Parliament resumed last week and an unusual summer break, is now behind us.Caution, and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions are continuing everywhere including of course in the Houses of Parliament.
Dissenting voices among government ranks are complaining about the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of lockdown rules. Between towns and regions there are also intermittent variations on these restrictions as the government struggles to deal with a crisis which has now been ongoing since early this year.
The Sirco Track and Trace system is failing abysmally, and the confusing rhetoric being served up to the public is focused on targets almost always unmet. Indeed, the track and trace test that so many countries manage to use successfully remains out of the reach of many of us, and winter approaches. According to the NHS the test is:
“not 100% accurate; at present it is thought to detect approximately 70% of coronavirus infections. A negative test does not mean that you stop self-isolating if you have coronavirus symptoms”.
We all need to need to be vigilant in going about our business.
Brexit is very much back on the agenda, and it is right to fear the worst whilst campaigning against it as the government proposes to ride roughshod over the current Withdrawal bill. Ahead of this report being mailed out there’ll have been much behind the scenes effort to ensure this doesn’t happen, including the tabling of an amendment by a former Tory minister aiming to avert the worst. UK relations with both Ireland, and the EU are not going well and the prospect of the government taking control over Brexit-Ireland border arrangements is, quite simply, illegal, and wrong.
The business of flouting international law is not new to the Conservatives despite them labelling themselves as the party of law and order over many years.
When the International Court of Justice and the United Nationals General Assembly effectively quashed Britain’s claim to the Chagos Islands last year, the government refused to accept the decision. We are acting illegally every day on which this matter remains outstanding. The remedy is really not complicated but there exists an ongoing determination to turn a blind eye on this when few other countries do.
At the end of August I wrote to the PM to address the fact that our government has been found responsible for providing military training to countries with the most appalling human rights records and the most inhumane treatment of their peoples is an abomination. I put it to him that this was shameful and must be addressed, and relates to Bahrain; Saudi Arabia; Egypt; China; Belarus; Turkey I await his reply.
On Climate Change, I remain extremely concerned about the growing threat climate change poses to our world and I am therefore supporting the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill which has been drafted by leading climate scientists, academics and lawyers. If this bill is successfully passed into law, it will represent a significant step forward in ensuring that the government brings about a proper strategy to dramatically reduce emissions.
In 2019 I tabled a motion which was passed, and which meant that the House of Commons became the first Parliament to declare a formal climate and environment emergency. I am also proud that in 2019 Islington Council passed a unanimous motion declaring a climate emergency and pledged to work towards becoming a net zero borough by 2030, in line with the recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change.
Subsequently, our manifesto was clear about both the threat of the climate emergency, and the radical action necessary to address that threat – coming out top in Friends of the Earth’s environmental assessment of the main UK-wide party manifestos.
In keeping with this I support the calls by climate campaigners for our government to do more to meet international obligations in this. I have been concerned by the pace of progress so far and have added my voice to those calling for urgent action to be taken.
I was pleased to speak at the launch of the Northern England Labour Left conference on 5th September. Other speakers during the day included John McDonnell MP, Clive Lewis MP, Jamie Driscoll (Metro Mayor of the North of Tyne) and NEC candidate Laura Pidcock.
Topics discussed included democratising the Labour Party, the need to prioritise a Green New Deal as part of our socialist solutions to the crisis, and the importance of community and local politics and organising in resisting the Tories and building support for progressive alternatives. I spoke in a virtual international conference in Irkutsk entitled: ‘The Current Pandemic Crisis: Analysis and Policy Responses’ (2nd September) alongside a number of interesting panellists from around the world. I pointed out this new and greater sense of international solidarity and understanding and communication in the world, and the fact that meetings in Britain now routinely have international speakers from different continents; a trend I hope continues when the crisis is no longer.
The issues we face are global and require a global response to them be they of an economic, security, environment or human rights nature. The pandemic has highlighted the needs of the underprivileged in a way we could not have imagined, and among other things, exposed the vulnerability of health and care systems to underfunding by their own governments. At the outset there was limited scope for dealing with this crisis and the ability of the health service to cope was achieved essentially by a huge and voluntary effort by health workers, delivery workers and other key workers. There has been a rise in deaths from other causes because of the lack of capacity at the outset. The NHS is now desperately trying to catch up.
The volunteers and individuals in our community and in the health service have excelled themselves. I made this point to the Prime Minister in parliament earlier in the year, and continue to repeat it.
A greater sense of community and interdependence has now come about and is at the heart of this political moment; against a backdrop of greater levels of inequality and a jobs crisis. We have much to do, in Islington and beyond.
I also participated in a Palestine Solidarity Campaign Rally (1st September) entitled: End the Siege Now. The situation in Palestine, and significantly Gaza: a strip of land within which live 2 million Palestinians under blockade, now facing a potential Covid-19 crisis is dire. The “strip” (as it’s often referred to) lacks many resources to deal with the most basic needs so a recent surge of cases should have all of us worried, and actively speaking up and lobbying on their behalf. That is precisely why I took part in this rally.
Lottie Stables organised a virtual Barnet Transformed launch event (26 August) and I was pleased to speak on a myriad of different issues including local government spending, the importance of international solidarity, and my reflections on having worked as a union organiser fighting cutbacks in public services in Barnet earlier on in my career. I was joined by a number of interesting guests on the panel.
I joined a Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Strike outside the Tate (22 August): where workers and others gathered to demonstrate my support to these workers resisting unjust redundancies and cuts. The PCS union argues that the redundancies at the Tate are unnecessary, and are asking for just 10% of the expected government bailout of the gallery to save hundreds of jobs. Members of the union and the public alike are right to ask, if the financial situation at the gallery is so dire, then why are their senior executives still earning eye watering salaries way over £100,000?
I was delighted to be nominated for the ‘MP for the Year Award’, and being voted ‘Best Prime Minister We Never Had” in a Sky Twitter Poll remains an interesting experience!
Over the past few months I have had regular conference calls with various authorities though most frequently with Islington Council and the Whittington Hospital, and both have managed the pandemic with extraordinary skills. However, when the NHS Parliamentary Awards were announced, the tireless dedication of the Whittington hospital, and especially their commitment, and their dedication to the care of both their staff and their patients was in the forefront of my mind. I expect the awards are quite competitive but regardless, the Whittington Health is now in the running for an Excellence in Urgent and Emergency Care Award.
I had a brief conversation (4th September) about the Council’s People Friendly Streets scheme with Cllr Richard Watts – Islington Council leader, and Councillor Rowena Champion, Executive Member for Environment and Transport. In the last couple of months the scheme has been rolling out in Islington South, and some of you will be aware of the ongoing discussions with residents about extending this to Highbury Hill.
I appreciate the Council’s efforts to reduce air pollution in our borough and to use the opportunities the otherwise devastating pandemic has presented to introduce long-lasting change that will improve the environment for all. Similarly I am aware of concerns raised by local residents in anticipation of the new scheme. I look forward to spending the next couple of weeks speaking to residents in Highbury Hill to find out more on their thoughts and expectations. The Council has developed an online tool inviting comments on the proposed scheme which you can access here. If you live in the area and will be affected by the changes I would encourage you to make a contribution.
I also had the great pleasure of having a zoom meeting on 4th September with Lawrence Curtis, founder of social enterprise Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies (HMHB). The project has been very successful supporting people, mostly focusing on those who are unemployed, by promoting a healthy lifestyle through access to health, fitness, budget and nutrition advice. I was very pleased to hear the project continues to be successful and that more organisations are interested in setting up partnerships with them. I wish them all the best and look forward to seeing how the project will expand.
I visited the Islington Somali Community(1st September) to congratulate them in person for winning the National Lottery Fund. They have been doing a fantastic job supporting the Somali community in Islington since 1990 and I was very pleased to hear that they have been working even harder during the pandemic, providing support to the elderly with medicine collection, delivering food parcels to families, and providing IT equipment and tutoring to youth and children. It is important to recognise that just as their demand has increased so has their need for more resources. I therefore look forward to supporting them in any way I can so that they can continue to provide invaluable support to the Somali community in Islington during the difficult and challenging times we are facing.
I was delighted to learn that Sunnyside Community Gardens received a People’s Postcode Lottery award of £18,887 to increase access to and improve natural spaces in Islington. They announced that this would enable them to employ a community gardener two days a week to run volunteer gardening and conservation sessions for local people who live nearby with no or very small gardens. This project will help to build Sunnyside as a community hub where people from many different backgrounds can take part, and in doing so socialise with their neighbours in the outdoors whilst social distancing.
I continue to support the organisations I am a Trustee of and to this end I spent time with the wonderful team at the Light Project International.
HAPPILY: Two wonderful individuals entered their 91st year recently:
Our beloved Annette Thomas who remains an active and dedicated member of Islington North CLP marked her 90th birthday in the company of close friends and relatives, with myself and Laura calling in briefly. I have tried to retire Annette from her volunteering at my Advice Sessions but it remains a difficult task, such is her enthusiasm. Never mind the fact that my local team are too attached to her! Some of you may also know Maggie Bowden though she’s not an Islington resident. On the back of an interesting political and legal career, Maggie headed up Liberation for the past decade and has slowly and unwillingly stepped aside, handing over the reins to Katie Ferola.
CONTACTING JEREMY CORBYN MP
My contact details remain unchanged and due to Covid-19 restrictions my Advice Sessions are being held over the telephone.
Constituency Office Tel: 0207 561 7488 (Mon, Tues, Thurs 10am – 12pm)
Postal address: The Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA