Currently people are debating the choice between Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss as the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Unless you are a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party you won’t get a vote, but the outcome will affect your life. What that will mean to the majority of citizens of the United Kingdom is hard to determine and it will be years into the future and with hindsight that we can judge them. But we can have an educated guess because both candidates have been at pains to praise Margaret Thatcher. Mr Sunak proclaimed he was supporting “common sense Thatcherism”. An oxymoron if ever there was one. And Ms Truss not only parrots Thatcher policy she has even started to dress like her. Now, over 30 years after she was hounded out of office by her own party, we can judge Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. During the Thatcher years the proportion of pensioners living below the poverty line rose from 13% to 43%. Child poverty doubled. The tax rates of the rich fell from 83% to 40%. She heralded in an era of high inflation and mass unemployment, declaring there is no such thing as society and encouraging personal greed and financial excess. To put it in a nutshell, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. These are the policies and the principles that the Conservative and Unionist party has been pursuing ever since and as Thatcher herself explained they are not about to U-turn. This is the future we face in Scotland under the Conservative and Unionist party, a party that haven’t won a majority of seats in Scotland since 1955. At the start of Covid I said the poorest would suffer most and they did and from that post Covid low starting point we now face a financial storm that will drag many more people into poverty. When it comes to people coming to the conclusion that we can do a better job running our own country, I never know what that final straw will be. But I do think in the coming months many people will.
After a beautiful weekend in Inverclyde when warm weather means walking, eating outside and going on the Waverley, the Monday work reality is a very hot sticky London. Lots of happy tourists and lots of grumpy people like me in suits. I brighten my day by taking passport cases to the Home Office pop-up location where they are fast tracking passport and visa cases. We have had a very good success rate by taking on the issues from a number of angles.
My select committee took evidence from the ex-Prime Minister, Sir John Major. It was centred around the ethics and propriety of the current Prime Minister and his cabinet. Sir John was scathing in his criticism of the abuse of the ministerial code, the undermining of the electoral commission, the weakening of the voting franchise and the behaviour of the Prime Minister and his apologists. He also bemoaned the dearth of talent in the current Conservative and Unionist party, nostalgically citing the abilities of Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd and Ken Clarke. I was in the chamber for the debate and votes on the Online Safety Bill. The bill has just finished its committee stage and the amendments and new clauses were based on the outcome of fifty hours of deliberation at committee. I put my name along with Dame Diana Johnson MP (Labour) on new clause 7 which was designed to give anyone the right to have pornographic images of themselves removed from the internet if they had either never given consent or had withdrawn consent. Unbelievably, the Conservative and Unionists opposed it. They have opposed every attempt to improve the bill, but this was the lowest point for me.
Prime Minister’s Questions may have been his last as the government have brought forward a vote of no confidence in themselves. This is their ploy to get the Prime Minister out before September. He seemed relaxed and enjoyed the knock about, unlike the speaker who was extremely vexed by the Alba MPs who both got chucked out for refusing to sit down. They will be suspended for five sitting days and will be unable to vote against the government on Monday. I had a meeting with representatives of the British Ports Association. We covered all aspects of Inverclyde’s waterfront. Hot on the heels of successful passport cases I attended the Home Office passport pop-up location again with a couple of new cases. When we get to recess, we will miss this facility.
Today, I am hearing that the Online Safety Bill may be pulled from the government timetable. I am hoping this is because they have realised it is nowhere near as good as it should be. But I have my doubts. I did an interview on gambling, highlighting the soon to be announced ‘any day now’ white paper on gambling reform and talking about advertising in sport and the Football Index, which was no more than a ponzi scheme licensed by the Gambling Commission.
I caught up with the council’s health and social care department regarding the arrangements that are in place for the asylum seekers at the Holiday Inn. The firm responsible for the dispersement centre praised Inverclyde Council’s support and were very impressed with the interaction from the communities and voluntary section. And in the afternoon, I visited the Trust at 7 ½ John Wood Street to learn about the Pantry scheme.
I often hear people say they have no interest in politics, but they mean party politics or even politicians. And that’s fair enough. Because they do care deeply about, housing, transport, food prices, energy costs and the myriad of other aspects of government policies that affect their everyday lives and that’s the realpolitik. They care about the crippling price of fuel and the fact that 45% of that on petrol and 43% on diesel is tax imposed by the UK government. Or the household energy inflation rate of 28% for gas and 19% for electricity according to the Office for National Statistics in June 2022. And of course, any increase in the cost of fuel and energy will force increases in food prices. So, politics is the cost of heating your house and putting food on the table. And let’s be clear while there are many influences on the cost of energy and fuel, the austerity programme, which is the beating heart of the UK government, is a deliberate policy. It was enforced by the Conservative and Unionist UK government from 2010 to 2019. And as part of their ‘big society’ charities were expected to deliver public services. It was the austerity policy that took many families to the brink, food banks popped up in towns and cities all over the UK and ‘in work’ poverty exploded. And now with high taxation, high inflation and the removal of Covid 19 support measures we have a cost-of-living crisis. The number of children living in relative poverty increased by 600,000 between 2012 and 2019 and now stands at a shameful 3.9 million in the UK.
While the architects of this crisis run for cover, back to their millionaires’ mansions, the revolving doors of Westminster will continue to spin at an alarming rate. New names will take up old positions, chauffeurs and security details will be reassigned, and the citizens of a very disunited kingdom will be left to pick up the shattered pieces. The United Kingdom is not for changing and we, in Scotland, can’t force it. We can however design and build a Scotland to be proud of, we need to accept the responsibility and get cracking.
I was on the panel of the Ayesha Hazarika show on Times Radio on Sunday evening. It was a decent chat with myself, a Labour, a Conservative and a newspaper editor. Not surprisingly we discussed the pending Scottish independence referendum. What was surprising was the amount of social media abuse I received because I said it was the democratic right of the people of Scotland to decide their own constitutional future. In contrast the main event for me at Westminster today was the debate on assisted dying. Although strong views were expressed by those for and against, both sides were respectful of the others input. What was clear was that if we are to move towards assisted dying then the legislation must provide the necessary safeguards to prevent coercion. It’s a tough ask but one part of an MPs job is to legislate, and we shouldn’t shy away from that. I believe to deny the choice for a dignified end of life is an abdication of that responsibility. We had six votes late in the evening.
My select committee took evidence from eminent experts in international law regarding the interpretation and implementation of international treaties. It is complex and nuanced but in the hands of such experts as Professor Richard Gardiner (academic and former legal adviser to the Foreign Office) and Penelope Nevill (Twenty Essex chambers and representing the Bar Council) it is incredibly interesting. International treaties are reserved to Westminster and the UK government can stop the Scottish Parliament from passing legislation that they feel is incompatible with international obligations of the UK. The Home Office has a dedicated facility set up in Portcullis House to help process passport and visa applications. I took four cases to them in person and hopefully managed to progress them all. I dropped into a medical cannabis event to talk to growers based in Scotland and pharmaceutical companies developing medicines. I met with Quentin Wilson to discuss electronic vehicles and also managed a quick chat about synthetic fuels. He is not a fan.
I started with a meeting with an organisation (UNITE) that funds and delivers vaccination programmes around the world. They are doing amazing work to reduce the spread of many infectious diseases and are supported around the world by politicians of many different parties. Prime Ministers Questions was the ultimate display of denial by a Prime Minister whose own cabinet were abandoning him left, right and centre. As quickly as he could appoint replacements, they were resigning too. The Conservative and Unionist government is a complete and utter shambles. I dropped in to support my colleague, Stuart C McDonald’s private member’s bill for Neonatal Care paid leave and I did a walking interview with Dr Alex Prior of London South Bank University to discuss the parliamentary estate and the effect it has on the mindset of those that work there.
I met with people from Glasgow Council for Voluntary Sector to discuss their approach to providing support for people with gambling related harm. As always funding such posts is difficult. And I discussed the growing CBD marketplace with retailers in the Oak Mall. There is a massive amount of confusion around such products. And we need to clearly define the difference between novel food products and medical cannabis. The revolving door at Downing Street continued today and the reputation, or what’s left of it, of the UK government took another hammering as chaos ruled the waves. The Prime Minister stays in post despite what he has said, and a summer of discontent ensues. Meanwhile, the ruling party will be consumed with inner turmoil and self- serving manoeuvres. It really is Conservative and Unionism first and the UK facing austerity and turmoil pushed to the side to take care of itself. They want all the power and none of the responsibility.
I visited the Holiday Inn Express to meet with hotel management, the company behind the support of the asylum seekers and the asylum seekers themselves to better understand the issues we face while providing a safe haven for many young men fleeing oppression and wars but being faced with suspicion here in Inverclyde.