Marching for a People’s Vote
On Saturday I joined over 700,000 people – including a strong contingent from Brighton – in marching through the streets of London to demand a People’s Vote on Brexit.
I spoke at the rally and wrote for Huff Post on why those of us campaigning for the people to have a say over our collective future must make clear our vision for the greatest social transformation this country has seen in years. I wrote another piece as part of a report from Compass on how we can make a start.
A People’s Vote must not be about pretending the last two years didn’t happen. Our economy is failing far too many and those who voted leave were right to demand radical change. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be doing all I can to persuade the Government to inject much-needed democracy into the Brexit negotiations, and to find ways of addressing our society’s very real problems.
On Saturday I had the incredible honour of receiving an RSPB Medal. I was so proud to receive an award from an organisation with such an impressive legacy of speaking up, not just for birds – but for nature and wildlife as a whole.
Following this summer's global heatwave and increasingly alarming statistics about precious species in free-fall, I believe we stand at a turning point in the fight for the future of the natural world.
As a society we are more than capable of ending the assault on our environment – the only ingredient missing is political will from those in power. The RSPB is playing a vital role in building the mass movement we need to persuade politicians to take action – and I'll keep doing all I can to campaign alongside them.
Exposing Government's gutting of Natural England
This week ministers' responses to my parliamentary questions revealed the Government is undermining the watchdog charged with protecting England’s most precious natural landscapes and wildlife habitats.
The Government has slashed funding for Natural England’s monitoring of these unique places by 55 per cent – from £1.58 million to just £700,000 – since 2010, leaving less than £170 for each of England’s 4,126 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).
One of my previous parliamentary questions found 47 per cent of SSSIs have not been examined in the last six years, breaching national guidelines.
I also uncovered that since July 2016 – immediately after the EU referendum – ministers have moved 463 staff from Natural England to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Of those moved, 50 have been seconded to work on Brexit for two years. Farming Minister George Eustice said these roles are “not deemed a high priority [and] have been left unfilled, and work reallocated or stopped”.
These devastating figures reveal a government policy of systematically gutting Natural England. Behind Michael Gove’s public promises of a ‘Green Brexit’ is a secretive assault on the agency that looks after irreplaceable habitats and beautiful landscapes.
This ideologically-driven austerity is putting precious places at risk of irreversible destruction. Some damage will already have been done – so it’s vital ministers reverse cuts to Natural England’s funding immediately and expand its specialist team to protect and restore our neglected environment.
Saving our schools
I had the pleasure of meeting children and parents from Brighton who came to Parliament with local campaign group Save Our Schools to tell MPs how the Government's cuts are affecting their education.
And I also joined the Love Our Colleges campaign outside Parliament to lend my support for sixth forms whose funding has been decimated by 30 per cent in the last 10 years.
Schools and colleges in Brighton and across the UK are in crisis. I’ve had heart-breaking emails from headteachers in desperate need of extra funding to deliver a decent standard of education. Enrichment activities, school trips and even counselling are fast becoming longed-for luxuries in our city.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that the Government has cut per-pupil funding by 8 per cent since 2009/10. I've written to the Chancellor Philip Hammond ahead of this month’s Budget urging him to reverse per-pupil funding cuts, fully fund a 3.5 per cent pay rise for all teaching staff and address the impact of a government freeze on sixth form funding.
Challenging misogyny in politics
This week an independent report by former High Court Judge, Dame Laura Cox QC, revealed a shameful culture of bullying and sexual harassment in the House of Commons.
I spoke out in Parliament, on BBC Radio 5 Live and in my column for the Metro – calling for an end to the misogyny and aggression that has infected Westminster, and for women, BAME communities, young people, migrants, disabled people and everyone else to be given an equal say in politics.
Last week energy giant Cuadrilla got over the final hurdle to fracking in Lancashire as a court refused local resident Bob Dennett's attempt to block it with an injunction. I wrote for the Guardian on how this was a devastating blow for all of us fighting against climate breakdown – and my firm belief that, if we use this moment to galvanise our movement for a better future, we can win.
On Monday, when drilling got underway, I was on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, pointing out the absurdity of the Government embarking on a whole new fossil fuel industry just a week after the IPCC report warned we have just 12 years to make a dramatic shift towards renewable energy.
On Wednesday I joined protesters outside court and gave a speech supporting the three's appeal. I then tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament supporting the protesters and calling for the Government to ban fracking. By the end of the day, Richard, Richard and Roscoe were free – marking a huge victory for our right to protest.
Tackling the housing crisis
Theresa May announced at Conservative Party conference that the Government would finally lift the cap on the ability of councils to borrow money to build new homes that has crippled local authorities' ability to address the shortage of affordable social housing.
Here in Brighton & Hove, where an average earner pays 65% of their salary for a typical two-bed flat, renting in the private sector is a struggle for many, and access to social housing is near impossible for those who desperately need it. According to Shelter, one in 69 people living in our city are homeless – either sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation.
In August I wrote to the Chair of the Housing and new Homes Committee at Brighton & Hove City Council, Anne Meadows, about the emergency and temporary accommodation they use to house vulnerable residents. I've long argued about the condition of some of the properties they lease from private landlords, and called for the council to follow others by using the existing borrowing options available to them to buy or build their own accommodation.
With Theresa May's announcement, I've gone back to Councillor Meadows to prompt a response. There's now even more reason for the council to explore the options it has to raise the capital it needs to get building and buying.
Sourcing shelter for rough sleepers is something that cannot wait until the detail of Theresa May’s announcement becomes clear. Last year Green councillors pushed the council for a night shelter, and were instrumental in the setting up of the winter provision at the Brighton Centre.
While I’m pleased a similar arrangement is being planned for this winter, alongside the development of a Rough Sleeping Hub, which will provide short-term shelter, advice and support, we urgently need a year-round facility. I’ve written to the council about their plans for money allocated via the Government’s rough sleeping strategy, and whether extending night shelter provision will be looked at as a priority from this funding.
It’s vital that the recent policy announcements made by the Government translate into concrete plans to ease housing pressures in the city, and tackle the outrage of homelessness and rough sleeping.
Challenging the Agriculture Bill
The Government’s new Agriculture Bill sets out some promising changes to the way farmers are supported to look after our land. But it also represents a massive missed opportunity to fix our broken food system, protect once-common species from the brink of extinction and to slash the huge carbon emissions that come from the agriculture sector.
I spoke in Parliament as the Bill had its second reading and voted against it – and I’ll be tabling amendments to improve the proposals when it returns to the House of Commons.
Campaigning against Universal Credit
Earlier this week I joined the Welfare Rights team at Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project (BUCFP) in calling on the Government to consider Brighton & Hove a canary in the coalmine and halt the full rollout of Universal Credit nationwide.
I've heard from dozens of constituents facing delayed payments, mounting debts and even eviction since the Government’s flagship welfare regime was introduced across the city in March.
BUCFP have supported more than 200 people with Universal Credit applications, and the team are “extremely fearful about the full rollout of Universal Credit”.
According to the Council, by the end of March 68 per cent of council tenant households on Universal Credit were in rent arrears – compared with 17 per cent of households not affected.
Brighton & Hove is a canary in the Universal Credit coalmine. I'm urging ministers to listen to Brighton’s experience and urgently halt the rollout of Universal Credit to prevent millions more suffering in the name of their ideological assault on welfare.
Divesting Parliament’s pensions
On 9 October Lord Deben and I met with representatives from the MPs Pension Fund to urge them – yet again – to ditch the £51 million it has invested in fossil fuels.
Just a day after the IPCC report hammered home how little time we have to overhaul our economy, the need to persuade them to invest instead in a zero-carbon future felt more urgent than ever. MPs and Peers should be leading the way forward, not funding climate breakdown.
Uncovering Government's outsourcing of the death penalty
In response to one of my written parliamentary questions, the Government last week admitted ministers waived death penalty assurances in two cases other than those of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh since 2001.
The UK abolished the barbaric practice of capital punishment more than 50 years ago. It's deeply disturbing to think successive governments have effectively outsourced the death penalty to other countries.
I've demanded ministers urgently explain the reasons they failed on two more occasions to seek assurances that people would not be killed by foreign states, and allow those involved to seek justice.
Defending our NHS
It was great to see so many people from across the county at last weekend’s Sussex Defend the NHS march and rally.
This is a Government set on deliberately fragmenting our NHS, and adding yet more pressure to already overstretched nurses by scrapping nursing bursaries. And we’ve got a Health Secretary who fails to recognise the crisis in primary care – and who has actively endorsed the GP at Hand app run by the private company Babylon, which requires patients to deregister from their existing practice when they sign up.
With 10 GP practices closing in Brighton and Hove since February 2015, I used my speech to call on Matt Hancock to stop fiddling with his iPhone for a moment, and address the real issues of NHS underfunding and the chronic shortage of GPs.
Healthcare is not a commodity to be bought or sold. I will always stand up for our NHS against any form of privatisation – and I’ll vote down the Government’s plans to double the charge migrants pay to access healthcare in the UK.
Subverting 'Green GB Week'
Last week was the Government's 'Green GB Week' – a whole week of greenwash, celebrating ministers' tiny contribution to tackling climate change. I was invited to one of the week's events in Parliament, so I thought I'd stop by with some helpful leaflets to show the Government where they're going wrong, and how they can start to do better. Energy Minister Claire Perry wasn't exactly happy to see me exposing the hypocrisy at the heart of her celebration.