I held back sharing this bulletin as the CLP kindly invited me to speak on this topic in late January. At the meeting I was able to give you all a flavour of my personal experience of serving as the MP for Birkenhead.
Here I want to update you all on some of the wider political issues I have been dealing with. But first, a belated happy new year to all members. I want to reiterate my thanks to you all for the support, hard work and dedication to our cause you display week in and week out.
Sadly, my new year greeting is tinted with sadness. It is a tragedy that so many people are enduring grief as a result of living in the European country with the highest death toll from the Covid 19 pandemic and with infection rates continuing to spiral. While the roll out of the vaccine is to be warmly welcomed the impact of this dangerous disease on our people is still disrupting lives, causing untold hardship and continuing to lead to closures, job losses and economic ruin.
When I had the privilege to be elected as the Labour MP on 12 December 2019, beating off the challenge from the previous MP who had left our party and unsuccessfully stood against me, I made clear that my overriding aim was to be the voice of Birkenhead in Westminster. There was no way I would be the apologetic messenger boy for a Parliament that had ignored the needs of our town for so long, allowing it to slump ever further into poverty and decline. I was in that place to fight for the people of Birkenhead and it was an honour to represent them.
I believe I have been true to my word. I hope you all think so too.
On building a better Birkenhead, I exposed the double dealing of Mike Ashley that led to the closure of the House of Fraser store. I wrote a statement of support for the council’s Future High Street Fund and was delighted that we eventually succeeded in winning our bid and of ensuring that our famous Market will be redeveloped as part of the renovation of the town centre. Hopefully a brighter future for the House of Fraser is in store too.
At the same time, I have worked as a member of the Town Deal Board to secure more funds for the regeneration of the waterfront, the town centre and the Argyle Street area. I have supported initiatives such as the Cradle to Career Project for the youth in the North End. With representatives of the Big Local I have campaigned to secure support for two of the most deprived wards in the country, Bidston and St James and Rock Ferry.
My goal in all of this work – which I have carried out in conjunction with representatives of the affected communities, with councillors and council officers, with the team at the Wirral Chamber of Community and Commerce and with local activists –has been to achieve real results that will benefit the people.
One of my signature phrases at meetings on the regeneration of our town is that I am tired of looking over the water and seeing giant cranes building new developments and then turning around only to see smaller ladders on the buildings in Birkenhead. It sums up just how “left behind” our town has become.
I am pleased to say that the tide is turning thanks to the hard work of so many people – new modern office blocks, the redevelopment of the shopping district, new houses going up in the North End, the Maritime Hub, the growth of the Wirral Met College, a commitment to build new homes across the town, a surge of activity on the docks and waterfront.
All of these are clear signs that a better, modern and welcoming Birkenhead is at last springing up around us. I am confident that this progress can be sustained and will do all I can to ensure it is successful.
Without well paid dignified jobs and a vibrant economy in Birkenhead new buildings alone won’t get rid of our “left behind” town status. Unemployment in Birkenhead is rising. Not only did billionaire Ashley dump the House of Fraser staff on the dole at the beginning of the pandemic, the economic crisis that Covid 19 has accelerated had already seen our town suffering above average joblessness, thousands on universal credit and far too many of our small local businesses forced to shut up shop.
Poverty won’t renew our town. It will cause it to stagnate. That is why my message has been from the outset – no going back. Together with the trade unions I have campaigned to save jobs – nationally and locally. I received countless letters from constituents who worked at Airbus, near Chester, at John Lennon Airport, at Travel agents.
I have fought the outrageous attempts by bosses in the airline industry to fire and rehire staff on lousy new terms and conditions – both in Parliament and at Covid secure demonstrations and on virtual picket lines. I have held meetings, supported motions and written letters demanding sector targeted government support for stricken industries.
I worked closely with staff and managers at Airbus to secure its future. I have been involved in work with several initiatives to rescue the aviation industry and defeat unscrupulous employers like British Airways terrorising their workers into accepting pay and job cuts while shareholders and executives took millions from the company.
After clapping for NHS workers, I supported the unions’ campaign for a big pay increase. Applause doesn’t pay the bills. And I enthusiastically welcomed Wirral Council’s decision to pay the national living wage for Care Home workers, taking the campaign to rogue care homes bosses who refused to implement this generous offer.
I am now supporting a campaign to get urgent financial support for those excluded from furlough and business support grants. If we allow the workers and small businesses to stand alone then our future will remain blighted. I am not prepared to see that happen.
Most recently I organised a Westminster Hall debate on defence procurement. While the debate was wide ranging and relevant to the North West as a whole, I combined this with the clear message that the contracts for the proposed Royal Navy support ships are awarded to our very own Cammell Laird Shipyard. This would not only secure well-paid jobs and apprenticeships at the yard would have a major impact on the supply chain industries, local retail and hospitality in Birkenhead. There is everything to play for and I am pleased to have helped keep us in the game and holding a decent hand.
At the same time the various regeneration and building projects, including those led by the Council, will be a means of creating new jobs and apprenticeships in construction with the Wirral Met College already providing the skills needed by apprentices to take up these jobs.
Last but not least I have campaigned against redundancies locally. A good example was the danger that teaching assistants at Woodchurch Primary School faced cuts in hours (and therefore pay). This was due to financial problems that were not of their making.
A campaign by the staff’s union Unison, which I fully supported staved off the cuts and bought time for constructive solutions to be explored and developed to preserve this vital school.
I repeat – as far as I am concerned on jobs and pay there can be no going back.
Our communities are the bedrock of a decent society and through this awful year the people of Birkenhead have demonstrated their commitment to solidarity and support for each other.
It has been a humbling experience but one that has made me immensely proud to have worked with so many volunteers and activists to tackle the terrible side effects of the pandemic and its associated lockdowns and restrictions.
Organisations, individuals and companies helped us source, gather and distribute PPE to Care Home staff at a time when the government had all but abandoned them. At various community hubs essential food supplies have been donated and then distributed to those in dire need – not just for those on free school dinners but for communities in the most deprived areas of the town.
Together with the Tranmere Rovers Fans Trust and the executives and staff of Tranmere Rovers Football Club I teamed up with our Muslim Community based at the Deen Centre and made “Taste Ramadan” a success as food donated by several Indian Restaurants was distributed to the most vulnerable in our communities during the period of Ramadan. Friends were forged for life as a result.
Sadly, despite my intervention with the English Football League and my support for Mark Palios’ proposals to stave off the unfair relegation proposal for Tranmere and others the relegation went ahead. It was a vote determined by big clubs and big money and totally unfair to Tranmere. As a result, though, I have been looking into cross party proposals to compel the government to establish an independent regulator for the game. The proposal is aimed at weakening the influence of the big money men who care little either for lower league or grass roots football clubs.
I was very impressed too by the community reach of the Prenton Rugby Club. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers the club has become an amazing community hub providing services in an area of town that has seen its amenities slashed. The club provides services and amenities for local residents, for the LGBTQ+ community, for the elderly, for carers and for children.
The work done by this Club is inspiriting with its nature trail and community gardens – and it can host social events. When I visited the club – and was asked to formally open the gardens and nature trail – it was an inspiration.
While my ability to visit this and similar clubs, community centres, foodbanks and hubs has been limited the chance I got pre-lockdown to visit and formally open Mersey Gardens was a real highlight. And it highlighted the amazing role supported housing can play, in this case supporting people with disabilities being able to enjoy a degree of independence.
Similarly, the community campaign to save the Hearing Base at Townfield Lane school saw people from across and beyond the town rally to the needs of children with hearing difficulties. I was pleased as punch when the campaign that I fully supported saved the unit. People coming together to campaign for the real needs of our community is a feature of Birkenhead. It is the kind of spirit that spurs me on to do all I can for those people and with those people.
Our community is diverse, it is affected by all sorts of difficulties, it is coping with a pandemic made worse by the terrible virus of poverty. And yet the people of this community – the people of Birkenhead – have more than risen to the challenge. And that is why I will always be their voice in the corridors of power, speaking up for them as I have tried to do in my first year as MP.
Politics affects all things and I want to finish by highlighting three big issues.
The local elections are due in May. During the pandemic I have worked closely with the Council who have achieved a great many achievements this year. Free parking across the town, housing the homeless, providing free school dinners when the government tried to cut them, rolling out testing and supporting Care Home workers and housing asylum seekers in the teeth of a vile campaign by that wizened old racist has been Nigel Farage – these are just some of the things are Council has done over the past year.
But Labour do not have overall control and I am asking each and everyone of you to redouble your efforts to turn this round. Going forward we need a Labour council that has a majority and can stave off the austerity merchants of the Tories and the Lib Dems (never forget the Cameron/Clegg government) as well as a Green Party which we should all remember when it got control of Brighton attacked the refuse workers and their unions not the Tories.
Let’s bend every sinew to win the seats in our town back to Labour.
Politics also reared its head following the brutal the murder of George Floyd in the USA. Trump reacted with brutal oppression and violence. But he was met with as the Black Lives Matter campaign erupted on to the world stage.
I took my place as part of this campaign. But what pleased me most was that I received precisely three letters denouncing Black Lives Matter as terrorist Marxists from constituents as compared to hundreds from people in Birkenhead demanding I take a lead in the fight against racism. The people of Birkenhead stood firm against the right-wing populist Trump and against the racists in our own country.
I have played an active role in the Socialist Campaign Group in Parliament. I am a socialist and I will campaign for socialist policies. To that end it is useful to collaborate with likeminded colleagues in parliament.
I will continue to do this with the objective of maintaining our party’s support for the policies I won my election on, our manifesto. This is not always easy, and I have voted against the party whip on issues such as the spy cops bill. I have also supported the lifting of Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension and his reinstatement into the Parliamentary Party.
However, I want to stress one thing to every member – fighting each other weakens our ability to fight the enemy. We can and should tolerate different views and debate issues in a civil and democratic fashion. But my main objective in my second year as an MP is to ensure that we stay true to our socialist policies and use those policies to attack the Tories day in and day out.
I have regularly updated you on the Tories terrible mismanagement of the Covid pandemic. I won’t run through the extent of the mess they have made, the chaos they have caused and the resultant world beating rate of death and infection per head of the population that they have overseen. We have fought throughout to save lives, livelihoods, jobs and small businesses, the self-employed and the Excluded. Without our pressure there would have been no furlough pay, no support grants. There will be a day of reckoning and Boris Johnson and his gang – including lockdown rule breaker Dominic Cummings – will be called to account.
December 12, 2019 was bitter-sweet for me. I was elected the MP for the town in which I was born and bred and was made up. But when the scale of the Tory victory became clear I was – like all of you – devastated. Let’s stay united and resolute so that next time round it will be the coalition of aristocratic grandees, public school rabble rousers and temporary Tory tenants of the red wall seats who endure a collective “Portillo moment”. The smug smiles will give way to angry frowns as they realise people have woken up to their disastrous regime of grace and favour for the already wealthy and cruel austerity for the rest of us.