Sleaze and truth-telling
In my last newsletter, I wrote about Tory sleaze, the lack of truth-telling by the Prime Minister and the failure to uphold the Ministerial Code which governs conduct in public office.
Since then, the situation has got even worse. Text messages, cover-ups over the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, and a deeply offensive comment about Covid deaths have all been revealed by the newspapers and broadcasters, denied by the Prime Minister, then confirmed by other journalists.
Ministers have tried to brush this aside as “tittle tattle” or claimed it doesn’t matter to ordinary voters. That is not true. Green party canvassers tell me that it is coming up on the doorstep, but worryingly is turning people away from politics and the democratic process altogether. That is one reason why the Prime Minister’s lying is so dangerous for our democracy.
What has become very clear is that, under our archaic and dysfunctional rules, it is the Prime Minister himself who decides whether the Ministerial Code has been broken. He is effectively allowed to mark his own homework – a point I put to the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, in Parliament. You can read our exchange here.
As well as speaking about this in Parliament, I have given interviews to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and Westminster Hour and I wrote about it in my column for Metro. The rules for governing conduct in public office need to change.
Meeting with the Speaker
Together with five other opposition party leaders at Westminster, I wrote to the Speaker about the Prime Minister’s serial lying to Parliament and his breaking of the Ministerial Code (the story was covered in several media outlets including the Guardian, the Daily Mirror, Sky News, and I wrote a comment piece about it in the Independent).
Last week, we had a meeting with the Speaker where we discussed a number of possible measures, including learning from the more transparent Scottish model of correcting the record when someone has said something inaccurate in Holyrood. We will now be writing to the Chair of the Procedure Committee to follow up on these discussions.
New climate targets
Just ahead of President Biden’s climate summit, the Government announced a more ambitious climate target, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. That means a 60% reduction on today’s levels.
Clearly, I welcome a target which is more in line with what the science is telling us. But there is still no strategy for achieving it, as I pointed out on the BBC Politics Live programme. The Government’s 10-point plan doesn’t even deliver on previous, weaker targets and, in the meantime, it’s carrying on building more roads and cutting the home insulation programme.
But the most glaring problem is the refusal to recognise what’s really fuelling the climate crisis, and that is the focus on GDP growth above anything else. My letter about this was published in the Guardian.
Tackling the climate crisis by focusing on wellbeing
We urgently need to shift to a Wellbeing economy where the health of people and planet is put before short-term profit, communities are prioritised over consumption and the key measure of success is not GDP growth but wellbeing.
I want Parliament to debate a Wellbeing Economy. To achieve this, we need 100,000 signatures on a petition on the parliamentary website. I’d be really grateful if you might sign it, if you haven’t already.
The Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill
I introduced this Bill in Parliament last year and was delighted to see more than 100 climate experts, environmentalists and businesses sign a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to support the Bill. As a first step, it should be included in the Queen’s Speech next week.
Coronavirus in India
The scenes from India as medical staff are overwhelmed by coronavirus patients are truly heartrending. Governments across the world need to be doing much more to support the efforts to contain the virus there. Ministers have now finally added India to the red list of countries so arrivals from there must quarantine in particular hotels. But this requirement didn’t come into force for four days after the announcement, which itself came days after the situation there span out of control. It is yet another example of the Government shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Speaking out against the Policing Bill
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is dangerous, undemocratic and completely disproportionate – it’s been condemned by former chief constables and two former Home Secretaries, not least because of the way it curtails the right to peacefully protest. Nearly 2,500 Brighton residents have signed a petition opposing any restriction on the right to peaceful protest and I know from my inbox that many of you are deeply concerned, as I am, about giving the police new powers to undermine a fundamental right in a democracy.
I spoke against the Bill in a debate in Westminster Hall. You can read my speech here.
The Fire Safety Bill
Each time this Bill has come before MPs, I have voted to amend it so that other fire risks apart from cladding are covered and *all* leaseholders are protected from the costs of making their homes safe. Again last week, I voted to protect leaseholders from having the costs of fixing dangerous cladding passed on to them. But yet again, the Government rejected this amendment, leaving thousands of people in homes which are potentially dangerous and which they cannot sell.
I marked Earth Day (on April 22nd) in two ways. I tabled an Early Day Motion with a cross-party group of MPs, urging the Government to invest in creating over a million good green jobs across the country, including in health and social care. And I wrote to every garden centre in Brighton and Hove, asking them to stop selling peat-based compost. Peatlands are absolutely vital for biodiversity, flood prevention and carbon storage and the gardener and TV presenter, Monty Don, has righty described using peat in horticulture as “environmental vandalism”.