A friend reminded me on Thursday that I’d predicted this would be a quiet week in parliament. It has been anything but. In fact, it has been distressing, sad and unsettling. The resignation of eight Labour MPs, and three Conservative MPs, has shocked me, and many of my parliamentary colleagues.
I am devastated and ashamed that Luciana Berger has been driven out by antisemitic behaviour in my party. I can’t and won’t offer any excuse. Antisemitism has no place in the Labour party. It’s a cancer we must cut out.
As to the other resignations to join the new ‘Independents’ Group’, I’ve looked carefully at the statement of what they say they stand for. My Labour values are far bolder, far more ambitious, and represent far more of what I believe in about solidarity, equality and justice than the position of the new group. I’m proud of my party’s record in tackling poverty, and of our policies for a fairer world. So, to constituents who’ve been asking if I’ll be leaving Labour and joining the Independent Group, no, I won’t. My job as a Labour MP is to go on standing up for my constituents and speaking out for what I believe is right, even when sometimes that’s unpopular or uncomfortable. I think that’s what you elected me for, and it’s what I’ll continue to do.
So, this week for me has been about getting on with the job, speaking in debates in parliament, and asking questions of ministers. Greater Manchester MPs were pleased to have the chance to debate the Spatial Framework on Thursday afternoon. Here in Trafford, we are very pleased that Tory plans to bulld on the Flixton greenbelt have been reversed by Mayor Andy Burnham at the request of Trafford’s new Labour council. But concerns remain about aspects of the development planned for Carrington, and I’m also anxious to make sure that proposals for new housing and employment space are developed alongside the necessary transport and other infrastructure – not least to make sure our already overcrowded roads don’t become even worse.
I was proud to join a cross party group of MPs who’ve proposed a bill to allow asylum seekers to have the right to work if no decision has been taken on their application for refugee status after a period of 6 months. This would really help to integrate them into the community, support the wellbeing of often vulnerable people, and save the public purse on the cost of asylum support payments. I’m also supporting an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would have this effect.
On Wednesday, I took the opportunity to point out to the Home Secretary that stripping Shamima Begum of British citizenship, and refusing to allow her to return to the UK, means she will escape interrogation and possible prosecution by the UK authorities. I’d like to know exactly how this young London woman, who’d lived her whole life in the UK, became radicalised, and went on to condone the most unspeakable horrors committed by Da’esh, including making vile remarks about the Manchester Arena attack. I’m also disturbed that the Home Secretary may have acted illegally in stripping her of her citizenship, discrediting the rule of law that we fight so hard to defend against terrorists, and with the risk that the British government will have to spend many months and many thousands of pounds defending a potentially unlawful decision in the courts.
Despite all the grimness, there’s been some light relief in parliament this week too. On Wednesday afternoon, I was in Westminster Hall, speaking in a debate about women in prison. I compared the recall process, which leads to women circulating in and out of prison, sometimes numerous times, to the notorious legislation used against the suffragettes, known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. At which point, a mouse scuttled right across the chamber in front of me. I don’t know if it was the mention of ‘cat’ that alarmed it, but it seems even the parliamentary wildlife like to keep up with our debates.
Some really interesting meetings in the constituency this past week too, covering Brexit (you knew I’d mention it somewhere), which is now forcing food processing companies in the constituency to stockpile; with Kimberley from law firm Irwin Mitchell, about the Armed Forces Compensation scheme, which provides compensation payments to former service women and men who suffered injury during their service; and with the Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group, to discuss the provision of so-called Safe Surgeries. This initiative from Doctors of the World educates GP practices and patients about the right of everybody who’s here in this country to register for free primary healthcare. That’s good for doctors (they don’t have to waste time checking people’s eligibility for treatment), good for their patients, and makes good public health sense for us all.