I am sure I don’t have to draw your attention to the shameful events in parliament this week. Conservative MP Owen Paterson had been found guilty by the committee on standards (parliament’s conduct committee) of having lobbied ministers on behalf of companies that had paid him consultancy fees amounting to £100,000.
This isn’t just contrary to parliamentary rules. Many members of the public will find it morally reprehensible – I certainly do. But astonishingly, on Wednesday, Boris Johnson instructed Conservative MPs to vote to sideline the committee’s decision, and to set up a phony committee instead to investigate the whole process, letting Owen Paterson off the hook.
I’m glad that, so great was the outcry, by Thursday the proposed new committee had been abandoned, and Owen Paterson had resigned. But what disgraceful conduct by the government – if you don’t like the verdict against one of your mates, you just change the rules.
Parliament began the week with more routine business, with two final days of debate on last week’s budget. I was very pleased to open the debate on Tuesday on behalf of Labour, on the theme of funding for our public services. Despite the chancellor’s boasts, the situation is dire. Schools will only return to the level of funding they received in 2010 in real terms in 2025. Youth services, which have already been stripped back to the bone, suffered their biggest one-off cut in a decade, leaving a £470 million hole in the youth budget. And despite the funding announcements for the NHS, life expectancy among the poorest has fallen and health inequalities have widened – and after the 18 months we’ve just been through, there was no new money for public health, which has suffered a 24% real terms cut in the last five years.
But the chancellor did manage to hit people with a £3000 increase in their tax bills – at the worst possible time, as energy bills, food prices and fuel costs are all on the rise. Though some did all right out of the budget, thanks to a cut in the tax on bank profits and in the duty on domestic flights. As shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said, it was a good budget if you were a banker sitting on an internal flight sipping your champagne.
I do find it incredible though that duty on internal flights is being cut in the week of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Surely we should be showing a better example to the world?
Back in Manchester, I was very pleased to be joined by my friend and colleague Wes Streeting MP on a visit to UA92, and then on to a roundtable with Greater Manchester businesses to discuss how we can bring together employers, schools, colleges and universities to ensure that young people are aware of all the great career options open to them, and to help them to make the right choices when they’re deciding what courses they want to study. Wes and I were really energised by our conversations, and very excited at some of the great ideas we heard. Best of all though was meeting some of the UA92 students, who told us about their studies and their aspirations for the future. We were really inspired by their commitment and ambition for what they want to achieve.
Finally, many constituents will have very fond memories of the late Cllr Jane Baugh, whose commitment to the arts and culture, parks, education, and many other issues, made a real difference to the lives of people across Trafford. Jane died just before the first pandemic lockdown, so it’s only now been possible to organise a celebration of her life. This will take place at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale on Friday 12 November – tickets are free of charge, but if you’d like to attend, you need to book. Details are at: https://watersidearts.org/whats-on/3051-jane-baugh-a-celebration-of-life/. Jane was a great friend and support to me, and I am sure this will be a very special and lovely event.