The portrayal of the Westminster Village often suggests that MPs spend much of their time, sitting around on the famous green benches, discussing issues that no one really cares about. Sometimes. But most of the time, I believe most parliamentarians are engaging with important issues, even if these issues don’t necessarily always correlate with my constituency mailbag.
For example, last week, I was in the Chamber to hear the Defence Secretary admit that the Government have performed yet another embarrassing U-turn – this time on aircraft carriers. Now it is true to say that very little of my advice surgery is spent talking to people in Barnsley about the intricacies of how fighter jets land on aircraft carriers – albeit people do talk to me a lot about defence. Yet if I was to tell them that David Cameron’s mistake has just cost the taxpayer an estimated £250million, people can obviously see why it is important we discussed this.
The same can be said of the speech I gave on Tuesday, which was focused on International Development. Again, the portrayal of the UK’s involvement in International Development, often centres’ around examples of UK aid money being spent in Indian – a country that has its own Nuclear and Space programmes. This strikes a chord with some sections of the public, despite the fact that the reality is, that the vast majority of our overseas aid budget goes on life saving vaccinations for children, on food for families who are starving to death and on ensuring there is clean running water for villages in the most remote parts of the world.
The political ‘sell’ of International Development, therefore, shouldn’t be difficult. But it tends to be, because of some of the examples that are quoted which play well with those on the right of the political spectrum who would prefer our aid budget be slashed or indeed, eradicated entirely.
As someone who has served in Afghanistan, I know all too well about what can happen to a state or a region, if the world turns it back on it, and allows it to wither. It is in the long-term interest of Britain to ensure we support, whenever we can, those that are less fortunate than ourselves. It is a trait that makes us great.
Last week I also questioned the Justice department on Legal Aid. I know that the bill has passed but I am determined to speak out for vulnerable people, especially for vulnerable women, wherever I can. It seems incredible that the Government passed a law despite Mumsnet and many other organisations warning that tens of thousands of women would be too scared to leave their violent partners because they would not be in receipt of legal aid. I am looking forward to doing a webchat in the near future with Mumsnet, where I will be voicing my concerns about the impact of this law.
It was also the final opportunity for Parliament to debate this year’s Queen’s Speech. I believe, it is a speech that will be remembered more for what was not in it, than for what was. I said on the day the Queen delivered the speech, that I was bitterly disappointed that the word “jobs” was not even mentioned. Almost unbelievable in the current climate. A week later, we have seen the news that unemployment in Barnsley Central has risen, yet again.
This comes despite the fact that national unemployment fell by 45,000. I remain deeply concerned about the Government’s lack of a vision for jobs, especially in light of the Centre for Economic and Business Research warning that certain parts of the UK will experience rising unemployment every month for the next five years.
Last week has also proved that the Labour Party can be an effective opposition. George Osborne announced a £30million one-off payment which will allow Churches to recoup some of the money they would have lost under the rise in VAT. Don’t get me wrong, this is not what I believe the Government should have done (I don’t think VAT should ever have been imposed) and I want the Government to go further and support all listed buildings as well, but I support the light relief that this has given to Churches and congregations all over the country.
I’ll be asking Jeremy Hunt and John Penrose some more questions about this, as well as looking into frontline response times which continue to be hit by reckless Government cuts.
Have a good week,