As we headed into the Christmas break, I had written about the Tory government’s slide into sleaze and the new depths of ineptitude and dishonesty the Prime Minister had sunken to.
On returning, it seems that new subterranean levels are still being discovered.
At the time of writing this, the Prime Minister is trying to scrabble his way out of yet another scandal around hosting parties at 10 Downing Street during the peak of the pandemic lockdowns.
His government tried to spin half-truths and misrepresentations into some form of defence, while the Prime Minister once again attempted to avoid any sort of accountability.
After sending the Paymaster General as his fall guy to answer Labour’s questions on Tuesday, the PM did surface for his Questions on Wednesday and gave a series of excuses masquerading as a very poor apology.
It is shameful to hide behind an internal probe, spokespeople or civil servants. It is time for the Prime Minister to take responsibility and resign.
Meanwhile Labour has been setting out our vision for a better future.
Keir Starmer gave a keynote speech last week describing Labour’s ambition for a new Britain in which everyone gets the security, prosperity and respect that they deserve.
Labour wants to see people feeling safer in their homes and on the streets with crime prevention teams in every neighbourhood and new Police Hubs visible in every community.
Labour wants everyone to have the opportunity to thrive and make a good life for themselves. I have spoken previously about our ambitious, practical plans to Buy, Make and Sell in More in Britain and invest £28 billion a year in combating climate change, creating quality jobs across the UK.
Labour wants politics to be better, with the Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership at the heart of the government.
Keir rightly pointed out that, just because the Tories are losing the public’s trust, it doesn’t mean Labour will simply inherit it. Trust has to be earned.
Labour will continue to strive to demonstrate that we can be trusted to deliver a future we all want to live in.
Broadband in Blaenau Gwent
Another issue I had been raising in the lead up to Christmas is the government’s roll-out of ultrafast broadband leaving behind areas like ours.
I recently wrote about it in a newspaper column and will be picking it back up in the coming weeks, seeking responses to the questions I have asked.
It is simply unacceptable for cities and urbans areas to have around 80% coverage of the fastest broadband while we have only 3%.
It is important for our communities to stay connected at the best speeds available and it is vital that our high street shops are not lagging behind.
Digital industries will be one of the biggest employers in the near future. If we want to be attractive to businesses that may seek to set up here, we must be kept up to speed.
When the Welsh Government ran the previous roll-out of high-speed broadband, areas of historic deprivation were prioritised for levelling-up. I am continuing to push for the UK government to work with Ofcom in Wales and the Welsh Government to come up with a much better strategy for our valleys’ digital upgrade.
We cannot afford to be brought up to speed four years after everyone else, at the tail end of the gigabit rollout in 2025.
A campaign I have been plugging away at for several years now – seeking justice for steelworkers caught up in the British Steel pension scandal – received a big boost recently when the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced it would be consulting on a redress scheme.
Under this scheme, firms found to have given unsuitable advice on British Steel Pension Scheme transfers would be required to provide compensation to those who lost out.
This is something I have been pushing for, having made the case to the regulators for such a scheme to be implemented last summer.
I do have some concerns about the terms of the consultation and have written to the FCA to seek assurances this week.
Broadly I want to ensure that Independent Financial Advisors are not able to interpret the guidance in their own favour and also that no steelworkers are squeezed out of the scheme by a framework for eligibility that is too narrow.
That being said, it has been a very long and difficult road to get to this point and I will certainly be supporting the consultation.
I would encourage any steelworkers who may have been affected to take part and I will continue to push for the FCA to ensure that the redress scheme goes ahead.
Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme
In another example of the Prime Minister saying one thing and then doing another, last year he broke a promise to every single member of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme.
While campaigning to win red wall seats during the 2019 election, Boris Johnson told miners “categorically we will make sure that no Mansfield miner, or any other miner signed up to the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, is out of pocket. We will make sure that all their cash is fully protected and returned, I have looked into it and we will ensure that’s done.”
Then, last summer his government rejected the recommendations of a Business Select Committee that would have put these changes into action.
It is utterly shameful that the government continue to insist that the current deal – which has seen the Treasury pocket more than £4bn from the fund while many ex-miners live on around £80 a week – is a fair one.
And yet, this is exactly what a Minister told me this week when I raised the issue in Parliament.
A Labour government would do the right thing and change the surplus sharing arrangement, while the Tories are just not interested in giving miners and their families their fair share.
Video/ written contributions / press/ social media links
FCA redress scheme
FT Advisor article: FCA redress scheme
South Wales Argus column
VIDEO: Mineworkers Pension Scheme
VIDEO: Ajax Programme
Forces.net article: Ajax Programme
VIDEO: Crony contracts