We had a fantastic set of local election results particularly in London, with Labour winning former long-time Conservative councils, such as Wandsworth, Westminster, and Barnet.
I was out campaigning in the run up to the elections across the constituency and also in Croydon, Plaistow and the Gower to support our fantastic Labour candidates.
More locally I was pleased to see Labour in Lewisham being given a strong mandate to continue to deliver for people in Lewisham, holding all 54 seats on the council.
It was also fantastic to see Labour gains in Plaistow and St Paul's Cray in Bromley and coming close to winning in St Mary's Cray.
I want to congratulate all our candidates who ran and all those who were elected, particularly the fantastic gains we made in Plaistow and St Paul's Cray in Bromley.
As you may know we also have two Parliamentary by-elections happening in June and I have been up to Wakefield several times recently to campaign for Labour.
The action taken by P&O Ferries in March to sack 800 British workers with no notice is a national scandal. We have since learned that these workers have been replaced with people earning just £1.80 an hour. This is a betrayal of people who protected this country’s supply chain during the pandemic. I stand firmly with the P&O workers and the work being done by unions to stand up for them.
In addition, we now also know that the Transport Secretary and Prime Minister’s offices were informed of these sackings in advance of them taking place, and it appears a window of opportunity has been missed. I believe the Government should suspend all the licences and contracts that it holds with the parent company, DP World to maximise pressure and force it to reverse course. It needs to take a serious look at its long-standing relationship with DP World.
But it’s no wonder P&O thought they could break the law when the Tories have failed to ban fire & rehire, failed to fully extend the national minimum wage to seafarers and if it wasn’t for the legal challenge from Unison we would still have Employment Tribunal fees. We need a Government that stands up for workers and I raised this in Parliament, see here. One of the Government’s responses to this situation is to uplift compensation for unfair dismissal, but the uplift is so small it isn't going to deter unscrupulous employers like P&O. You can see me raising this here.
I believe the Government should demand and ensure the minimum wage is extended to all seafarers and strengthen the shamefully weak employment protections that allowed P&O Ferries to act with impunity because they knew the penalty for failing to consult the workforce was a price worth paying. The Government should also look at every avenue in company law to see that the Chief Executive, and those responsible for brazenly flouting British law, are disqualified.
Unscrupulous employers cannot be given free rein to sack their workforce, destroying secure jobs and replacing them with cheap, insecure agency work. Condemnation, while necessary, is insufficient and more must be done to protect workers and outlaw ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. If one company can divest itself of responsibility for its workforce in such a manner without a serious response from Ministers, then others will see that as a green light to do exactly the same.
This month we had the Spring Statement and despite the fact we are currently living through a cost-of-living crisis this Government put forward no meaningful measures to tackle this.
Many people across the country are choosing between putting food on the table & heating their homes and this is completely wrong. I raised this with the Chancellor and called on him to introduce a windfall tax on North Sea oil & gas companies who have been cashing in on rising energy prices to help tackle rising energy bills.
The Chancellor said to wait for the Prime Ministers statement on this but many can’t wait any longer, they need help now.
To celebrate International Women's Day I was very proud to welcome two local women, Mickey Wells and Lisa Goodchild into Parliament for an evening reception with Keir Starmer to celebrate the work of female entrepreneurs.
Mickey is an award-winning fitness instructor who kept me moving during lockdowns, supporting my mental & physical health. She has also raised £10,000 for local domestic violence charities.
Lisa went to school with both me and my sister Rachel, she overcame the challenges of her childhood and set up a successful digital marketing company. Through her charity work, she also provides digital skills training to disadvantaged young people.
These women are fantastic role models for our community, and it was brilliant to be able to recognise their fantastic achievements and work.
For International Women's Day this year I led Labour’s Opposition Day debate on this Government's appalling track record on tackling rape.
Under the conservatives we have seen the effective decriminalisation of this crime with just 1.3% of reported rapes being prosecuted. This is a record low despite reports of the crime being at record highs.
Labour has a plan to tackle this which I put forward but until the Government backs it women and girls will continue to be failed. You can see my speech here and my article on this here.
We are very fortunate to have such fantastic local services in our area but sadly they have been impacted heavily by the pandemic. I have been doing everything possible to fight for them and ensure that high standards are maintained.
One of the biggest disruptions has been the cuts to our train services from Sydenham Station. During the first lockdown the ‘loop line’ between London Bridge and Victoria was cut and is yet to be restored. In November 2021 myself and the Sydenham Society met with key officials at Southern to urge them return our service back to normal.
They confirmed in the meeting that the plan was to reintroduce the service on the 4th January. However, this did not happen and in fact the East Croydon to London Bridge service has also been cut. This means that at the time of writing there are no weekday trains from Sydenham to London Bridge.
This has caused huge and unacceptable disruption for many constituents, and others across South London. Commuters are now having to contend with crowded alternative routes, and I have also been contacted by families who need to travel to hospitals in central London who are now facing far longer and complicated journeys.
I met with Southern again in January to ask them to sort this out. They informed me that staff absences caused by covid had led to the cuts in service. I have been assured that from 21st February there will be two trains an hour, seven days a week, from Sydenham to London Bridge.
However, staff absence will need to fall below 12% before the loop line can be restored and is therefore likely to take longer. We rely on our transport links in Sydenham and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure our service is restored to the level it was pre pandemic.
In better news, after a tireless campaign driven by our wonderful local community, in November the Mayor of London committed to funding the renovations for the 50m pool and diving pool at the Crystal Palace National Sport Centre.
These pools have been closed since March 2020, denying local swimmers their usual routine, and preventing the next generation of elite swimmers who use the pools for training. Young people at the fantastic Crystal Palace diving club have also been forced to travel miles out of London in order to train. Given the importance of the pools to our community I have been lobbying the Mayor for some time to commit the funding needed, so I am delighted by this news.
Finally, one of our services most impacted by the pandemic has been our schools. They have done a brilliant job over the past few years in incredibly challenging circumstances. But I know that many schools are currently having to teach with windows open in the bitter cold of the winter, so in Parliament I have been arguing for air purifiers to be made available for all schools.
I have been delighted that as we come out of the pandemic I have once again been able to visit the schools in our constituency. This is one part of my job I really missed during Covid restrictions, and I think it’s incredibly important to be able meet with pupils and answer their questions about politics and Parliament. I have done lots of school visits over the past couple of months and look forward to doing more throughout the year.
So, whilst we have faced many challenges over the last few years, I will continue to fight for our public services and to ensure that our area continues to be a fantastic place to live and work.
Like many I am in utter shock at the ‘partygate’ scandal. Sue Gray’s report published in part today made clear that COVID regulations were flouted routinely in Downing Street, including on several occasions when the Prime Minister was present.
The Prime Minister has previously assured the House that the guidance was followed, and the rules were followed. But we now know that at least 12 cases have reached the threshold for a criminal investigation, and a number of these are being examined by the Metropolitan Police.
Whilst Downing Street partied, we did what was right and followed the rules. Either the Prime Minister had not read them, did not understand them, or thought that they did not apply to him.
When parties took place, key workers were working round the clock to keep us all safe. People suffered loneliness and loss in unimaginably tough circumstances, and for the majority of the country our freedom was limited to a daily walk.
In Parliament this month I raised the case of a constituent who spent most of her labour alone then days in hospital with a newborn without her partner being able to visit, all while Downing Street partied, see here.
The British people who have made so many heart-wrenching sacrifices over the past two years, deserve better than this rotten Government and the Prime Minister has now lost what little authority he had. Given this and that he is too distracted to fulfil the duties of his office I believe he should do the decent thing and resign.
I was proud to recently be promoted to the Shadow Justice team as the Shadow Justice Minister. I have loved being Shadow Solicitor General over the last year and a half and am really excited to now build on top of this work in the new Justice team.
One of my priorities that I will continue pushing forward is our work on Ending Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG). The first responsibility of any Government is the safety and security of its citizens.
However, rape prosecutions and convictions are at record lows, domestic abuse is soaring, and last year the number of female homicide victims reached its highest level since 2006. Despite all of this the Government has no real plan beyond a few gimmicks to address these failings.
In response we have published a Green Paper on Ending VAWG and I led the development of Labour’s Survivors’ Support Plan to reverse the falling prosecution rates for rape. This plan called for the fast-tracking of cases throughout the criminal justice system, a full legal advocacy scheme for victims and a named Minister for Survivors to give this issue proper accountability.
Meanwhile, it took the Government over two years to conduct their rape review which in the end made only piecemeal suggestions like extending the pilot of fast-tracking cases to just six crown courts. We could have this operating in all crown courts tomorrow if the government were serious about this. It’s not good enough and its victims who are being let down.
One of my other priorities in the new role will be women in prisons, many of whom are themselves the victims of crime. Evidence shows that for the majority of offenders community-based solutions through Women’s Centres are much more effective at preventing reoffending and are far more cost effective than prison.
Indeed, the Government’s own female offender strategy promises a focus on early intervention and community-based solutions. Despite this they are investing £150 million to build 500 new prison cells for women instead of investing in what works - women’s centres and community sentences. This needs to be robustly challenged.
Finally, we need to challenge the Government’s ambition to scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail judicial review. These are cornerstone of the rule of law that underpins democracy - and ensures that no one, not even Government Ministers, are above the law. It's yet another example of one rule for them, another for the rest of us.
This attack on our rights comes at a time when the justice system has never been more vulnerable. 11 years of Conservative cuts, a backlog of over 60,000 cases in the Crown Courts and victims dropping out because of these delays. It’s clear that we will have our work cut out defending our Justice system.
As the political lead for Labour in the Old Bexley and Sidcup By-election I have spent a large part of my time over the last month out on the doorstep in this traditionally conservative heartland. And the response on the doorstep during this campaign has been fascinating.
We came across numerous voters telling us that they are fed up with being taken for granted, fed up with being told to live by a set of rules that is ignored by the Government and fed up with the Tory sleaze scandal.
This has led to a large number of Conservatives no longer wanting to support this Government and even a number committing to give their support to Labour instead. Serious times call for serious leadership and it’s clear that people are ready to give Labour and Keir Starmer a hearing. And this is reflected in the result.
Last week we achieved a fantastic 10.3% swing to Labour, slashing the Tory majority from nearly 19,000 to 4,478. If this swing was replicated at a general election it would put us within reach of forming a majority government.
This is a really encouraging result especially in the context that this constituency is a safe Conservative seat that has never been held by Labour and nor do we have any Labour Councillors there. The result is also testament to the brilliant work of our local candidate, Daniel Francis, who campaigned tirelessly to get our message out.
And this result just goes to show that amongst the Conservatives core voters’ faith is being lost. Whether it’s the broken manifesto promises, lies or the sleaze that has emerged, voters are cottoning on to this Government’s incompetence and that it’s one rule for Government Ministers and their associates and another for everyone else.
This has been reflected in the billions of pounds of taxpayer money handed to their mates and donors, Tory MPs getting rich by working as lobbyists and missing votes to be in the Caribbean advising tax havens instead of representing their constituents.
Recently in Parliament Labour put forward a plan of action to clean up politics and strengthen standards with a vote for an investigation into the sleaze scandal and to end paid directorships and commercial consultancies for sitting MPs.
Instead of backing this and taking the first steps to clean up our politics the Prime Minister whipped his MPs against this plan. We need a Government that governs in the public interest, not their own personal interest. But it’s increasingly clear the latter is more the case.
Taking Old Bexley and Sidcup was not a prospect for us, but the big swing to Labour that we achieved shows that even for Tory heartland voters this shambles of a Government is not delivering and that there is a path for Labour to form the next Government.
After a tireless campaign driven by our wonderful local community, last week, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has committed to funding the renovations for the 50m pool and diving pool at the Crystal Palace National Sport Centre.
Our community fought tirelessly with a petition that received over 20,000 signatures in just a week and now stands at over 40,000 signatures. I have also been lobbying the Mayor for some time to commit to this, so I am delighted by this news. I’m also extremely grateful for the support from Swim England, who helped champion our local campaign.
These pools have been closed since March 2020, with delays to repairs to the 60-year-old listed building caused partly by the pandemic and a lack of funding for remedial work, but this is a key local resource for the community.
The reopening of the pools is particularly important for local leisure swimmers, but also for the next generation of elite swimmers who use it frequently for training, as it is one of only a handful of 50 metre pools in London and the only one for neighbouring Kent. The closures have meant that swimmers, divers, and water polo players have all had to travel extremely long distances for well over a year now to use specialist facilities elsewhere.
I recently met with the Minister for Sport to raise this with him as well as call for funding ahead of the Autumn Budget and Spending Review and I will also be meeting with Sport England to see if they can guarantee any provision of funding for the future of the pool and National Sports Centre more widely to add to that guaranteed by the Mayor.
Getting the pools open again is crucial to nurturing the talent of the future, as well as providing local people with a place to exercise and enjoy themselves. We must now ensure that this is delivered as soon as possible with a clear target reopening date put in place.