Mick Whitley MP visiting Gautby Road Youth and Community Centre.
Mick Whitley MP visiting Gautby Road Youth and Community Centre.

The politics of the pandemic took centre stage over the past few weeks and I am increasingly angry over the woeful mismanagement of just about everything by this clueless Tory government. We have a Prime Minister who does not appear to know what his job is and a gang of dim but not very nice Ministers around him whose only qualification for their role is their unthinking loyalty to Johnson. 

The attitude of the Tories was summed up when they circled the wagons around their much beloved Svengali – Dominic Cummings.

When the news of Cummings’ flagrant breach of lock down rules came to light, I posted a statement condemning him and the Ministers who raced to his defence, on social media. I was shocked that a senior government adviser could behave so recklessly, and I was disgusted that he had covered this up for so long. There was no ambiguity about the rules and despite the government ministers, including most loudly the Prime Minister, falling over each other to excuse Mr Cummings’ breach it was also clear to me that his actions had seriously undermined public confidence in the restrictions that had been put in place to contain the virus.

In other words, we had both a breach of the rules and an undermining those rules by Dominic Cummings. He then held a press conference the day after I posted my statement in the rose garden of 10 Downing street, a clear indication of the support he has from Boris Johnson. Not one word uttered by Mr Cummings at that press conference changed my mind. I believe it is imperative that Mr Cummings be sacked immediately. This is the opinion of the overwhelming number of people in this country and even Conservative MPs who called for Cummings to be sacked.

It is to the eternal shame of Boris Johnson and his cabinet that this sacking has not happened, that the actions of Cummings have been defended (not even criticised) and that no one has bothered to apologise to the many people who faced far more difficult problems than Cummings did during this pandemic but who obeyed the rules and made the sacrifices they did. Never has one law for the rich and powerful and one law for the rest of us been highlighted so clearly. It is, frankly, scandalous.

To my mind this contempt for the people of this country – as the real death toll is estimated at 60,000 – means that the Labour Party needs to move onto the offensive against the policies of this government. There is a spirit of solidarity in the communities and a spirit of widespread distrust in the government. Labour can and must mobilise both to hold this government to account. And that is what I have been trying to do through this crisis.

The Big Issues:

Covid, Competence and the Conservative Government

This government is proving is proving itself incompetent to manage the Covid crisis. When you listen to Boris Johnson’s increasingly incoherent blustering about how world class everything his government sets up is you begin to wonder what planet he is living on. Following on from the failure to have adequate PPE readily available to cope with the crisis we have had the debacle of the Test, Trace and Track (TTT) system. To enable people to return to work safely, to be able to start re-opening schools and to ease lockdown restrictions it is vital that we have a TTT system that works. According to Johnson the one we have is the best in the world. Really?

It has become clear to everyone but the government that the system we have is failing. The lucrative contract for running it has been handed to the government’s old friends SERCO. The untrained staff they have recruited have reported that it isn’t working and that they are sitting around in contact centres with nothing to do. People do not have confidence in it, and the world beating virus tracking App for the system piloted on the Isle of Wight and hailed as the beginning of the end of the pandemic turns out to be a complete failure. World class or third rate?

Despite this the lockdown rules have been relaxed. The shops have re-opened and people have been told to wear masks on public transport just in case.

It is now clear that all of this is driven by the right-wing Tories who do not actually care about the pandemic – because they are safe from it anyway as they live in splendid isolation from the rest of us. They just want to put a stop to restrictions that are harming their profits. And in order to appease these people Jacob Rees Mogg ordered MPs back to Parliament.

This was billed as a return to democracy. It was anything but. It was a propaganda ploy to be used to force everyone else back to work regardless of their safety. And it led to the farcical conga of voting, the denial of democracy to countless MPs who were unable to return to Parliament but had their votes taken away from them  and still means that only a handful of people are able to participate directly in debates and other parliamentary activities.

The Old Etonians regarded all of this as a laughing matter. I regard it as an affront to democracy.

Moreover, we have had the revelation that the government ordered the shipping out of up to 25,000 elderly people from hospitals back in late March and early April. Local Councils were ordered to get them into care homes – without testing for the virus. The results of this catastrophic decision have been a terrible death toll as Covid ripped through care homes that did not have the means to deal with it and whose underpaid staff were left without the necessary PPE to deal with the crisis. It is a scandal.

Finally, we have had the chaotic school’s policy. They were supposed to re-open for some pupils on 1 June. Teaching unions pointed out that the safety measures for this had not been put in place and that there were major problems because the government took its decision without consulting anyone and without publishing the science behind their decision. In response the Tories unleashed their loyal dogs of war in the press to denounce militant teachers for wanting to keep schools closed.

When Councils around the country supported the sensible safety tests proposed by the unions and the scientists backed them up Education Minister Gavin Williamson chopped and changed his plans and offered no clear direction. The result was that the government has magically found a way of re-opening garden centres safely but cannot come up with a plan to open the schools. Still they try and blame militant teachers. And still we can see full well that it is their lack of any effective strategy that is at the root of the problem.

Labour needs to be sharp in our attacks on this incompetent crew. And we need to build up the momentum now for a fully independent public enquiry into how the Conservative government mismanaged the crisis from the very beginning resulting in this country suffering one of the highest death tolls in the world. We must hold them to account for every mistake they made – because in their arrogance they are refusing to accept that they made any mistakes.

Black Lives Matter

Following the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the USA a huge movement has risen to fight the scourge of racism, the legacy of slavery and the everlasting blemish of the west’s brutal colonial past.

Like millions of people across the world, I was appalled by the murder of George Floyd. As tens of thousands of Americans call out for justice, we have seen law enforcement use excessive and sometimes lethal force against protestors. Donald Trump even threatened to send in the army.

This did not stop the protests. They spread around the world and I was made up that thousands joined in on Merseyside. My postbag was bulging with hundreds of letters asking me to take a stand. Here is what I wrote in response:

“The UK must loudly and unequivocally condemn the authoritarian response to these protests, and I have written to the Prime Minister requesting this. The Government must also honour its legal commitments and institute a ban on the sale of anti-crowd gas, “rubber bullets”, and other riot equipment to the US where they may be used against protestors.

I asked Dawn Butler to add my name to her cross-party letter, calling on the Government to ban the export of riot gear to the US. I want to thank her for her tireless work on this issue. I am also very pleased to see that the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, Emily Thornberry, has similarly called for a ban on the export of this equipment.

I am in full support of the growing protest movement in Britain and throughout the world, not just against police brutality in the USA but in other countries as well. This brutality is fuelled by an embedded structural racism that has manifested itself in the UK as well. I support the call for justice for Belly Mujinga, her tragic death was a product of this racism. And I am adding my voice to the call for the publication in full of the report into the impact of Covid 19 on BAME people and for urgent action to be taken as a result of this report.

And it is equally clear to me that there needs to be an overhaul in education to ensure that school students are given a clear historical perspective on the colonial past of our country and the role this played in promoting and fomenting the kind of terrible racism that persists today.

Failure to act on these issues is complicity and I will continue to demand an end to this complicity by the British government. The Labour Party must always stand against injustice, racism, and repression wherever it is found.”

Britain’s role in creating the “hostile environment” for immigrants, its scandalous treatment of the Windrush generation, its police force using stop and search on a racist basis are all examples of why racism at the heart of the British Establishment. And that includes Dominic Raab who contemptuously dismissed the anti-racist symbolic act of taking the knee as something to do with Game of Thrones. The Tories are not anti-racists. Boris Johnson has written enough racist bile in his life to prove their claims to care to be hypocritical.

Black lives matter – racism must be fought wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head and Labour must take a lead in this fight.

Tranmere Rovers

I was deeply disappointed with the EFL’s decision to relegate Tranmere without giving them the chance to play their remaining games. In my opinion the EFL’s refusal to either void the season or continue it behind closed doors was not a level playing field. I wrote to the EFL about this and they replied saying they would consider Tranmere Chairman, Mark Palios’ alternative proposals. Sadly, those proposals were not accepted, and Tranmere now stands to lose over £1 million next season and has had to implement job cuts.

Comrades will remember from last month’s bulletin the help Rovers and their fans gave to the “Taste Ramadan” initiative that we coordinated with the Deen Centre to get food donated by Indian Restaurants to vulnerable people across the Borough. That is the sort of community spirit that sums Tranmere up, but it did not even figure in the EFL’s decision. In the light of the decision I went to the press. Here is the statement I issued:

“Tranmere Rovers Football Club have been relegated. Not because they lost too many games but because the English Football League (EFL) decided to end the season and promote and relegate teams on their points per game so far.

Not only is this unfair, it is punitive. The football teams in the lower leagues operate on a financial shoestring. They do not enjoy the billions that are poured into the Premier League by the big television corporations. They rely on their supporters coming through the gates and the small sums they can glean from sponsorship and advertising.

Taking a decision to end the season – rather than void it – is a financial penalty which has been inflicted on these clubs. They will automatically earn considerably less as a result of relegation and their futures have been placed in doubt.

And for the Tranmere fans – who have done much to help and support the vulnerable communities in Birkenhead during this pandemic – it is a slap in the face.

Tranmere’s Chair Mark Palios had put forward alternative proposals as had Barnsley. But at the Emergency General Meeting of the EFL these were voted down. It is hard not to conclude that self-interest triumphed over fairness.

As the MP for Birkenhead I am both upset and appalled at this terrible turn of events. I pledge to do all I can to help Tranmere and its fans in the days ahead. But the wider issue of how football is financed, run and governed is posed by this decision.

The obscene riches at the top end are not trickling down to the lower and non-league clubs, to grass roots football. They are being syphoned off by those at the top. And in the process the lifeblood of football – the loyal fans in the left behind towns, the skilful young players nurtured via the lower league clubs and the communities that those clubs both serve and act as a vital hub for – is being drained away from the game.

It is time for a review and I hope that the EFL agrees to a meeting with both the Minister for Sport and the Shadow Minister, Wirral South’s MP Alison McGovern, to urgently discuss how we can fix this broken system and give clubs like Tranmere the future they truly deserve.”

Working with the Council – Food and Pay

Wirral Borough Council, and its Labour leader Pat Hackett have done sterling work to help people through this crisis. And no more so than regarding getting food to the vulnerable. As of 17 June, almost 15,000 emergency food hampers had been delivered from the Food Hub at Bidston and through the various Food Banks. Vouchers for free school meals have been distributed to those in need and work has been done with volunteers and community organisations to help make up supplies. My thanks go to those who have collected, donated or delivered these emergency supplies.

Wirral Council also took the bold step of providing the Care Sector within the Borough with funds to ensure that all front-line care workers received the real living wage. This was music to my ears and I warmly welcomed the initiative publicizing it widely. I was even more delighted when the Council made clear this was to be a permanent uplift to the pay of so many professional and dedicated skilled workers who have been kept in poverty pay conditions for far too.

As this offer got rolled out several employers embraced it and pay was raised. However, it also became clear that a significant number of care providers had not yet taken up the offer.

I held meetings with councillors, council officers and representatives of the union Unison, to discuss this and I am pleased to report that steps are being taken to improve the take up rate and thereby improve the pay of all our care workers. I really meant it when I said, when the clapping stops the pay rises must start!

Free School Meals

Labour did campaign hard to stop Johnson from leaving poor children to go hungry over the summer with his vindictive abolition of free school meal vouchers during the summer holidays. A couple of weeks ago he had discovered the existence of vulnerable schoolchildren and was using them as a stick to beat the teachers back to work. Now he was deliberately inflicting potential hunger on these same vulnerable children. They could no longer be used as pawns in his dangerous game of “end the lockdown” so they could be quietly forgotten.

However, we were not going to allow them to be forgotten and Rebecca Long Bailey led the charge against this cruel decision. To be honest it looked like the Tories were going to stick to their mean-spirited guns. But help came in the shape of Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England centre forward. His make the U-Turn campaign received widespread publicity. And despite Johnson claiming not to have heard of his campaign and Hancock calling him Daniel Rashford, his efforts helped us enormously and turned the tide. Yet another U-Turn by flip flop Johnson.

Other issues

Before signing off I just want to draw attention to the stance I have taken in Parliament in opposition to Israel’s proposed (and illegal) annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. Netanyahu is carrying out this move with the blessing of Trump. But I believe we must stop it happening. It breaks every rule in the UN handbook, it will cause further misery for the long-suffering Palestinian people and it will destroy the chances for a long-term peace in the region.

And finally, have a think about the impact of the lockdown on people who are enduring loneliness. I wrote last month about the services Age UK provided to help older people who are isolated during the pandemic. But it is worth remembering that loneliness can affect people of all ages.

I urge everyone to think about someone who may need a phone call to let them know people are thinking of them, people living alone who may need a safe distance visit for a quick chat, people who are not computer literate who may need advice on how to use technology to get in touch with friends and relatives.

In Solidarity,

Mick Whitley MP.

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