern standard. Last year, as widely reported at the time, the Tories pulled the funding, which was reallocated to the hospitals at risk of collapse from defective concrete.

What adds insult to this injury is that Hands now claims that not only is money secured for the rebuild of CXH, while in fact it has been removed, but that he led the call for it.

I recount this history is not only because it shows how little Conservatives care about the NHS and how dishonest they can be in disguising this fact, but to sound a cautionary note. Treating voters like idiots has become a regrettable feature of some political discourse. This election is an opportunity to vote for candidates with honesty and integrity. Like Ben Coleman. 

The weeks ahead

See the Addison Singers Classical and Jazz Choirs at their joint concernt
See the Addison Singers Classical and Jazz Choirs at their joint concernt

A month ago Sadiq Khan was resoundingly re-elected as Mayor of London despite facing an unpleasant and misleading campaign. Sadiq has persisted with policies on youth crime, low fares, clean air and the cost of living in the face of open sabotage by central government. I was delighted that James Small-Edwards also won the vote to become the first ever Labour Assembly Member for Hammersmith.

In Parliament in the weeks before the election was called I spoke about assisted dying, the court system, prisons, discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers, the infected blood scandal and several times on the situation in Israel/Palestine.

In the constituency my inbox has never been so full of people struggling with poor housing, poverty, bad physical and mental health and street crime.

In the weeks to come we will hear what the parties have to say on all these issues. I will be writing about what I think are the most relevant solutions for us in west London, but please let me know what you think are the key issues at this election.

And if you aren’t registered, need a postal or proxy vote you can sort all that out here.

Meanwhile life goes on and it is almost summer. I have been asked to publicise some interesting upcoming events:

  • The Grove Neighbourhood Centre is hosting a summer sale this Saturday from 11am to 2pm. Details here.

  • The University of the Arts London is hosting drop in sessions at its Lime Grove site so residents can take a look at the plans to refurbish the campus. 

  • The Addison Singers Classical and Jazz Choirs will be hosting a joint concert at St Peter’s Church in Southfield Road on 29 June.

  • The Upper Room will be at this year’s Green Days at the Bedford Park Fesitval on 8-9 June.

I hope to see you there, or at one of the election hustings. Or ask me to your own event.

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