I’m writing this as the UK hosts the G7 summit of world leaders. There couldn’t be a more important time for the UK to play its part on the international stage. But although reports from the summit are being presented in a positive light, in the past few weeks we’ve seen repeated examples of the Conservatives’ failure to rise to the challenge of global leadership.
The government’s actions, from watering down the global minimum tax rate proposed by Joe Biden and supported by Labour, to cutting the international aid budget, to blocking a deal on the temporary waiver of patents on vaccines so that we can boost supply to poorer countries while protecting UK trade and jobs, to trying to wriggle out of the Northern Ireland protocol which they themselves negotiated with the EU only a few short months ago, leave us weakened on the world stage. They speak louder than all the Prime Minister’s warm words about Global Britain.
Back home, here in Greater Manchester, we’re once again concerned by the rapid rise in the spread of covid. The so-called delta variant is proving to be highly infectious, and first in Bolton, and now in every other borough in GM, including Trafford, the number of cases is growing alarmingly. Mayor Andy Burnham has called on the government to provide support for GM’s public health teams and the NHS to put in place surge vaccination programmes and surge testing as a matter of urgency. We know these measures work – rates began to fall in Bolton within a few days of their being introduced there. In the meantime, I’m very pleased that we have been able to operate some pop-up vaccination centres in my constituency, and it’s so good to see people keen to receive the vaccine. We’re now waiting for the government to announce the plans for further relaxation of restrictions, scheduled for 21 June. But with covid cases rates rising across the country, I hope ministers will be careful.
My week has been dominated once again by my education brief, and has included some lovely visits to schools in the past few days, as well as a lot of time spent in debates in the chamber. Last week, I published Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan (you can read it at https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/15059_21-Childrens-Recovery-Plan.pdf), a package of proposals to support children to bounce back from the pandemic, including after-school activities like art and sport, more investment in the pupil premium to enable teachers give more attention to children who need extra help to make up lost learning, expert mental health staff available to every school, and investment in teacher training and development. I’m very proud that our plan has been warmly welcomed by heads, teachers, parents, and education experts – in contrast to the government’s own pathetic offer, which not only fails to come close to the scale of Labour’s ambition, but amounts to just one tenth of what their own expert adviser, Sir Kevan Collins, had recommended. He was so angry and dismayed that he resigned last Wednesday, condemning the government’s plans as ‘too small, too narrow and too slow’.
Children and young people are excited to be back with their friends and teachers, optimistic and ambitious about their future. Boris Johnson promised their education would be his priority, but they’ve been badly let down by the Conservatives. But when Labour says children are our top priority, we actually mean it.