Once again, my blog has been delayed because I’ve been busy with a by-election, this time in Wythenshawe and Sale East. That took place on Thursday, and I was delighted to see Labour’s majority increase. I’m very much looking forward to welcoming my new colleague, Mike Kane MP, to parliament.
Although I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in Wythenshawe and Sale in the past couple of weeks, I’ve managed to fit in some great meetings and visits in Stretford and Urmston, and get down to parliament for one day last week too.
So, last Thursday night, I had the great pleasure of attending Greater Manchester police HQ to see young Trafford cadets at the passing out ceremony to mark the end of their training. I was so impressed with these young people. Many hope for a career in the police. They really deserve to do well; they are a great asset to our communities.
On Friday, I joined Age UK at Sainsburys in Urmston to support their campaign to encourage older people to stay warm in winter, and to promote the help and advice that Age UK can offer. I then held a couple of surgeries, and had a catch up meeting with managers at Trafford General. We discussed the impact of the changes to services at the hospital, which have put pressure on neighbouring hospitals, particularly Wythenshawe. I will be meeting the Chief Executive there next week.
On Saturday, I was very pleased to attend a meeting of the support group for families and sufferers of the brain disease PSP. This little known disease is often confused with Parkinson’s, and we discussed what could be done to increase awareness among health professionals, and the support that families need. I hope to be able to raise these issues in parliament in the coming months.
Sunday was spent helping the by-election campaign, and then first thing Monday I went into my office in Urmston to meet the chair of the Football Supporters Federation, who, handily, lives in Trafford. As the MP for Manchester United, I take a close interest in issues affecting football, and we discussed the governance of the sport and football clubs, supporter representation and ownership models, and standing in football stadiums. These are all issues which have been discussed in parliament, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee reported on changes needed to governance some time ago, and I was glad to be brought up to speed on these subjects, so that I can continue to question ministers.
I then went down to London to meet Vince Cable, who is the government minister responsible for some of the issues I have been campaigning on regarding safety on overseas adventure trips. I asked him what help the government could give to bring about better information and protection for parents. He promised to consider the matter, and I expect to hear further from him next month (and I will be chasing him up if I don’t).
I attended a very interesting briefing on local government finance, which had been arranged by the local government association, and which revealed an alarming picture about future funding for local authorities. The services provided by local government, from street cleaning and bin collection to care of the elderly and child protection, are vital to the quality of our lives. We simply can’t continue down a path that will effectively leave many unable even to fund basic services.
I was pleased I reached Westminster on Monday in time to vote to ban smoking in cars in which children are travelling, and for cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging. The government had originally resisted these measures, but they were strongly supported by MPs from all parties, and were carried by a large majority on Monday night.
Then I stayed in parliament to have dinner with some colleagues and catch up on the political gossip. I don’t do that very often, but it made a very enjoyable end to the day.
I had a couple of meetings first thing on Tuesday to discuss disabled people and employment. Then I went into the chamber to ask Nick Clegg about the arrangements for new voter registration. In future, each person in a household will have to register individually, rather than having one form per household. There are concerns that some groups will simply fail to get on the register, including young people, and those from black and minority families – I pointed out to Clegg they’re already less likely to be on the register, though just as likely to vote if they are registered.
Labour women MPs then had an interesting briefing on media strategy, I attended a meeting of the Shadow Work and Pensions team to discuss the bill to abolish the Bedroom Tax that was to be presented in parliament the next day. I then went along to a reception organised by Ambitious about Autism, who are launching an important campaign to highlight how many children with autism miss out on school because they’re excluded, or don’t fit in and stay away. This is an issue I know affects families in my constituency. It simply isn’t acceptable that children should be out of school, so I was keen to support the campaign.
Later, I attended a meeting for North West MPs to discuss the very controversial subject of immigration. I’m proud to represent a constituency that has welcomed many new communities over the years, and I’m very concerned at the tone of the debate. Of course, it’s not acceptable that poverty wages should be paid to migrant workers to undercut local wages, and we need to crack down on employers who don’t pay minimum wages. And of course there have to be controls on who can come to the UK to live and work. But the government’s proposals are very flawed, and playing into the hands of extremists who ignore that many people also migrate from the UK to other countries, and the contribution that migrants make to our community. We need a balanced, respectful policy approach, and to properly protect people who live here or come here.
I then went along to the all party children’s question time, which was attended by Afraa, a student at Stretford High. It was great to see her in parliament. She asked some good questions of the panel, which included the Children’s Commissioner, MPs and members of the House of Lords.
Finally on Tuesday I attended a meeting of the Webb Memorial Trust, of which I’m a trustee, to discuss our funding programme for work on tackling poverty. Then I went out for dinner with one of my fellow trustees – a Tory MP – MPs do have friendly relationships across the political divide!
Wednesday and Thursday back in Manchester for the by-election campaign. I went to the count afterwards to see Mike Kane elected, getting to bed just before 3am. I still had a very busy Friday, starting with a visit to a bakery in Old Trafford, which is threatened with closure, and the loss of 57 jobs. I’m trying to find a solution, working with the union, management and Trafford Council. It will be very sad to see a long established business close.
I then headed over to Partington to co-host an event with Your Housing group to discuss how we could help to increase people’s ability to use IT – increasingly necessary for shopping, banking, benefits claims, and a host of other day to day transactions, but many people in Partington don’t have Internet access at home, or lack confidence in using IT. I visited the Job Club to see local people developing new computer skills, and came away with lots of questions I will be raising in parliament with ministers.
In the afternoon, I went to visit two businesses on Trafford Park. The first wanted to know how to access more help from the government to increase its export business. The second was experiencing high levels of theft of its products, and wanted more action from the police. I will be following up on both these matters in the office this week.
Finally, I joined young Asian women in Old Trafford at the fabulous Pulling Together group to see their puppet presentation on forced marriage. They had made the most impressive puppets and the story they told was very powerful. It was very timely, since Friday marked One Billion Rise, when women all around the world speak out against violence and abuse.
Saturday: a surgery, a (very wet) street stall to campaign on high energy bills, and our fabulous Labour fundraiser with political commentator Owen Jones in the evening.
Now its half term recess and I will be spending the week in Manchester. I’m looking forward to having a few days when things are a bit less hectic!