Leading Gloucester Forward: challenges ahead
The morning after the General Election brought mixed emotions.
On the one hand being re-elected and receiving over 50% of the votes cast (the first time any candidate in Gloucester had done so for 70 years) was a huge honour from my constituents and great credit to those of all age, backgrounds and ethnic origins who supported me.
But on the other hand was a sense of ‘what now?’ as it became clear the Conservatives fell just short of an overall majority. What were the implications for our country and our city?
If you believe in democracy you have to accept the aggregate message the electorate delivers. I interpret the results as: we understand the Conservative claim to restoring our economy but we do not want the party of government to have unbridled power; we do not care as much about Brexit as you politicians all think – we mind more about what impacts our daily life, like health, education, social care and pensions; we do not want Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and most of us don’t believe in Magic Money Trees but we do like positive manifestos; and young voters and others who traditionally don’t vote can be motivated to do so.
There are lessons in this aggregate message for all parties and politicians, and how we do so will determine the battle of ideas ahead.
But the immediate issues for my party were to be able make the mathematics needed for legislation to work: to focus on a modest programme of legislation both for leaving the EU and social change (mental health and social care – after consultation – in particular) and to be ready with a new government to deal with events.
These came quicker than expected: the fourth terrorist attack, this time on a mosque, in almost as many weeks and the simply horrific inferno at Grenfell Tower.
The reason why I believe all of us a nation are so shocked by Grenfell Tower is because we recognise that terrorists exist (even if we don’t understand why), and accept that our excellent counter terrorist agencies and police won’t be able to prevent every random individual act of terrorism; but we also all believe that the events of Grenfell Tower were preventable – and that much has happened there (and we now know elsewhere) that shouldn’t have happened. There is no-one but ourselves to blame.
But who exactly is to blame? There are two possible reactions to this sort of tragedy. One, ahead of any enquiry and many facts, is to politicise or weaponise it: call for a Day of Rage, a march by a million people and describe the residents who died as “murdered by political decisions” (as the Shadow Chancellor put it).
An aid worker said bluntly that a day of rage was the last thing anyone needed and only 400 turned up. I regard that whole approach as grotesquely inappropriate. The way for government to react is to help to rebuild lives and homes, get absolutely objective non partisan enquiries under way – above all the police one to identify any criminal responsibility – and to do all this above all with calm determination. What our country wants is not more violence on the street: but good, democratic, responsible government that gets to the bottom of tragedies and holds everyone to account.
By this weekend we will know if Jeremy Corbyn’s boast that he would vote down the Queens Speech comes true, and whether Lily Allen will eat a goat live on Sky TV if the government wins Thursday’s vote. Gradually the media will realise that Corbyn may have a following at Glastonbury, but his ambition to be Prime Minister in six months is another idle boast, that endless articles about ‘revolts’ in the Conservative Party will fail to materialise and that the government will get on with the difficult business of governing.
That in turn will enable us here to move forward on many projects. In particular, infrastructure and skills issues on which I’ve spent a lot of time and which are unfinished business include:
• Sorting the underpass between the Railway Station and Great Western Road, used by so many of my constituents to get to our Hospital more safely and comfortably
• Creating a new exit from the existing Railway Station car park straight on to Metz Way and so reducing journeys home for many commuters
• Building a strong partnership between government, our two councils and GCH so that estate regeneration for Matson and Podsmead, improving the homes and lives of thousands of residents, can move ahead viably
• Taking forward our proposed Health University Technical College so that future generations of Gloucester pupils have the best pathways into our biggest sector for jobs in the county – health & care – with home grown nurses at forefront
• Making sure that the new accommodation being built for our new Business School is ready in time for Sep 2018, and that businesses are ready to attract their custom – a boost to our city centre
• Getting the right structure for our flagship History Festival so that it can continue to inspire other future cultural developments in our City of Heritage
• Urging forward our new Rosebank GP surgery in Kingsway and the expansion of the Hadwen surgery in Abbeydale and the re-introduction of evening and weekend surgeries so that my constituents get better access to doctors
• Making sure that no school gets less funding than at present under the new fair funding formula, and many get more: while encouraging a higher intake of Gloucester pupils at all our grammar schools
I could list many more aims on my project list from leaks in our Crown Court roof and holding some hearings in Shire Hall to the return of Gloucester City Football Club to Meadow Park, but eight is a lucky number in Chinese so let me leave it at that for now.
There is a lot to do in our city to make it an even better place in which to grow up, study, work and retire, and I’m impatient to see it all happen. Of course as with national government events will distract us. Last week I was on the telephone to our Fire & Rescue Chief discussing the repercussions of Grenfell Tower and checking all our highest buildings’ fire risks: and the next day to our Police about checking security at our mosques after the Finsbury Park mosque attack. In both cases their response was immediate and reassuring. Leading Gloucester Forward is all about initiatives and then partnerships – and the good news is that we have very good public, private and charity sector partner organisations in city and county to work with. Now we need a decent period of national political stability to see things through. And I think we will have it.