February Bedford Independent Monthly Column – The virus exposed an unequal economy: we will not go back

Keir Starmer gave his most important speech yet laying out Labour’s vision for the future.

“The Conservatives say they want to build back. But I don’t want to go back. You can’t return to business as usual. And certainly not back to an economy rooted in insecurity and inequality,” he said in a powerful and optimistic speech today.

It’s a message I know echoes with a lot of people.

The pandemic has been very difficult for everyone. All of us have made huge sacrifices and far, far too many have paid the ultimate price.

But while we all want the colour and joy back in our lives, we don’t want to return to the rat-race – to a society that was so divided, insecure and unequal.

We need a re-emphasised moral commitment to fighting social injustice; to protect families and children and businesses by reversing the planned £20 cut in Universal Credit; reverse the key worker pay freeze; provide councils with the funding they need to prevent huge rises in council tax; extend and update the furlough scheme to provide businesses with breathing space; by tackling business debt; and extending the business rate relief and the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure.

Keir’s plan to introduce a new British Recovery Bond will provide financial security for millions of people and help to rebuild communities and businesses across the country.

The Chancellor will deliver his Budget on 3 March. It’s likely to be a day of reckoning for the economic costs of the pandemic.

The big question is, who is going to pay for it, and will the burden be fair?

Despite successive Tory leaders’ rhetoric on creating change, tackling the “burning injustices” or “levelling up”, it never goes beyond the soundbites. The Tories have already pointed to big council tax rises.

Under Tory policy, the poorest always pay more.

It is already the working class, the small business owners and young people who are bearing the brunt of the Tories’ biggest fiscal policy in a generation – Brexit.

It was the poorest in society who paid for the banking crisis, whilst the bankers got off scott-free with bailouts from public money. Public money paid for by 10 years of austerity that broke families and decimated our public services, including the NHS, now battling valiantly against the virus yet chronically underfunded and dangerously understaffed.

The pandemic has shone a light in every crevice of society revealing the extent of inequality and lack of life chances.

As we emerge, we must seize this moment to address the deep inequalities and injustices in our country.

Labour want to take Britain forward to a stronger, more prosperous future through a new partnership between a supportive Government and enterprising business.

The Conservatives can’t build back better because they do not believe in the power of the state to deliver social justice and equality.

That’s why they will always be led by the short-term demands of the market and never puts the welfare of people first.

March’s Budget is a moment to take the road less travelled – to equip Britain for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

This is no time for a second wave of austerity or tax rises on businesses and families. That would waste the sacrifices of the last year, it would choke off our recovery and ensure that the next decade was wasted like the one just gone – with so many suffering at the hands of a failed and cruel economic policy.

We have a choice as a country: do we allow the Government to take us back to a society where public services are on their knees, where people work more for less, or do we take the opportunity to live in a fairer, more secure and less divided society that invests in our communities, looks after nature and understands that equality and prosperity go hand in hand?

A phoney spending review from a Government with no majority

Our public services have been decimated under the Tories, and today’s announcement on spending from the new Chancellor, Sajid Javid was nothing more than an election stunt.

Even if Boris Johnson’s Government do deliver any of what they have promised, which is highly doubtful, it’s nowhere near enough to make up for almost a decade of slash and burn.

The £1billion bung for social care won’t come close to reversing the £7 billion of cuts since 2010. Councils face a £2.6 billion gap for social care this year alone. It is a drop in the ocean.

The money that he has promised for education is far less than what teachers say is needed to reverse the savage cuts schools have endured under Tory rule. The funding will do nothing for those who have had their life chances ruined by Tory education policy.

Drilling into the detail of the spending commitments on policing reveals that even if the money materialises to make it happen, only 13,000 of the promised 20,000 officers will be on the frontline. That doesn’t replace what we have lost in police numbers and can never compensate for the loss of experienced staff across our police force.

The same can be said of prisons. The Prison Officers Association has been repeatedly ignored by successive Tory Government’s on safety, yet the Chancellor thinks the answer is more prison places in privately run super prisons, which they have been told are dangerous and don’t work.

The Chancellor wants to ‘kick-start an infrastructure revolution’ but he wants it to be driven by ‘private investors’ and ‘independent institutions.’

This will ring alarm bells for anyone who regularly struggles to get to work on time or back home to their families on our shambolic and unaccountable privatised rail network.

And finally, the NHS. Despite a 6 billion maintenance backlog across our NHS estates, the Government announced just £1.8 billion for our health service, the majority of which had already been promised under the previous administration.

The bottom line is that all of these are hollow promises, totally inadequate and meaningless in the context of the unprecedented political, constitutional and cultural crisis we now find ourselves in. Boris Johnson lost his majority yesterday and then in an extraordinary act of sabotage, expelled 21 moderate Tory MPs from the party. He now has a working majority of minus 43. He cannot govern.

We are hurtling towards a General Election – something that cannot be allowed to happen before the EU withdrawal date of the 31st October. The danger of a disastrous No-Deal Brexit is a threat to the jobs and living standards and security of the people of Bedford and I will do all I can to stop it.

April Bedford Independent Guest Column – Cuts Correlate with Crime

My latest guest column for Bedford Independent focuses on the correlation between cuts to police and public services and the rise in violent crime.

This month, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, made another speech about rising violent crime among young people.

In what some interpreted as a leadership bid, Javid said, had he not had the good influence of his parents and teachers he could have had a life of crime himself and worried about his teenage children out on the streets.

“If I don’t feel safe or don’t think the streets are safe enough for my own children,” he said, “then something has gone terribly wrong”.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The country has seen a massive increase in youth knife crime. In Bedfordshire, knife crime has gone up 86% since 2014 and we have one of the worst knife crime rates outside of London.

In the last month alone, we have seen the trials of two horrific murders in Bedford. Five men were jailed for a total of 102 years for the death of Przemyslaw Golimowski.

And a 20-year-old and three 15-year olds, who filmed their brutal attack of 16- year old Cemeren Yilmaz, were found guilty of murder – a case of children killing children in gang related violence.

Until the Conservative Government acknowledge that cuts to police and other public services correlates to the rise in violent crime, they are not going to tackle the problem.

The Government have offered a one-off fund, but this is a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to what is needed.

10 years of austerity has hit our nation hard and the damage of such social violence cannot be underestimated.

As well as giving the police the funding they need to do their jobs effectively we have to start taking a public health approach to youth violent crime and find out why kids are joining gangs, carrying knives and hurting each other.

There are plenty of teachers, youth workers, scholars and parents who know what needs to be done but the Government won’t listen.

A damning report by the United Nations poverty envoy in November found that the UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity.”

Labour have called for more police officers and a real, concentrated effort to tackle the root causes of knife crime.

This involves supporting vulnerable young people who are at risk of falling into crime and developing comprehensive prevention and support strategies.

These changes would tackle not only knife crime, but other related crimes too.

Mr Javid talks of his escape from a possible world of crime, but his Government are reducing opportunities and life chances for young people.

There were 4.1 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2016-17. Is it that surprising that children are being seduced into a world of crime when their families can’t even feed them?

A much larger, co-ordinated effort is needed to prevent violent crimes and give our young people the chances that they deserve. The current approach has failed and is costing lives.”