I started the week doing one of my favourite things as Labour’s shadow education secretary, visiting a school. I’d been invited to open the new 6th form building at St Thomas More school in Haringey, and meet students for a Q&A session. They asked such interesting questions, on subjects as varied as how to get more women in parliament to tackling racism and prejudice.
Which was a very good lead-in to the debate I led for Labour on Monday night, on the Higher Education Free Speech bill. Everyone is in favour of free speech, but this bill is dangerous – it would allow divisive and hateful speakers to insist on being allowed to speak on campus, and to sue a university or student union that refused to host them. We can imagine all sorts of people who might take advantage of this legislation, from anti-vaxxers to Holocaust deniers, but the government is determined to press ahead. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at this coming from a government that is passing laws to prevent public protests while refusing to back footballers who take the knee.
Later in the week, I participated in a couple of very interesting discussions about further education and skills. One was with colleagues from Greater Manchester, including mayor Andy Burnham and Trafford Council leader Andy Western – while they were in Manchester, I was participating by Zoom from Westminster. I also took part in a very interesting seminar on social mobility, on the same day the Prime Minister gave his speech about ‘levelling up’. I’m sorry to say I found his speech totally vacuous, and his promises will prove to be no more than empty words.
Health matters have also taken a lot of parliamentary time this week. Labour voted against proposals which will allow government ministers to make decisions on hospital reconfigurations without scrutiny. In the 11 years I’ve been the MP for Stretford and Urmston, we have gone through major reconfigurations locally which have always been controversial, and it is disgraceful to think they could happen without proper debate in future. And there continues to be a lot of discussion about the relaxation of covid restrictions next week. With infection rates rising, and more and more people being pinged by the app, removing all the legal protections at once is reckless, and I’m very glad Andy Burnham has decided that masks will continue to be required on public transport in Greater Manchester even after 19 July.
I finished the week as it started, visiting another school – I was delighted to meet staff and students at Egerton High School in Urmston. This school is doing amazing work, I saw some incredible examples of the students’ art, had a nosy round the fabulous new learning bus, met the student leadership team, and was even set on fire in the science class by student Mason! And I felt completely safe while he did so!