Report on Downing Street parties during lockdown
The atmosphere at Westminster has been febrile over the past two weeks, waiting for the report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray into the parties that went on at Downing Street during Covid lockdowns. My most recent column in Metro set out why I think he should resign over the issue.
The extraordinary eleventh hour intervention by the Met police, saying they would investigate the parties after ignoring them for months, meant that her report was hollowed out and contained no detail of the parties themselves. But what she found was utterly damning. Behaviour that “is difficult to justify”, “failures of leadership and judgement” or to observe the standards expected. We also learned that of the 12 parties under police investigation, the Prime Minister is known to have been to at least three of them.
This should have led to an abject apology from the Prime Minister to the Commons. Any other prime minister, who found himself under police investigation, would have resigned. But not Boris Johnson who gave MPs an utterly shameful “sorry, not sorry” response, seeking to spread responsibility as widely as possible. What makes it worse is the failure of Tory MPs to put what’s right above their own political self-interest. Cabinet ministers and some backbenchers have defended the indefensible, and helped debase our politics even further. My response to the Prime Minister’s statement focused not just on his behaviour but the rotten system he represents, where power trumps integrity. You can read it here.
The lifting of most Covid restrictions
The Government took the decision last month to lift nearly all restrictions put in place to protect us all from Omicron. The Prime Minister’s statement to MPs was full of the usual boasts about how he has handled the pandemic. But he did not once mention Long Covid, which affects more than a million people. I urged him to formally recognise Long Covid as an occupational disease and launch a compensation scheme for frontline workers who have been left unable to work after catching Long Covid, often while working to protect and care for others. The response was “We’re looking at it” so I will keep pressing ministers on this issue.
Covid pressures on the NHS in Brighton & Hove
Some of you may have seen the announcement from University Hospitals Sussex NHS Trust (UHSussex) earlier this month about the pressure on services due to Covid. These have been rising across the Trust and so the Trust is introducing a range of measures to try to protect services for patients as demand on local hospitals continues to rise.
I have had several meetings with NHS leaders to discuss how I can support them in Parliament and to identify local solutions in areas under the most strain - such as A&E departments. These conversations have once again reinforced just how interrelated the NHS and social care are, with some hospitals wards currently acting as care homes in all but name.
The build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border is deeply worrying and a real threat to Ukraine’s independence. The Government’s announcement of new sanctions against Moscow rings very hollow when the Tory party accepts large donations from oligarchs, the Prime Minister has turned a blind eye to Kremlin meddling in our democracy and governments, including this one, have held the door open for London to be a laundromat for Putin’s cronies money – points I made in my intervention in the Commons debate.
The gas crisis
Tomorrow we will learn what the new energy price cap will be, an announcement which will affect millions of families who are already struggling to pay their energy bills. One of the reasons we are facing this gas crisis is because of the failure to take firm action on the climate emergency in the past, leaving us too exposed to soaring prices. I signed a cross-party letter to the Prime Minister and Chancellor saying those who most need it must be targeted for help, which must not come at the expense of climate action.
On that subject, I also urged the COP26 president to make the case to his Cabinet colleagues that the 40 new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline in the UK are incompatible with the Glasgow climate pact which he negotiated. Yet again, a non-answer.
This bill is one of a series of draconian pieces of legislation which will suppress people’s democratic rights. Of particular concern is the move to introduce mandatory voter ID which will make it much harder for anyone who doesn’t have a passport or driving licence to vote. The bill also reduces the independence of the Electoral Commission and abolish the only major elections which are held under the fairer proportional voting system – those for mayors. Depressingly, efforts by opposition MPs to remove these clauses from the bill failed and it now goes to the House of Lords.
I wrote in my last newsletter how my Green Party colleagues in the House of Lords, Jenny Jones and Natalie Bennett, had been leading the opposition to clauses in the Policing Bill which are a real attack on civil liberties, particularly the right to protest. Their amazing campaigning helped bring about 14 government defeats in the Lords on some of the worst aspects of the bill. It now goes back to the Commons where the fight to protect civil liberties will continue.
In the wake of Grenfell, building safety has been focused on dangerous cladding. But leaseholders who live in homes which fail fire safety standards for other reasons should have the same level of protection that the Government is now giving those affected by cladding. The debate on the Building Safety Bill failed to provide those guarantees. So leaseholders, including many in Brighton, face the prospect of being dumped with costs to rectify problems they did not create. The Minister’s answer, when I challenged him on this, was an insult – offering no reassurance at all. I set out the problem facing many leaseholders in Brighton in a comment piece for politics.co.uk.
Animal sentience bill
Back in 2017, the Government refused to support my amendment to the Brexit Withdrawal Bill that would have ensured continued adherence to rules on animal sentience. Ministers now recognise they were wrong and have introduced a new bill, writing animal sentience into UK law. It’s not quite a full victory as the bill misses the opportunity to not only prevent harm to animals but also to promote positive welfare, as I pointed out to the Minister during the debate.
The threat to bees
It is deeply worrying that the Government is ignoring advice from its own scientists and pressing ahead with its shameful decision to authorise the use of a neonicintinoid, a pesticide that is lethal to bees. This decision is plainly incompatible with the Government’s own target of halting the dangerous decline in bee populations by 2030, as I pointed out to the Minister in the Commons. His answer just brushed off these concerns – deeply complacent and dangerous. I also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate about the threat neonics pose to bees.