It’s been an eventful week in Westminster, to say the least! Many constituents have asked me about my position on the latest partygate developments, as well as on the Government’s handling of the cost of living crisis, so I hope I can answer some of your questions here.
Sue Gray report on “partygate”
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting sixth formers at St Richard Reynolds Catholic College in Twickenham. One question I was asked was what advice I would give to the newly elected school council.
My parting advice was: “Take responsibility for your actions. You will mess up and get things wrong. When that happens, hold your hand up and say ‘sorry’, and acknowledge your fault. This shows true leadership.” If I had been able to question Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the publication of the Sue Gray report, I would have asked him if he agreed with my advice.
I was in the Commons when the Prime Minister made his statement, and I was enraged. His initial apology was followed by a litany of excuses, not least about allowing very hard-working staff being allowed to let their hair down. He later excused the parties on the basis that he and others wanted to say goodbye to valued colleagues.
I know from my inbox that there were nurses also working extremely long hours at West Middlesex hospital, witnessing deaths every day, struggling to cope. They drank wine too – but alone, and at home. I know that many of you were not able to say goodbye to loved ones who were dying or who had died.
Whatever your political views – and even if you felt the rule-breaking was minor in the grand scheme of things – for me it is the complete lack of contrition shown by the Prime Minister, and the endless cover-ups over the past five months, that are so damaging to our democracy.
At a time of a cost of living crisis at home and a war in Europe, we need leaders we can trust to take difficult and painful decisions, knowing they are acting in our best interests. That’s why Boris Johnson has to go – or his MPs must remove him from office. You can read my full statement here.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted: “Standards in public life are the glue that hold us together – we need to rediscover them and abide by them.”
Chancellor’s cost of living package
Whilst I welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday to help families struggling with soaring energy and food prices, it was long overdue and very cynical in its timing, with the Government desperate to shift the headlines away from illegal parties. Liberal Democrats were the first to call for a windfall tax last October to help pensioners and families with fuel bills through the winter. By pressing ahead with a national insurance rise on workers last month, the Chancellor is taking with one hand and giving with the other. The new “energy profits levy”, as it’s been dubbed by the Chancellor, is a pale imitation of the windfall tax my party proposed, and will bring in far less money from the extraordinary profits the oil and gas companies have been enjoying.
I challenged the Chancellor on the lack of support for schools struggling with rising food and energy prices. It’s been suggested by caterers that free school meal portions will get smaller because, despite food prices rising by 6.7% over the past 12 months, government funding for these meals has risen by a measly 4p since 2014.
In the media
I’ve been asked to comment in the media on various topics over the past couple of weeks, with the cost of living emergency and partygate continuing to dominate the headlines.
Speaking to ITV London last week – before the publication of Sue Gray’s report – I reiterated my call for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do the decent thing and resign. I also gave my comments about partygate to Matthew Wright on LBC radio, urging transparency in the investigations into lockdown parties in Downing Street. You can listen to the LBC interview here.
With more and more distressing stories emerging from people across the country struggling with the cost of living crisis, I answered questions from listeners on BBC Radio 5 Live with Nicky Campbell. And, on Tuesday, I spoke with Matt Chorley at Times Radio about the crippling effect of rising energy costs on schools and funding for free school meals.
A survey by Richmond Council found that some schools are facing up to a 250% rise in gas bills, and a 150% rise in electricity bills. With school budgets already stretched, I’m extremely concerned about what cuts schools will have to make to make ends meet. You can listen to the Times Radio interview here.
Local meetings, events and news
Learning about Greene King’s apprenticeship programme at the Barmy Arms
I had fun refining my pint-pouring skills on my visit to the Barmy Arms in Twickenham this week! It was great to meet Jake, who went through Greene King’s apprenticeship programme and has risen through the ranks to become General Manager of the Barmy Arms. Greene King has supported more than 15,000 apprentices since 2011, offering 30 different types of apprenticeships ranging from finance to human resources to brewing. Apprenticeships are a fantastic option for helping young people obtain industry-leading qualifications and build long-term careers.
Visit to Kingston Hospital
Ed Davey, Sarah Olney and I met with the incredible and dedicated staff at Kingston Hospital – which serves residents in all three of our constituencies.
We had the opportunity to visit Kingston’s highly regarded maternity unit, as well as the emergency department and paediatric unit. A common theme that cut across the different areas of the hospital was mental health: the paediatric unit often looks after children who are suffering from mental health issues, and the emergency department sees children and adults with mental health issues as well. Our visit reinforced how crucial it is to keep pressing the Government on making sure children and adults get the right support – and get it early.
Community consultation event at Kneller Hall
I stopped by the community consultation at Kneller Hall held by Dukes Education, who will be bringing Radnor House Twickenham senior school to the site. The event was well attended by local residents, who can fill out the feedback form until 1 June.
Eco-Warriors Assembly at Hampton High
I’m always so impressed by our children and young people’s passion and commitment when it comes to tackling the climate emergency. I was reminded of this when Cllr Julia Neden-Watts and I joined the Hampton High Year 9 and 10 Eco-Warriors assemblies recently to talk about our collective responsibility to save our planet.
The pupils asked great questions about what I’m doing at the national level to press the Government to go further on climate change, and what Julia is doing at the local level.
Talking politics with pupils at St Richard Reynolds Catholic College
It was a pleasure to field questions from Year 12 pupils at St Richard Reynolds about local politics and the importance of voting.
United Response receives £50k grant from the National Lottery Community Fund
I was so pleased to hear that Twickenham-based United Response is being awarded a grant of £50k by the National Lottery Community Fund to help celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. They do such great work supporting people with disabilities across the Richmond and Kingston area. Congrats!
Standing up for you in Parliament
Challenged the Chancellor on the lack of support for schools struggling with rising food and energy prices
Children’s free school meal portions are quite literally shrinking on their plates as schools struggle to keep up with the cost of living crisis. When asked, the Chancellor wouldn’t commit to ensuring our children are well-fed and fuelled to learn and play.
Voted for an emergency tax cut that was sadly defeated in the House of Commons
I voted for an emergency tax cut put forward by the Liberal Democrats to help lessen the devastating impact of the cost of living emergency. The motion, to cut VAT from 20% to 17.5%, would have saved families an average of £600 each. Sadly, Conservatives voted it down, along with a proposal to enact a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies.
Questioned the Minister for Children and Families on support for kinship carers
Kinship carers (grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives) are unsung heroes, stepping in to look after children who otherwise would enter care. On 23 May, I intervened in a debate in Parliament on children’s social care, calling on Ministers to accept the recommendation of the Independent Review on Children’s Social Care that kinship carers should receive the same weekly allowances as foster carers. I was pleased by the response from the Minister for Children and Families, who gave, in his words, “the clearest steer” that weekly allowances will be introduced. You can read the full article on my website here.
Continued to demand urgent action on children’s mental health
I’ve been working to raise awareness of the crisis in children’s mental health since I was elected. I brought this pressing issue up again in Parliament recently, when I called on Ministers to produce an urgent action plan to help our children and young people access the support and treatment they need – starting with a dedicated trained mental health professional in every school. This is one of many proposals I’ve been demanding, and I will continue to campaign on this until action is taken.
Reiterated my call for the Government to provide vital funding for catch-up learning
I was deeply disappointed that Conservatives voted down the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Queen’s Speech for proper catch-up funding for schools. Young people will be harmed for decades if Ministers don’t invest now to help them catch up on vital learning they missed in lockdown. I again called on the Government to provide the full £15 billion of catch-up funding recommended by Sir Kevan Collins. We must invest in our children, and in their futures.
Took part in the Big Plastic Count
The UK has a plastic problem – only the US produces more plastic waste. I took part in Greenpeace International and Everyday Plastic’s Big Plastic Count to help shine a light on how much plastic is used – and wasted – across the UK. I was truly shocked by what I found in my own recycling bins: only 11% of my plastic was recyclable; 16% would be exported; 25% would go to landfill; and 48% would be incinerated.
The data gathered will help build the case for the Government to take urgent action. In the meantime, The Liberal Democrats will continue to call for a ban on single-use plastics! You can watch my video here.
Supported women on the frontline of the climate crisis as part of Christian Aid Week
It was such a pleasure to meet former Archbishop Dr John Sentamu at a Christian Aid Week event, in support of women on the frontline of the climate crisis in Zimbabwe. I was especially proud that local fundraising efforts in Twickenham raised nearly £13k last year!
Joined Diabetes UK at the “Diabetes Is Serious” art exhibition
The 4.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK need a fully funded recovery plan for routine care. I recently joined Diabetes UK at their “Diabetes is Serious” art exhibition to find out just how challenging the pandemic has been for people with diabetes, and how Government and the NHS can work together to improve diabetes care and prevention.