Wednesday, 10 August 2016

New Directions

The political scene is now much more settled than could be anticipated only a month ago; new ministers are settling in to their jobs, most notably the Prime Minister herself who has already met with her opposite numbers in France and Germany and faced Parliament in her first Prime Minister’s Questions. It is at PMQs when the public pass judgement and they saw her demolish Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to score points and showed mastery of the whole range of Government when replying to a wide range of questions from backbench members.
With Parliament now in recess new ministers will have more time to brief themselves on their new department and backbenchers more time to catch up on constituency work. As for me I’m continuing with the job I said I wanted when elected - ‘Secretary of State for the Cleethorpes Constituency.’
Cleethorpes is on a high at the moment; we successfully staged the National Armed Forces Event, have continuing successes in the ‘In Bloom’ competition and if the weather is kind during the school holiday period the disappointing weather in the early part of the season can, to some extent, be forgotten.
More needs to be done to ensure coastal towns and seaside resorts attract investment and overcome the seemingly inherent problems that the statistics show namely, lower education standards, a low-skilled workforce, lower wages, and an economy struggling to keep pace with many other parts of the country. Of course we shouldn’t look to Government to solve all our problems but increased recognition that these issues must be tackled will be welcome. I have already questioned and spoken to the new ministerial team about these concerns and will certainly be keeping up the pressure on them. 
Listening to the radio a few days ago I was reminded that last Saturday was the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup and recalling that game reminded me of how it had some similarities with the recent political rollercoaster.
Those of you old enough will recall that Jimmy Greaves hoped to play in the game but wasn’t chosen by manager Alf Ramsay. Jimmy was a talented player who could always be relied on to entertain the crowds. That other entertainer Boris Johnson hoped to play in the final of the party leadership but events conspired against him.
Geoff Hurst who replaced Greaves after he was injured in the in the group stage of the competition. Hurst had played badly in the warm-up games against Finland and Poland and had appeared to have fallen out of contention but recovered to become the star player with his hat-trick in the Final. In the same way Theresa May was thought to be out of the running after a quiet few months following last year’s Party Conference and a quiet referendum campaign but in the same way performed well when it really mattered.
In 1966 40 players were named in the extended squad that had to be reduced to 22 by the start of the contest so players such as Terry Venables & Peter Osgood were pushed aside without getting onto the pitch. Remember George Osborne who the commentators expected to be in the running?
Andrea Leadsom made it to the final but was fouled and retired hurt.
As the game came towards its end some people were on the pitch thinking it was all over just like Theresa May’s supporters gathering round her even before Andrea quit the race.
And just as in 1966 the Queen presented the winner with the prize.           

Politics, like football, can be very unpredictable each competition usually throws up an unexpected competitor - Iceland and Andrea Leadsom - who after a good start eventually lose out.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Referendum

That was the Week that was: the country voted to leave the EU, the Prime Minister resigned, the Labour Party MPs passed a motion of no confidence in their leader as they continue along the road to political oblivion, two of the three frontrunners to become Conservative leader have fallen by the wayside and Cleethorpes took centre-stage with the National Event to mark Armed Forces Day. And, just to take our minds off the politics, our football team lost to Iceland.
All of these political changes are taking place and yet almost everyone is going about their business; a few hundred can always be relied on to turn up at a moment’s notice to demonstrate in Parliament Square costing the rest of us millions in police time, but for everyone else the world goes on and, yet again, Britain demonstrates what a mature democracy it is. In many countries, probably the majority, troops would be on the streets and a real, rather than manufactured, crisis, would exist.
The referendum result was in the balance until polling day itself when, as I always hoped, the British people would vote in the way that they truly believed. The truth is that British people has never been anything other than half-hearted about EU membership. Year after year successive prime ministers have been forced to travel to Brussels telling us they were determined to get a better deal. They have returned telling us that they have gained some sort of privileged position, that they have opted out of this or that policy so why should we be surprised when the British people said ‘if that’s the case let’s opt out of the whole thing.’ The most repeated comment on the doorsteps was ‘we want our democracy, our country back.’ It was a heartfelt plea and one that I have always shared.
The Tories in having major figures on both sides of the EU argument were speaking for the electors who themselves were almost equally divided but Labour, with a few notable exceptions, batted for the Remain side despite knowing, or at least they should have known, that at least half of their supporters would be voting Leave. If they continue to ignore the views of their supporters it’s going to be a long road back for them.  
The condescending remarks from some commentators that it is the ‘uneducated’ who voted to leave or that we are all racists is insulting and quite simply wrong. They should get out into the provincial towns and villages of Lincolnshire and elsewhere rather than hiding within the M25. Are two-thirds of the people in North East Lincolnshire uneducated and racists? Of course not and to suggest so is deeply offensive.
I’m genuinely saddened that David Cameron has chosen to stand down but he has taken an honourable course. It’s a major personal blow to someone who has served his country well and it is to his great credit that he travelled to Cleethorpes to pay tribute to our Armed Forces past and present, and as we remember the Battle of the Somme and, in particular the role of the Grimsby Chums, we recall how much we owe to those who serve, both past and present.      
My reflections on the referendum campaign are that, though it was somewhat bruising, it was passionate and clearly engaged the electorate to the extent that 72 per cent voted – much higher than in recent general elections. In the early stages the debate was pretty poor but once we reached the later stages and the TV debates began people became more engaged. What is very clear is that people in this area feel too distant from the decision-makers and neglected.
Now that we are bringing the European dimension of decision-making back from Brussels to London, coupled with the devolution policies of our Government that is being addressed but the new prime minister must recognise there is something of a north-south divide that must be recognised and policies devised to reverse the drift south.
Politics will soon return to normal, the one or maybe two new party leaders will get down to work and, hopefully, those in the media will recognise that it is the Government who are responsible for delivering Brexit not the Vote Leave campaign. David Cameron deserves credit for granting the referendum, delivering it, and accepting the result as an instruction from the people. That instruction will be carried out and talk of a second referendum should be forgotten; quite simply it isn’t going to happen.          
It’s now time to come together as a country, accept the majority decision, and work together to build a better future.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Education & Skills

Last Monday evening I was one of the sponsors of what turned out to be an interesting debate about Educational Attainment in Yorkshire and the Humber. The debate centred on a report from the Social Market Foundation that drew attention to the depressingly low levels of attainment in the region.
Although there was a certain amount of political point-scoring most contributors recognised that this was as serious issue deserving of serious consideration and that the statistics showing poor performance don’t just happen when one or other party comes to power; they are deep-seated and have come about over many years.
The report stated that “GCSE performance at age 16 across England and Wales reveals marked disparities between regions, with over 70% of pupils in London achieving 5 good GCSEs compared to 63% in Yorkshire & Humber.”
It goes on “Regional differences in attainment are already apparent by the end of primary school”. It also says: “Regional disparities persist, with some areas such as Yorkshire and the Humber falling further behind and London’s performance surging over the last three decades.”
Some of the political argument centred around the Government’s proposal that all schools should become academies. In North East Lincolnshire where all secondary schools are academies we are fortunate to have some excellent performing schools, with good sponsors, first-rate teachers and leadership of the highest quality. They score well in the league tables and yet we have, as the SMF report notes some extremely disappointing overall attainment.
I have raised this conundrum previously and in February the David Cameron wrote to me following a question I put to him at Prime Minister’s Questions. He made clear that the Government recognised the problem and said “…the Government is committed to educational excellence everywhere and we want to eradicate the pockets of underperformance where too few children have access to a good school.”
If our young people are not given a good grounding at school and shown what can be achieved then they may grow up lacking ambition. The truth is that from whatever background and wherever you live you can succeed. However hard governments work to ensure equal opportunity background and home circumstances make a difference and one of the factors that contribute to success is the active involvement and support from parents.
In the past the core industry in most towns be it fishing, steel, mining or whatever provided work for the youngsters coming out of school but nowadays you need qualifications even for low-skilled jobs. Around the area we have some excellent work being done by our Further and Higher Education colleges and by training facilities such as CATCH in Stallingborough where I was pleased to visit last week to open their new workshop.
Despite their hard work when I visit many local businesses they will tell me about the difficulty they have finding a sufficient supply of skilled labour. This isn’t just a local problem; major infrastructure projects struggle to recruit skilled people in the numbers required, often have to bring in workers from abroad.
I welcome North East Lincolnshire Councils decision to employ a Director of Skills and Learning. If we are to overcome some of the inherent problems facing the area we must be prepared to bring in top people to improve things.  
Parliament is often assumed to be a political knockabout akin to Prime Minister’s Questions from dawn till dusk day-in, day-out but anyone following these things closely will know better. Not only did we have the three hour education debate mentioned above but on Wednesday afternoon a debate about the genocide been perpetrated on the Yazidis, Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities.
My Conservative colleague Fiona Bruce initiated the debate saying that “Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh; and calls on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.”
Exactly why the Government seem to be resisting referring the matter to the International Court wasn’t entirely clear and when a vote was taken it was passed by 258 to none. The vote is not binding on the Government but it may, in time, well result in a change of policy.
After which we discussed continuing printing Acts of Parliament on Vellum – of course we should. Magna Carta wouldn’t have survived had it been on paper. Fortunately there was a large majority in favour.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Autumn Statement

The big political event of last week was the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement though locally confirmation that through trains between Cleethorpes, Scunthorpe and Manchester would be retained in the new franchise to be finalised next year was the decision that would have resulted in a collective sigh of relief. It was the result of a massive campaign. As well as the Telegraph’s highly successful campaign that resulted in around 7000 coupons being delivered to the minister by myself and Michelle Lalor, editor of the Grimsby edition. I and my colleagues asked countless questions in Parliament, held a full-scale debate, Select Committee hearings and lots of meetings both formal and informal with ministers, in particular the quiet word here and there cannot be underestimated showing that Government backbenchers with access to ministers can use their influence effectively. It also demonstrates that if the public engage with the consultation processes that governments carry out then ministers must take note – the system works. The temptation, when a decision goes against you, is always to claim that no one listens, it was all a done deal and so on; not so democracy is a two-way process, get involved and things can change.

The Autumn Statement itself was well-balanced and responsible.

At local level there was really good news for those affected by, not just last year’s tidal surge, but also previous floods. £80 million has been allocated as the first instalment of funding for the various projects needed to strengthen the Humber defences and specifically mentioned is the area in the Barrow Haven/New Holland area. The plans put together by the local authorities and the Environment Agency to increase the level of defences from what is described in the jargon as a ‘one in fifty year event’ will be upgraded to ‘one in 200 year event’ are being trawled over by officials at the Department of Environment and in the Treasury. The proposals are estimated at £1.2 billion spread over seventeen years. Obviously before expenditure at this level is given the go-ahead there is much work to be done but the £80 million is a positive message from Government that the work is not just necessary but vital for both residents and to protect industry much of which is of strategic importance.

There was also funding for housing developments on brownfield sites, and the abolition of Air Passenger Duty for children will be welcome news not just for families but Humberside Airport as well; abolition of National Insurance contributions for apprentices, a boost for the High Street with help on Business Rates and the very welcome reform of stamp duty.

George Osborne has stuck to his strategy outlined at the start of the Coalition Government and we are now the fastest-growing of the world's major economies. It will take a few more months before the benefits filter through with further increases in personal tax allowances and the like but we can all feel that little more confident that better times are ahead.


Locally there is much to be optimistic about with growing confidence in the business community and 2015 will be the year when everyone starts to feel the benefit.     

Monday, 1 December 2014

December 1st 2014

A week or two after Douglas Carswell then the Conservative MP for Clacton announced he was switching to UKIP I attended a meeting with my Parliamentary colleagues I said that 'despite speaking as another troublesome Eurosceptic backbencher from an East Coast resort beginning with Cl I would not even consider switching to UKIP.'

The reason is simple; not only would I be letting down all those who worked hard to help my election I would be letting down my constituents. It's often said by UKIP supporters 'they tell it like it is, the other parties daren't give us it straight.' Well that's fine if you just want an MP who is all talk, but surely most people want to be represented by someone who not only speaks up for those he or she represents but can also achieve things for the constituency.

As a UKIP MP I would be a voice in the wilderness with little or no access to ministers, unable to lobby and cajole them at Party meetings and in the Division Lobbies, unable to bend their ear about constituency issues.

General Elections are about electing governments that have a coherent set of policies. We are told that older voters are those more attracted to UKIP. I say to them; do you know what their pensions policy is? If your children or grandchildren are struggling to get onto the housing ladder do you know what UKIP's housing policies are? What are their policies for transport, schools, business support, support for the regions I could go on, and I haven't even mentioned their thoughts on privatising the NHS.

The business of government is complex in the extreme; you can be certain that someone who comes along with simple solutions is wrong.

The one certainty about next May's election is that it will result in either David Cameron or Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. One of these men has guided the country through a recession and restored economic stability the other leads an Opposition in chaos and includes former ministers  who were in charge when Gordon Brown was driving the economy of the cliff edge.

I come from a working class background having been born in Cleethorpes and spent most of my childhood on a Grimsby council estate, I've experienced redundancy. Whatever background you are from we all want the best for our families and that means job security and an economy that allows business to flourish so that we can finance the public services we all rely on - history tells us it's the Conservatives that achieve this. The election is about the future not the past.

And by the way if Europe is your big issue only the Conservatives can give us the referendum the country urgently need.



Monday, 27 October 2014

October 27 2014

It’s strange how some of my parliamentary colleagues seem determined to hold out against one of the most logical and much-needed reforms. Admittedly their arguments are based on good constitutional practice; but when the public are so disillusioned with the political process then change becomes essential.

I refer in particular to the Recall Bill that will allow voters to recall their MP mid-term if he or she falls below the standards expected. Recall exists in many countries though in many different forms. Full marks to the Government for at least bringing proposals forward though they fail what I consider to be a fundamental ingredient of any process of recall; it is the voters who should be in the driving seat not a committee of MPs even though it may be supplemented with lay members – I doubt that the powers that be would pluck those lay members from the streets of Immingham or Cleethorpes. Most likely they would be from the ranks of the ‘great and the good.’ Most of these are indeed decent, honourable people but for the public to have faith in the system it must be seen to be completely transparent and such is the state of public opinion at the moment that won’t be the case if the Government appear to be in control.        

I made this and other points during the debate and it was quite clear that there is a widespread view that those of us who will be putting forward some far-reaching amendments over the next week or two are growing in number. The Government are indicating that they might support some change – I hope so.

There needs to be proper protection against politically motivated campaigns that force by-elections based on the political stance of a sitting member. Many significant changes have come about as a result of MPs campaigning for changes which, at the time, were unpopular. Public opinion changes and some of these are now accepted by the overwhelming majority.

When my phone rang at about 8.30 on Wednesday evening to tell me that the Parliamentary Committee that had been considering the Able UK application to develop the South Humber Marine Energy Park had reached its verdict and rejected ABP’s objections it was something of a relief as the word going round only 24 hours earlier was that it would be at least another week before a decision would be arrived at.

This brought to an end three years of meetings, lobbying and discussion during the exhaustive process to which the scheme has been subjected. All four northern Lincolnshire MPs have worked together, cross-party to bring about a development that has the potential for hundreds of jobs and help establish the Humber Estuary as the off-shore renewables capital of the UK. Hundreds are already benefiting from the growing number of jobs in this sector, and it’s not just those directly employed but the service industries that receive a boost as the local economy gets the shot in the arm it needs.

It’s often a surprise to constituents visiting Westminster that so much cross-party work goes on; we all have the same aim which is to benefit those we represent even if the route is very different.


Whatever reservations we may have about the benefits of off-shore wind turbines surely we should all agree that if they can be maintained, assembled, designed and preferably constructed here with all the jobs on offer then we must give our support and those politicians who oppose them will have to explain themselves.          

October 13 2014

As I write this column it’s the morning after the night before with the election of my former party colleague, Douglas Carswell, under the UKIP banner in Clacton. It’s a victory for a right-of-centre free market, libertarian politician elected with the help of voters who would normally shy away from a candidate with Carswell’s views. I make the comments as an observation, not a criticism as I can understand why voters acted how they did. He will now be a lone voice in Parliament with no access to ministers and unable to achieve the investment in his constituency that is so clearly needed. In this respect he has let his constituents down.

The Party Conference season has no come to its end; how have they may have changed the political landscape. I recognise that most people don’t take a close interest at the goings on in Birmingham, Manchester or wherever but the Conferences are an important forum for parties to highlight policy announcements and for the leadership to grab the all-important few minutes on the main news bulletins.

There’s no escaping that it was a bad conference for the Labour Party and Ed Miliband in particular. His 65-minute speech eventually ground to a halt without a mention of the deficit or immigration. Did he, as we are led to believe, ‘forget’ these issues of did he bottle it at the last moment fearing that facing up to them would again highlight the part the last Labour government played in bringing about financial disaster and their lack of immigration controls? Either way it showed that he is not up to the job of Prime Minister.

The Tory Conference on the other hand was upbeat and positive, with ministers setting out the framework for what a Conservative government elected next May will aim to achieve; it was a programme for government covering all aspects of policy, most notably the economy – the subject on which all governments are ultimately judged and with the British economy being the fastest-growing in the Western World we were able to give a clear indication of the benefits that will flow from that.

The Conference also allows backbench MP s to discuss a range of issues with ministers; for example I held (another) meeting with Rail Minister, Claire Perry, to again press the case for retaining the through train service between Cleethorpes and Manchester. It’s also an opportunity to meet with business representatives, and those from think-tanks who churn out policy ideas – some good, some bad, some completely mad!

The post-Conference polls indicate that voters did indeed pick up from media coverage that it was the Conservatives who have a programme for government rather than a series of sound-bites with little substance.

Though it’s the Conservative and Labour conferences that really matter, since it is David Cameron or Ed Miliband who will be Prime Minister after 7th May - I ought, in order to be even-handed mention the LibDems and UKIP. Somewhat bizarrely the LibDems seem to spend most of their time criticising the Conservatives who for over four years have been their partners in government, trying desperately to claim credit for restoring our economic fortunes and disowning just about everything else; trying to face both ways at the same time is the phrase that comes to mind.


UKIP, whose policies on pensions, housing, transport, health and just about everything else are unknown kicked off by announcing the defection of the appropriately named Tory, Mark Reckless. Above everything else Reckless wants an In/Out EU referendum and has now joined a Party that can’t deliver it; Reckless by name, but also attracted by reckless behaviour.