Parliament resumed this week after a three week recess for the Party Conference season but for me, its recommencement was slightly unusual.
As I am sure you will know by now, Ed Miliband decided to hold a cabinet reshuffle at the end of last week. Over the weekend, Ed approached me and asked to join Harriet Harman’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport team. It was a privilege to say yes.
I know some people tweeted and sent me messages on facebook suggesting that they were surprised I had been given this role and not something around defence or security. The reality is I have come to Parliament to talk about a broad range of issues. I’ll always stand up for our forces and indeed, I have done in the face of some of the worst cuts to the MoD in living memory since joining the House seven months ago.
Nevertheless I have done a lot of other things too. One of my biggest campaigns in Barnsley and in Westminster is the promotion and development of the Newham-Barnsley Olympic partnership. No other place in the world has forged a partnership with the Olympic borough that celebrates our cultural differences and similarities through the power of sport.
I have also launched the Proud of Barnsley picture competition where I am looking for young artists and designers to put together paintings, drawings or digital images explaining why they are proud of our town. Additionally, I secured the Olympic digital bursary scheme for next year where I am hoping that we can use the Olympics to inspire our young people into the creative industries through jobs in journalism, TV and Radio production.
So culture and the creative industries have been central to my work since becoming an MP and I am relishing the chance to continue that work from the Labour frontbench. I was also delighted to see my fellow Barnsley MPs promoted – Michael to the Shadow Cabinet and Angela to be Deputy Leader of the House. I was however, sorry to see John Healey step down as Shadow Health Secretary. John did a brilliant job in highlighting the dangers of the government’s Health and Social Care Bill. I wish him well as he now rejoins the backbenches and looks to spend more time with his family.
Over the summer recess, 140,000 people signed an e-petition which called for the government to release all of the unredacted and uncensored files relating to the Hillsborough disaster. Many of us will remember the disaster and its aftermath. I couldn’t get a ticket for the game which turned out to be fortunate in the end, but I have followed the Liverpool fans’ ‘Justice for the 96’ campaign with great interest. My next door neighbour in Parliament and Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, who was at the game, has done a great job in getting the debate to this stage.
This week was a crucial week. First, I had the chance to ask Nick Clegg at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions whether he would place on the record, his support for the release of the uncensored documentation. Now, Nick Clegg, as we all know, has done a lot wrong in the last fifteen months, but credit where credit is due. He said unequivocally that he supported the release and for that I am grateful.
We would never have expected the families of the 7/7 victims to have waited over two decades to find out why their loved ones died, so it is disappointing that successive governments have allowed this to happen.
For some extraordinary reason, not everyone agrees. Last night, the House was asked to confirm that the debate would go ahead. To everyone’s dismay, Christopher Chope, the Conservative MP, objected to the debate in favour of a longer debate on his own pension.
With the MPs expenses scandal and more recently with the allegations against the Defence Secretary, the public’s trust in politicians is at an all time low. Stunts like Chope’s only serves to diminish the efforts of honest MPs looking for justice for the families.
The drama didn’t end there either. Today at Prime Ministers Question, Steve managed to corner the PM to publically announce that he will protect the parliamentary time so that a debate can definitely happen. The debate will now take place on Monday at 7pm with the families of the victims present in the public gallery. I want to thank all of you that took the time over the summer to sign that petition or who tweeted me with their support for the debate. We now stand on the cusp of finally getting the answers to the questions the families need and put to bed a dark chapter in South Yorkshire’s history.
So as you may have deduced for yourself, the first week back was as busy as usual. I have lined up meetings with leading Arts and Heritage companies for the next few weeks, but for now, I am preparing to head back to Barnsley a day early so that I am able to campaign throughout the St Helen’s ward by-election.