Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Last week we got a look the initial proposals for the 2023 review of Parliamentary constituencies by the Boundary Commission for Wales.
This is a difficult and complex proposal given the objective of arriving at 650 similar sized constituencies across the UK.
In Wales this means reducing the number of Parliamentary seats from 40 to 32 and increasing the size of some constituencies.
For Blaenau Gwent, the initial proposal is for the constituency to be added to with wards from the Merthyr and Rhymney constituency as well as wards from Islwyn and Caerphilly.
A consultation has been opened on these plans and they are likely to reviewed several more times before they are implemented.
I have taken a position on the Election Bill Committee that will be scrutinising planned changes to the way elections are run in the UK.
The most controversial and high profile suggestion is one that I have already spoken out about many times – Voter ID.
The Government’s plan to make everyone present photo ID before being able to vote will lock out millions of people out of democracy. I am dead against it.
This is a solution to a problem that does not exist. I believe it is an attempt at voter suppression straight out of the Republican Party playbook.
There are other proposals in the Bill including making changes to “improve the safety” of postal and proxy voting arrangements, to give ‘votes for life’ to overseas voters – as opposed to the current 15-year cut-off point.
I will be digging into these proposals in the coming weeks and months and will be challenging anything that feels like it will hinder the democratic right to vote or appears to be an effort to gain political advantage. Chartism grew in our valleys, to support our democracy.
The UK has a very robust election process, and we should not be sowing any seeds of doubt about its security.
Universal Credit and National Insurance
This week Labour gave Conservative MPs the chance to do the right thing and vote against the planned £1000 a year cut to Universal Credit.
They did not take it.
I voted in favour of Labour’s motion to ‘Cancel the Cut’ but the Prime Minister instructed his MPs to ignore the vote.
Boris Johnson wants to paint this as a choice between letting people on Universal Credit retain an extra £20 a week or helping them get into work. This is either ignorant or dishonest.
He should know full well that that Universal Credit is an in-work benefit. He should know that many of the people who receive it are in-work families whose wages do not cover the cost of living. Many being the key workers he clapped for last year.
Critics of retaining the £20 a week say that this is not a cut as the extra money was only added as a boost during the pandemic and should now be removed.
But isn’t the fact the uplift was required at all an admission that Universal Credit is inadequate? And what about the many people who have only gone on to Universal Credit since the pandemic began? For them the extra £20 is a vital part of their budget.
The Prime Minister cannot possibly understand the difference £20 a week can make for a family that is struggling. He has no idea how it can mean the difference between there being food on the table or not.
These plans are a disaster. The cut has been opposed not just by Labour, but also by many prominent Conservatives – including six former DWP secretaries of state – and dozens of charities.
The £20 uplift should remain in place until Universal Credit is finally replaced with a social security system that is there to support everyone when they need it.
This cut would be sickening enough as it is, but the Tories are also hitting young people and lower paid workers with a National Insurance rise – a rise that leaves the wealthy utterly unscathed.
No amount of reshuffling his cabinet can distract from the fact that the Prime Minister is trying to make low-income families pay for his Government’s chronic mismanagement of the pandemic.
Defence procurement is something that I examine through my role on the Public Accounts Committee and the Ajax tank debacle is of particular interest to me as they are built over in Merthyr Tydfil at the General Dynamics factory.
The Ministry of Defence programme has cost £3.5 billion to date, delivered just 14 vehicles and is set to be completed a decade late.
We are hearing about the vehicles’ poor performance and about more than 300 soldiers being assessed for hearing loss due to the way the tanks vibrate.
I asked a question of the Minister for Defence Procurement recently where I called it what it is – a five-star shambles.
Money has been wasted, service personnel have been put at risk and now people’s livelihoods may be hanging in the balance.
The procurement of advanced technology like Ajax is directly linked to the Government’s plan to slash Army troop numbers to their lowest in 300 years – something I am opposed to and something that I challenged the Prime Minister about previously.
The Government must now halt any plans to reduce troop numbers until this failing procurement is dealt with and this mess is sorted out.