There has been a break in my newsletter during the election period, and this is the last one of the year. So I’m taking a look back at what has been a tumultuous year in politics, beginning with a series of unprecedented Government defeats in Parliament and ending with the first winter general election for nearly 100 years. In between, we’ve seen the fall of a prime minister, the illegal suspension of Parliament and a deepening polarisation of our politics.
It can be hard to remain optimistic, but there are reasons for hope and I will focus on some of them for this Christmas newsletter.
But I want to start by thanking the people of Brighton Pavilion for the honour of being re-elected your MP and putting your trust in me and the Green Party’s policies.
I wish you all the very best for Christmas and the new year.
GRETA THUNBERG VISIT
One of the highlights of my year was welcoming Greta Thunberg to Parliament in April. MPs from across the political spectrum packed out a room in Westminster to listen to her speak truth to power – it was a sharp reminder of how much difference one person has the potential to make.
Greta has sparked a global movement and it’s been a privilege to watch the way the school climate strikers are now driving the climate emergency up the political agenda. I’ve spoken at a number of their rallies in Brighton and London and each time I’m struck by the passion and commitment they show.
PARLIAMENT DECLARES A CLIMATE EMERGENCY
It’s partly thanks to the pressure from the climate strikers that I had so much support from MPs for my Early Day Motion on declaring a Climate Emergency. This was followed up in May with MPs approving a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.
I’m delighted too at the success of the campaign calling for the Parliamentary Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels. I have championed this campaign in Parliament and to date 300 MPs (or former MPs) have signed the pledge.
Given all of this, it was unbelievable that the Queen’s Speech this week made no mention of the climate emergency and had almost nothing to offer on how to tackle it. I wrote about this for iNews, and will be doing everything I can to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on all its environmental policies. I was joined by four of the school climate strikers in Central Lobby ahead of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, handing out climate induction packs to MPs to remind them of the urgency of tackling the climate crisis.
A GREEN NEW DEAL BILL
A parliamentary highlight this year has been my launch of the Green New Deal Bill, the first attempt in Britain to put legislation in place to make the Green New Deal a reality. It sets out a transformative programme to move our economy away from its harmful dependence on carbon at the scale and speed demanded by science, with principles of justice and equity at its core. You can read my piece in the Guardian here.
BREXIT AND A PEOPLE’S VOTE
I worked on a cross-party basis to ensure that legislation was passed to avoid a dangerous no deal Brexit, voting for the Benn-Burt Act which required the Prime Minister to request an extension of Article 50 – avoiding a devastating crash out Brexit in October.
I was one of the petitioners in the court case which successfully challenged the Government’s illegal prorogation of Parliament.
I was one of the founders of the People’s Vote movement to try to give people the chance to decide on the future of our relationship with the EU, equipped with a full picture of the trade-offs that leaving would entail – not the lies and half-truths of the 2016 referendum.
I joined the most recent People’s Vote rally alongside one million others who were calling for a confirmatory referendum. I also supported an amendment to the Government’s Brexit deal which would have provided for a People’s Vote.
During the election campaign I continued to defend the “precious right to be able to freely work and study, and live and love, in 27 other countries”. The EU remains the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity and freedom in history and I continue to believe that leaving it will damage the UK’s international standing, economic prosperity and threaten peace in Northern Ireland.
The housing crisis remains a top priority for me, and it is deeply frustrating that we have a government which shows very little commitment to addressing it. A Housing and Planning Bill was introduced in June, which would actually make the current situation even worse and put another nail in the coffin of social housing. The few good measures (on rogue landlords and letting agents) were no compensation for the failure to protect private renters or encourage the building of truly affordable homes.
In Brighton, I have pushed hard for a year-round shelter so that vulnerable people are not forced to sleep on the streets. I’m glad to say a shelter has just opened, run by YMCA Downslink and the Churches Night Shelter project and funded by BHCC, but it has limited capacity so I will be going back to the council on the situation, as well as raising the issue with ministers.
The terrible fire at Pankhurst Avenue earlier this year highlighted the issue of fire safety. I have repeatedly raised this issue with BHCC with regard to the high-rise buildings they own in the city, though it also concerns low-rise buildings. There are flaws in the legislation which urgently need to be addressed.
GUEST EDITING THE BIG ISSUE
It was a huge honour to be invited to guest edit The Big Issue in October. The theme for the magazine was the state of our democracy and included amongst other articles a conversation between me and Yanis Varoufakis. I have also worked with The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, to introduce a Future Generations Bill in Parliament, to ensure that the needs of future generations are at the core of government decision-making (my piece for iNews is here).
The under-funding of our NHS, and the risks to it from a future trade deal with Trump’s America, were a key issue of the election campaign. I voted for an amendment to the Queen’s Speech last month against creeping privatisation in the NHS. Staffing levels, particularly among nurses, are in crisis – and I’ve supported the local RCN’s #safestaffingsaveslives campaign.
I am also concerned about the future of land at the Brighton General Hospital site and have pressed both the NHS Trust and Brighton and Hove City Council on the need to ensure that at least some of it is used for social and keyworker housing.
I’ve continued to support the campaign for improved care for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in Sussex. At present, patients have to travel to London for respiratory assessments and ongoing care and the 140-mile round trip is simply not feasible for many with the condition. I’m supporting the call for a local non-invasive ventilation service and I’m glad to say that plans are now underway for this to happen at the Royal Sussex soon.
Young people’s mental health is a dangerously under-funded area of our NHS. I have raised the issue a number of times in Parliament, working with YoungMinds to ask two parliamentary questions and adding my name to a major parliamentary motion calling for investment in new mental health provision for children. I am also campaigning for reform of the Mental Health Act, which is no longer fit for purpose, and signed Early Day Motion 1242 to put this call on the Parliamentary record.
Education has taken a huge hit from nine years of austerity and I’ve worked hard to get ministers to recognise the impact of savage funding cuts. Headteachers have told me of having to cut counselling services, special needs support and nurseries. I arranged for headteachers from three local schools to join me in meeting the then schools minister, Nick Gibb, so he could hear how lack of funding was impacting young people with special educational needs.
I wrote to the Chancellor ahead of the Spending Review in September urging him to fix the funding crisis in our schools – the £3.5 billion announced by Boris Johnson doesn’t reverse the cuts of the last decade and most schools won’t see a penny.
I’ve also supported the Raise the Rate campaign to persuade the Government to increase national funding for 16-18 year olds: cuts in this age group have had a major impact on 6th form colleges like BHASVIC.
A NEW DEAL FOR NATURE
At the beginning of the year, I commissioned a report from five leading nature writers and environmentalists on the crisis in nature and what should be done to address it. I launched their report, A New Deal for Nature, this month in the hope that the nature crisis would start to get the same attention and sense of urgency as the climate crisis – and wrote about it in the Guardian. The report came up with 80 recommendations, including some that I have championed for a while, like a GCSE in Natural History. You can read the full report on my website here.
Following the lobby of Parliament in June about supporting women in the criminal justice system, I joined Lisa Dando from Brighton Women’s Centre in a meeting with the then minister with responsibility for female offenders, Edward Argar, to discuss the expansion of women’s centres across the UK.
In June I raised the issue in Parliament of Hong Kong residents being extradited to China – the proposal which sparked the demonstrations which have been going on in the territory since then.
Many contacted me about the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and I wrote to the Government demanding an urgent inquiry into the arms trade, and how it is facilitating the Saudi bombing of civilians in Yemen. I also tabled a parliamentary question about the Government’s response to a UN report finding bomb parts in Yemen that were manufactured in Brighton.
In April, along with the other MPs in the city, Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, I wrote to the Home Secretary about the rise in violent crime in Brighton and Hove. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the Government has agreed to give Sussex Police a further £1.34 million to tackle the problem in the region. I know that community policing is under considerable strain and I will be going back to ministers to push for guaranteed levels of funding to tackle the problems faced in Brighton and Hove.
I worked closely with the Preston Park Train Campaign to get the Gatwick Express service restored for Preston Park commuters. It had been cut in May 2018, causing huge problems for train travellers and I’m delighted GTR finally recognised its mistake, listened to passengers and reinstated the service.
In April, I was proud to back a Bill which would require public bodies to recognise animals as sentient beings. This is not only important for animal protection, it’s also needed to ensure that animal welfare will not be sacrificed in the search for new trade deals after Brexit. I’ve also supported the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, designed to increase the penalties for animal cruelty.
I lent my support to calls for a public inquiry into badger culls, a policy which is cruel, costly and ineffective. You can see the video I posted on my Facebook page calling for an end to the cull.
I was also delighted to be asked to cut the ribbon for the brilliant mural painted by local artist Amy Kelly-Miller outside Middle Street primary school. Amy was commissioned by International Animal Rescue to highlight the plight of orangutans, which are seriously endangered because of habitat loss.
A lot of the issues I raise in Westminster stem from the conversations and correspondence I have with constituents about concerns they face. The casework that I receive makes up a large part of my workload, and in addition to highlighting the flaws in some of our national legislation and unfair policies, such as the cruel and counterproductive welfare reforms, I’m regularly in contact with many organisations to support residents resolving specific problems that they have.
It’s an incredibly rewarding part of the work that I do, and this year there have been some positive outcomes, like; helping a local resident to access disabled parking near their home; resolving British passport issues; challenging unfair visa decisions; supporting a young asylum seeker to achieve refugee status; helping a vulnerable victim of fraud be reimbursed for more than £6,000; and helping constituents to tackle issues accessing NHS treatment – including cancelled operations.
Casework forms a daily part of the work that I do, and whether it’s lobbying Brighton and Hove City Council about the waste and recycling services in the city, or supporting residents experiencing financial hardship – I'm committed to doing everything I can to support constituents where I can.
As well as appearing regularly on BBC, Sky and C4 news programmes, this past year I have also written regularly for the Guardian, Independent, iNews, Huffpost, New Statesman and others, and have a regular column in the Metro. Thank you to all those who follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.