This is my first newsletter since the summer break and what has turned out to be a tumultuous period in politics. I’ve spent the summer juggling parliamentary and constituency work and trying to stop Boris Johnson manipulating Parliament so that we crash out of the European Union.
Suspension of Parliament and threat of a No Deal Brexit
We are living through a dangerous time in terms of the threat to our democracy and the risks to the people of this country that a No Deal Brexit would entail. I spent much of the past weeks campaigning against the suspension of Parliament, including meeting regularly with the other opposition party leaders, who are all agreed on a legislative route to stop Boris Johnson’s disastrous No Deal Brexit plans. Even though I want to be rid of this Tory government, I have joined other opposition parties in defeating Johnson’s call for an immediate General Election, because he is trying to use it to bring about a No Deal Brexit (working on the basis that we will crash out of the EU by default while MPs are absent from parliament), ignoring all the damage this would cause to the people of our country and even suggesting that he would ignore the law to pursue his reckless plans.
The contempt which this Government is showing for Parliament and MPs was exemplified by the leader of the house, Jacob Rees Mogg, who spent part of the debate about stopping no deal slouched across the government front benches. I called him out for his total disrespect for Parliament. The story was widely picked up by the media in Brighton and nationally. It would be hard to think of an image which better illustrates the sense of entitlement and arrogance of the current government. I believe Rees Mogg’s behaviour will come back to haunt them.
Outside the House of Commons, I signed the Church House Declaration along with some 200 other MPs pledging to protect and fight for the sovereignty of Parliament. When Johnson announced the prorogation, or suspension of Parliament, thousands of people came on to the streets to protest and I spoke at a rally on Saturday at The Level in Brighton. It was fantastic to see so many people there.
I’ve also written widely and spoken about the threat Boris Johnson poses to our democracy. You may have seen my comment pieces on his constitutional coup in Huffington Post and in Open Democracy. I also appeared on BBC Newsnight and on Radio 4’s Any Questions.
The fight to preserve our democracy against the abuse of power by Downing Street continues and I will be there to do what I can to protect parliamentary sovereignty.
Government spending review
The spending review on Wednesday was trumpeted by the Government as an end to austerity – which, of course, the same people were responsible for imposing. It was a blatant attempt to buy votes ahead of a general election, which makes it even more disgraceful that there was almost nothing to address the climate emergency, even though two thirds of people think it is even more urgent than Brexit.
I had written to the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, beforehand making clear what the priorities should be for public spending and saying there should be at least a doubling of spending on climate and environmental protection. Instead there was almost nothing – another £30m for decarbonisation schemes. If the Government was serious about tackling the crisis, there would have been an announcement of a Green New Deal which would have addressed the climate emergency, inequality and our failed economic system.
On housing, I said a mass programme of zero-carbon council housing should be at the heart of the spending review. The lack of affordable housing is a nationwide issue, but it is a particular concern in Brighton where homelessness has reached shocking levels in the last 10 years and where renting in the private sector is perilous and too many families are pushed into temporary accommodation. There are more than 1,500 households in temporary accommodation in Brighton alone.
On education, to restore school budgets and meet the extra costs schools are facing and to manage increases in pupil numbers, spending needs to rise sharply. Spending on 16-18 year olds has seen the biggest squeeze on budgets. Sixth form and FE colleges told me they needed an extra £760 per student. The Spending Round gave them an extra £200 – less than a third of what colleges need to provide quality education and training. The increase will do little to repair the deep damage the Conservatives have caused to education budgets with the years of austerity.
Hollingdean depot fire
Many of you contacted me about the fire at Hollingdean depot. There were several concerns, not least the lack of information for local residents. Many were relying on The Argus website. I’ve been in touch with the relevant agencies – Brighton and Hove City Council and Veolia – and the information they sent me, including advice from Public Health England and the fire service, was posted on my website. I’m continuing to press for answers on what was actually burned in the fire, and how such incidents should be communicated to local residents.
Nurses and the safe staff saving lives campaign
The shortage of nurses in the NHS places huge strain on staff and I learned more when I met a local group of RCN members to support their #safestaffingsaveslives campaign. It is always very powerful to listen to the testimonies and experiences of the nurses I meet and the stress and strain they are put under, and the worries they have for their patients, because of underfunding of our NHS. A key problem is the withdrawal of the student nurses’ bursary which the Government said would increase the numbers of student nurses. Instead they’ve fallen sharply. The bursary must be restored.
The Government has slashed funding to schools over the past nine years and Boris Johnson’s promise to make education a funding priority won’t repair the damage which has been done. I’ve supported local headteachers who continue to fight for adequate funding and I met up with the head of Tanbridge House School, Jules White, to see how I could help their campaign for better funding for schools.
Patcham flood risk
I’ve written to the new chair of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on Brighton Council about the flood prevention work in Patcham. The Council secured some funding from the EU and has undertaken a project to tackle some of the flooding problems in Carden Avenue, and Norton Road in Hove. I welcome what the Council is doing, but I am concerned about the limitations of the work the Council can carry out. I've written to Councillor Pissaridou for further details about the funding constraints that the Council has regarding extending the work of the SCAPE project with a view to raising this matter further with Ministers. I've also written to Southern Water about their work to protect properties at risk of flooding in the city.
Southern Water sewage spillages
There were reports over the summer about incidents in Newhaven and Eastbourne, where Southern Water experienced power failures and released raw sewage into the sea. I've written to their Chief Executive about the alarming situation and the ongoing issues they are being dogged with. Following the £126 million fine handed out to Southern Water following previous serious failures and sewage spillages in 2016, and also claims of staff obstructing the subsequent investigations that took place, the company needs to urgently provide an explanation for the continued problems to restore public confidence in their ability as a provider of such a vital resource. I continue to believe that water privatisation has been a failure and water companies should be in public ownership. Irrespective of whether this view is shared, I think that there are serious questions about Southern Water's ability to fulfil its contract.
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 after writing 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've since been in contact with Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) about community policing pressures - most recently about the announcement promising more police officers.
The correspondence I receive from my constituents, in addition to feedback from Local Action Teams and Residents’ Associations, is that community policing is under considerable strain, and that this is being felt throughout the city, in particular central areas like London Road, Western Road, and the North Laine/The Lanes. Whilst new money and recruitment announcements are welcome, we need guaranteed levels of funding to effectively invest in initiatives to tackle the problems the city faces - both the immediate problems linked to violent crime, and longer-term strategy of a preventative nature. Therefore I will be going back to Ministers, the PCC, and police officers to keep the issue of policing pressures on the agenda.
Hyde - external lift at the rear of Brighton Station in the New England Quarter
It's been a long slog, but after three years of repeatedly writing to Hyde Housing about the non-functioning external lift in the New England Quarter at the rear of Brighton station, it's now in working order. A variety of reasons have been given along the way for the lift not working, and whilst I don't doubt that finding some of the issues may have been complex, I maintain that the situation should have received greater attention early on and has not been handled with the urgency needed.
Some local residents moved to the development because they were led to believe that there would be reasonable disability access to the station, and the initial planning consent stipulated that the lift should be operational before residents moved into phase one of the development. So I've asked Hyde whether they will provide compensation to those affected. Their most recent response said: "We will engage with the residents that have made complaints directly to Hyde on this matter to review on a case by case basis for compensation." While I welcome this, I have gone back to them to ask for greater clarity about what this looks like, as I'd like to be more confident that what's offered adequately reflects the disruption and difficulty that has been caused by the situation.
Celebrating Brighton’s suffragette movement
I am a huge supporter of the campaign to recognise and commemorate the work of suffragettes and suffragists in Brighton, so I was delighted to join the TUC leader, Frances O’Grady and Brighton Council leader Nancy Platts in unveiling a plaque for suffragist Clementina Black, a proud trade unionist, author and campaigner for a legal minimum wage. You can see it in Ship Street.
I’m also supporting the campaign to raise a statue to Mary Clarke, a local heroine in the fight for women’s suffrage. She was the first suffragette to lose her life campaigning for women to have the vote and was the Women’s Social and Political Union organiser for Brighton from 1909-10. Jean Calder is leading the campaign to have Mary commemorated with a statue and it was good to catch up with her to find out how the campaign was going. If you’d like to lend your support, there’s a link to the fundraising site here
Tourism is a huge part of the global economy and can do so much environmental damage. So it’s good to see companies like Responsible Travel working to ensure people can go away on a fantastic holiday while minimising the impact on the environment. I met the team who told me how they not only refuse to sell holidays which are hugely damaging, but also campaign to create a more caring tourism industry, linking up with activists, local communities and NGOs around the world.
I attended the launch event for the 2020 Brighton half-marathon. The Sussex Beacon do incredible work, and the marathon is a brilliant opportunity to recognise all that they do, and raise some important funding. For those interested in signing up, details are online here: https://www.brightonhalfmarathon.com/.
I’m hugely honoured to have been invited to curate an exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. They have a wonderful collection and I’ve tried to select paintings which reflect my love of the natural environment from artists like Eric Ravilious, Tirzah Garwood, Jonathon Monk and Clare Richardson. I hope some of you might go along to the gallery when the exhibition opens in November.
I continue to work with colleagues from other parties to try to avert the Government’s disastrous charge towards a no deal Brexit, which will do such damage to people and businesses in Brighton, as elsewhere. I have also continued to press the Government for answers on what they are doing to prepare for the impact of crashing out without a deal, particularly on the availability of food, medicines and fuel. The Government is spending more than £100 million on a public awareness campaign, which will do nothing to put food in people’s mouths or give them assurances about their ability to get the medicines they need.