Fabians Newsletter October 2015
This is the text of the newsletter that Fabian has sent recently to constituents and supporters. If you would like to be added to the list of recipients please send an email with a request to that effect to firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope that you were all able to enjoy a break during the summer period. As I write this newsletter with the rain pouring down outside the window, the summer seems a long time ago.
Leeds North East Constituency
I am sorry that I was not able to attend the recent meeting of the Constituency Labour Party. Following the General Election I was re-elected as a member of the International Development Select Committee which scrutinises the work of the government and the way that the substantial UK overseas aid budget is used. This work took us to New York and Washington at the time of the constituency meeting. We were programmed to meet Mr Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank and afterwards we travelled to the United Nations in New York in order to discuss with officials initiatives for sustainable development. Given the importance and scale of UK aid overseas, it is essential that Parliament has the best information possible about the impact of such work. I am sure that members understand that sometimes such commitments will clash with important events in the constituency. The meeting was very well attended and I regret that my commitment meant that I missed the opportunity of meeting new members. I look forward to doing so over the next few weeks.
I expect that many of you will know that my constituency office has moved to 147A Easterley Road, LS8 2RY. Our telephone number is unchanged at 0113 249 6600. If you want to see exactly where I am now based in Leeds, go to http://www.leedsne.co.uk/constituency-office At our old address we shared the premises with the constituency party and we rented our space from it. Our move means that it will no longer be possible for the office to be used for any campaigning but constituents and party members will always be welcome. One curiosity is that our move means that the office is now actually located IN the constituency. I am still running my surgeries at various venues in order to make this easier for constituents. The new office is also above shop premises so we do still have a staircase which may be difficult for some visitors. Where access proves difficult for constituents I always try to arrange meetings elsewhere. The move is also saving money as the rent I now pay is significantly less than before and thus makes a contribution to reducing parliamentary expenses.
Many of you will be aware that I endorsed the candidature of Yvette Cooper for the leadership of our party. In the event she received just 15% of the vote in comparison to the 60% of votes which went to Jeremy Corbyn. I have known Jeremy for many years and I have written to him offering my congratulations together with my assurance that I will work with him in whatever ways are possible to achieve a future Labour victory. I fully respect the democratic decision of members and supporters of the Labour Party and I will work to help Jeremy to succeed in the task he has been given. Jeremy and I share the same views on disarmament and, in particular, our views on the renewal of Trident and UK nuclear capability. Our challenge will be to try influence other Labour Party members and the wider community on these matters and help to secure a change of party policy on this issue. I also feel sure that the anger which people feel about the government’s austerity programme and which fired Jeremy’s election will not dissipate. The party must harness this anger, and offer imaginative alternatives.
Welcome to new members
One wonderful outcome of the leadership election was the way that many thousands of new people joined the Labour Party or registered their support for our campaign. May I extend a special word of welcome to new members in the Leeds North East constituency. I hope that I will soon have the opportunity to get to know you all and I look forward to planning how, together, we can ramp up the Labour Party campaign in our area and play a part in securing a victory at the next general election.
I have tried to ensure that all new members receive this letter but the mailing lists I use are not easy to keep up to date. Might I ask those of you who know new members to ask them if they have had my letter? If not would you let me know and also ask them to email their details to email@example.com I will then ensure that this and future communications reach them. My grateful thanks for your help in this matter.
Councillor Bill Urry
I want to offer a very sincere word of thanks to Bill Urry who is one of our Labour Councillors for Roundhay and who has decided that he will not stand for re-election in 2016. Bill has offered exemplary commitment and service to the community during the time he has been a councillor and there are many people in Roundhay who have been helped by the work that he has done. Those of us within the ‘political community’ know just how much time councillors give to their work, always striving conscientiously to ensure that local government works properly and meets needs. It has been especially difficult for councillors in recent years as government decisions have savagely reduced local council budgets at the same time as needs have grown. Councillors are often at the sharp end of dealing with the personal anguish that this causes and I know that Bill has felt this keenly. I pay tribute to his integrity and concern for constituents in Roundhay. I thank him, and indeed all our local Labour councillors, for such dedication and commitment.
At the beginning of the new session I was both surprised and honoured to be contacted by the Speaker of the House, the Rt Hon John Bercow, who asked me to join the list of Members designated to chair Statutory Instrument Bill Committees from time to time. It might be because of my length of time at Westminster as an MP as this list comprises about 20 long serving members who are familiar with the proceedings of the House of Commons. I was pleased to accept.
I have already chaired one meeting. It was the Delegated Legislation Committee looking at the Consumer Rights Act of 2015 (Consequential Instruments) Order and the Enterprise Act 2002 (Part 8 Domestic Infringements) Order. Now if you want to know about the substance of these meetings, I will have to write a second and different kind of newsletter! Detailed work of this nature underpins more headline-attracting debate and decision making and forms an essential aspect of the ways that laws are scrutinised and implemented. It gave me an amused satisfaction to be able to start and end my first meeting saying, with due ceremony and gravitas, the hallowed instruction, “Order! Order!”.
One other development has come about from my membership of the International Development Committee (mentioned earlier). I have been appointed to chair a subcommittee, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact which monitors the effectiveness of the way that the government budget on aid is used. This is a serious responsibility as we now guarantee that 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income is used for aid and currently this amounts to 11.4 £Billion per annum. I am proud that the UK has set an example to the world in terms of our commitment to providing aid. In fairness to those whose lives should be improved by aid, and to the people and businesses whose taxes make this possible, every care must be taken that the money is properly, wisely and efficiently used.
Refugees from Syria
On our television screens every day we see pictures of human misery as people flee the war in Syria, Many hundreds reach a brick wall (or more precisely a steel fence) at Calais where they find their onward progress prevented. Along the way is a trail of tragedy and exploitation, with young and old being robbed by traffickers, losing their lives in the water, suffocated in lorries or struck by trains.
I have been greatly moved by the number of constituents who have written to me saying that they would welcome refugees into their homes and their generosity contrasts greatly with the feeble offer by the Prime Minister to allow just 20,000 such refugees from Syria into the UK over the course of the present parliament. I know it is sometimes hard to think in numbers and 20,000 seems a lot. It is the population of a small town and it’s surrounding area about the size of Wetherby but in national terms it is very small, amounting to something like just over 6 individuals per constituency per year up to the next election. I believe that the great work being done by ordinary people here in Leeds to send practical aid to refugees shows that there is a real desire here to support and to welcome those suffering oppression.
I do not want to undervalue the amount of overseas aid money we are spending in supporting those in refugee camps close to the theatre of war. The UK contribution far exceeds that offered by most other countries in the world. At the same time, the restriction to just 20,000 people being allowed in seems mean and uncaring in the extreme.
I have visited refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. I have seen the physical and psychological damage that the Assad regime inflicted on its citizens. I have learned at first hand of their ernest desire to see war end and for them to be able to return to live and work in peace and freedom in their own country.
It is right that we alleviate distress in the Middle East. It is also right that we seek a solution that will end conflict. It is right that we challenge and defeat the forces of evil and the ISIS movement. It is not right that we limit our hospitality to those in distress, particularly when so many ordinary people want to make a real sacrifice in order to help.
I end my newsletter with my own sincere tribute to the memory of Denis Healey, former MP for Leeds East, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Denis died on October 3rd 2015 aged 98 years. I came across him when I first stood, unsuccessfully, as the candidate for Leeds North East in 1992. He gave me much support and encouragement and I have a fond memory of my young daughter sitting on his lap in the shadow of those characteristic and unmissable eyebrows.
To those of you who are not old enough to remember him in government, I would suggest that you read one of the many obituaries that have appeared in the days following his death. (e.g http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/03/lord-healey )Evaluations of his roles and contributions will vary in tone but he was a giant on the UK political scene. He arguably saved the Labour Party from a permanent electoral wilderness during the years when Michael Foot was leader and he steered the UK through a period of near bankruptcy. Now he is kindly described as perhaps the best Labour Prime Minister that the UK never had.
Denis was one of the last politicians who had fought during the Second World War, serving in Africa, Italy and Anzio. The Times obituary quotes him as saying that after the war he chose a career in politics as he was determined to do his best to stop a third world war. One of his strongest political motivations was a loathing of racism in all its forms.
Denis taught me something I have never forgotten and that is the imperative of maintaining a life and interests outside the political hothouses of Westminster and Council offices. For Denis it was his marriage, his home, languages, his love of the arts and photography (in the days of the dark room). This life, outside his public work, meant that he had human warmth, character, empathy and perspective which he brought to his political thinking and decision making.
I hope his legacy will be a commitment to Labour as a broad church for all who seek a society based on Fairness, Justice and Equality, a party committed to excellent state provision and to channelling the fruits of capitalism for the good of everyone in our society.
I hope that at some time in the future we can commemorate his memory in Leeds. I doubt that Denis would have wanted a statue but I am sure we can think of other ways.
My very best wishes to you all.
Labour MP for Leeds North East.