Energy Cost Crisis: Families under the cosh
10-years of the Conservative’s failed energy policy, dither and delay has created a price crisis that’s being felt by people in Rochdale. Make no mistake, the present price hike is the responsibility of this government which allowed short-term profit by energy companies to run ahead of sensible planning to guarantee energy supply at affordable prices.
We want to stop bills going up, and that’s why Labour revealed plans that would give families security by taking fully-funded measures to save most households around £200 or more, targeting extra support on top of that for the squeezed middle, pensioners and lowest earners.
But we need more than a short-term fix. Our plans to keep energy bills lower in future would see us accelerate home-grown renewables, retrofit 19 million homes to save households an average of £400 a year on their bills, and reform our broken energy system to stop energy companies playing fast and loose with the rules. It is entirely right that the energy producers which are benefitting from this crisis are asked to pay their fair share. A Labour government would reform our broken energy system so we deliver the green transition we need, energy security, and bills that are affordable.
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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
The Tories suffered a series of humiliating defeats in the House of Lords this week, as the Lords defeated government plans to allow the police to put more conditions on static protests, such as imposing a start and finish time, set noise limits, and apply these rules even to a demonstration by just one person. This means that if a single person was to hold a protest placard while sharing their views via a loudspeaker and refused to follow police directions about how they should conduct their protest, they could be fined up to £2,500. It would also become a crime to fail to follow restrictions the protesters ‘ought’ to have known about, even if they have not received a direct order from an officer. Human rights activists rightly described the Bill as a ‘dangerous power grab,’ as the police would have been able to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest, including passersby, people on the way to work and peaceful protesters. We shall see if the government will try to bring this back in the Commons.
Elections Bill: An assault on democracy
The Tories are pushing a Bill through Parliament that will see voters forced to show ID at polling stations from next year. Yet voter ID is a total waste of taxpayers’ money, set to cost millions of pounds at every election while the government can’t seem to find the money to give our nurses a pay rise or fund services to tackle actual crime. Voting is safe and secure in Britain. Voter personation (the type of fraud which voter ID tackles) is not an issue in the UK: In 2019, a year with a high turnout general election, the UK saw just one conviction for impersonation out of over 59 million votes. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning three times. It doesn’t matter how the government tries to dress it up, this law will make it harder for working class, older and Black, Asian and ethnic minority people to vote.
The law is also designed to hamper trade unions and NGOs from engaging and campaigning legitimately in our democracy. It will infringe on the rights of working people to organise politically, such as campaigning on pay or rights at work. Make no mistake, this is a deliberate attempt to silence the trade unions that have a historic relationship with Labour. It’s all about the Conservatives rigging democracy in their favour.
Tories aren’t working
How many parties were held by the Tories during the course of the Covid pandemic? We know, at the time of writing this, that at least 15 parties took place which flew in the face of Covid rules, and that’s not including the weekly “wine-time Fridays” that Number 10 staff had in their electronic calendars between 4-7pm every week. The Prime Minister has launched “Operation Save Big Dog” (a nickname that he alone almost certainly came up with), where Government Ministers foolish enough to defend the indefensible try their best to convince us that Boris Johnson is not in danger of losing his job. Except, we know the truth.
We know the Prime Minister did indeed attend a drinks party around the 20th of May which he is still arguing “could be said technically to fall within the guidance”. Jacob Rees-Mogg had the audacity to appear on Newsnight and accuse those who are rightly angry as merely “quibbling about … a very brief period of 25 minutes” where Boris Johnson attended. What he, and other Tories, don’t seem to grasp is that 25 minutes isn’t so brief given families of those who died alone would give their right arm for just one minute to say goodbye to their loved ones, one minute they were denied access to because they followed the rules.
Boris Johnson and his ardent supporters continue to take the British public for fools. At the time this party took place my own life was saved by doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff who often worked without PPE and were prepared to take that risk because of their sense of duty. I raised this in the House, and you can watch this here. People suffered loneliness and loss in unimaginably tough circumstances, and for the majority of the country our freedom was limited to a daily walk. The Prime Minister has lost his authority and is too distracted to fulfil the duties of his office. He is being called on to resign by many of his own Party, and he should do the right thing and go. This is the very least we deserve.
Whilst the Omicron variant seems certain now to be less aggressive in its impact, many people are being infected. More NHS staff are having to take time off to isolate at the same time as many more people are in need of care both at home and in hospital. Earlier this month, the Greater Manchester hospital system had to suspend routine hospital appointments and that is a massive blow to people who have already waited a long time for “routine” treatment. But “routine” treatment isn’t so routine if, like a friend of mine, you’ve waited years for a hip operation to let you walk freely and painlessly again. It is right our NHS prioritises during this crisis, but the NHS went into the Covid crisis underfunded and underprepared. We’re paying a real price for austerity.
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Lack of Lateral Flow Tests
Some pharmacies in Rochdale have had to turn people away due to a lack of availability of Lateral Flow Tests. It’s weeks now since the Omicron variant was making its way around the world, and we knew those weeks ago that Omicron would see many more people infected. Testing is the obvious way for people to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, and the lateral flow tests is the first line of defence. It is astonishing that the government did not anticipate this, and even more astonishing that people are finding they can’t get the kits when they go to the local chemists. That’s not the fault of our local chemists, the fault goes back to a government which has always reacted too late during this crisis.
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Rail Fares rise twice as fast as wages under Tories
Many families in Rochdale are already struggling to make ends meet, and will now be clobbered with an eye-watering rise in the cost of the commute. Rather than give them a helping hand, the Tories have piled on more misery. The worst part is that the communities who will feel the brunt of years of broken promises, empty words and no action are at the same time being squeezed by the Conservatives’ tax hikes and rising bills, as those with the broadest shoulders remain largely untouched.
The Conservatives don’t even seem to understand these pressures. Astonishingly, the rail minister claimed a brutal 3.8% fare hike would make rail travel “more attractive” because at least it wasn’t 4.8%. This government are utterly oblivious to the pain facing families this winter.
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Covid vaccines for 12–15-year olds
I was interviewed by That’s TV Manchester about the importance of using the Christmas holiday period to get a Covid vaccine for 12–15-year olds who want it, in time for the new term in January. Because of this government’s complacency, we lost the chance to protect children’s health and education as the omicron variant spreads. Local authorities, staff and parents in our community are doing their best under difficult circumstances, but the vaccine roll-out was slow and Covid-related school absences continue to rise.
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📺 Watch the interview
A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution revealed ultra-fine particulates breach waste incineration filters, attack vital organs and increase Covid risk. The report also identifies a strong correlation between areas of high air pollution and Covid-19 deaths. It’s crucial that we accelerate our ambitions for cleaner air in the fight against Covid. That’s why I joined cross-Party MPs & Peers in writing to Prime Minister Johnson, urging him to halt waste incineration growth and to tax incineration. Apart from the health impacts, for every tonne of plastic that is extracted from mixed waste instead of burning, about 4 tonnes of CO2 are saved. Climate change has disappeared from PM Johnson’s mind now that the COP26 photo op has gone. We need urgency and credible change.
Post Office Horizon Scandal
I joined cross-party MPs in writing to government Ministers with concerns around the Post Office Horizon Scandal compensation scheme, which exclusively excludes the 555 litigants from the civil proceedings from claiming. Their exclusion from the compensation scheme will be bound to have a direct and devastating impact, especially as they exposed the scandal against all odds and have been left with the legal bill for doing so. Everyone affected by this scandal have suffered deep distress and trauma, and have faced stigma through the years. They must receive the compensation that is commensurate with the suffering they have faced.
National Postal Workers Day
Before Christmas, I visited the Royal Mail Delivery Office to thank postal workers for the service they deliver as key workers, and for keeping our communities going throughout the pandemic. We ask a lot from our postal workers and you can’t guarantee it will be the most pleasant job, and given the Rochdale weather, it really is come rain, hail or shine. And they have to put up with the occasional dog that is more malicious than it should be allowed to be. But our posties get on with it and the mail gets through. Whilst the Christmas period saw postbags heavier than they usually were, we must offer our thanks for the hard work that the posties do week in, week out throughout the entire year. They really have kept our communities going through the pandemic, and they’ll continue to do so all throughout 2022.
I was sad to hear of Jack Dromey’s death. He was a good man who never forgot his roots which made him such a powerful voice in the trade union movement and in the Labour Party. My thoughts and prayers are with Harriet and her family.
Tribute to Peter Pike
I was also sad to learn of the death of my friend Peter Pike, a huge influence on me from entering the Commons together. Peter was the best local MP any town could have and Burnley, which he loved, was so lucky and so well represented. But Peter had the heart and pride of a true socialist believing in local democratic decision making (as a former Council leader) through to an internationalism that should be part of every Labour politician’s thinking. Labour has lost a great son. Rest in Peace, comrade.
📰 Read my tribute in full
Coronavirus Grant Schemes: Fraud
The Treasury has written off £4.3 billion of £5.8 billion that was stolen from its emergency Covid-19 schemes that was designed to help furloughed workers and provide support to businesses. Yet many bussinesses in Rochdale face closure because they are struggling. I asked Ministers what £4.3 billion would have done for those that did not qualify for any assistance from this Government. The Minister showed a degree of nervous embarrassment but very little by way of contrition.
📺 Watch here.
English Football League Governance
There are good and bad owners of football clubs, and the English Football League (EFL) has failed consistently to operate its duty on the fit and proper person test. Rochdale AFC knows this too well. The message the government must give to the EFL is that there is no confidence in its ability and its governance of football. That message has to go out, because in the meantime, while we wait for the fan-led review to be given legal force, we have to make sure there is real pressure on the EFL so we do not lose another great club.
📺 Watch here.
Government Lockdown Parties
Around the time of the Downing Street garden party, my life was saved by doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff who often worked without PPE and were prepared to take that risk because of their sense of duty. I doubt the Prime Minister’s behaviour would give confidence to those people who saved my life. They deserve better, but they are not getting it from this Tory government.
📺 Watch here.
Rise of Terrorism
The rise of terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa poses a strategic threat to the UK. The United States is downgrading their efforts, and only France is totally committed. I pressed Ministers for the UK to take action to bring our allies together on this issue.
📺 Watch here.
UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement
At some point, we will need to have a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement with the EU. That is in the interests of our agricultural community across the board, and in Northern Ireland in particular. I asked the government for an absolute guarantee that there is nothing in the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement or any other negotiations they are contemplating that would put that SPS agreement at risk.
📺 Watch here.
As I mentioned earlier, the Greater Manchester hospital system had to suspend routine hospital appointments and that is a massive blow to people who have already waited a long time for “routine” treatment. I pressed the Prime Minister for a strategy which will include resources being put in to make sure that we catch up in Greater Manchester. It’s right our National Health Service prioritises during this crisis, but the NHS went into the Covid crisis underfunded and underprepared. We’re paying a real price for austerity.
📺 Watch here.
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The North Wales economy is massively integrated with the economy of the North West. Although it is very slow in coming, we have been promised the Northern Powerhouse because of the poor infrastructure and very poor journey times across the North of England. I asked the government why Welsh Ministers have not demanded that North Wales be included in that Northern Powerhouse structure, and why the Conservatives are letting down North Wales so badly.
📺 Watch here.
‘The Johnson Protocol’
I organised a Westminster Hall debate on the matter of securing a veterinary agreement in the Northern Ireland Protocol, or the “Johnson Protocol” as it should be named. Just over two years ago, the Prime Minister when asked about form-filling as a result of the Johnson protocol, declared that: “If somebody asks you to do that, tell them to ring up the Prime Minister and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin… There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.” Two years have gone by, and this is not the case. This is outrageous. We simply needed to maintain the status quo until proper arrangements were made, and that is the Prime Minister’s failure.
📰 Read the debate in full.