I know it’s been a tough year for everyone – and I’m always going to do my best to help, campaign, and be a voice in parliament for all of you, in good times and bad.
To update you on what I’m doing as your MP, here is my round-up of 2021, with some of the highlights from representing you this year.
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Preparing for Labour government and playing a leading role in Shadow Cabinet
It has been an honour to spend this year in Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet – first as Shadow Housing Secretary, until May this year, then Shadow Leader of the House of Commons.
A key part of my role is appearing for Labour on the TV, radio and press. I’m proud to say that this is now a regular part of my work. You may have seen me in recent appearances on Question Time, Sky News, Newsnight, Channel 4 News and BBC News or heard me on BBC Radio 4 Today programme and World at One.
Leading for Labour fighting Tory corruption and sleaze
As Shadow leader of the House I’ve been led Labour efforts to challenge the corruption and rule-breaking of this government.
I led for the Opposition in confronting the government when Tory MP Owen Paterson was found to have lobbied on behalf of several companies. The Prime Minister ripped up anti-corruption rules to protect Mr Paterson. This led to an even-bigger backlash, as a result I was successful in pushing for a strengthening of the rules for MPs. We also forced Mr Paterson’s resignation.
The North Shropshire by-election last week was a consequence of this work. I was delighted to see voters swing away from the Tories, in one of their safest seats. I’m so proud of our team. We pulled at a thread that may yet unravel Boris Johnson’s government.
I know many of you have been shocked at the way many in government have treated the pandemic as an opportunity to enrich themselves or their friends. The Paterson case is a perfect example. I’ve repeatedly requested minutes of meetings between Randox (one of the firms Paterson was lobbying for) and the government, that led to them winning almost £500m in contracts. Government ministers say these minutes have gone missing. But we won’t let this go.
I have used my position as Shadow Leader to shine a light on all these scandals, from the Prime Minister’s murky flat renovations to the Covid contracts given to Matt Hancock’s pub landlord, from the billions squandered on Test & Trace to the lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street. All these episodes point to rot at the top of government. I think even Tory voters are starting to become sick of it.
My team and I help Afghans escape the Taliban
When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban this summer, it seemed to take the Foreign Secretary by surprise. My inbox was inundated by messages from desperate people trying to get out of the country. Many of them were British citizens or Afghans who had helped British forces
My caseworkers and I worked very hard to get vital information to the Foreign Office officials. We had some significant successes in getting several people out. Many more were left behind, due to incompetence and chaos at the Foreign Office.
The crisis in Afghanistan highlighted real weaknesses in our government, and also in the Home Office systems for helping refugees. We were promised a resettlement scheme to help Afghans come to the UK. This has not happened. I’ve repeatedly raised this in the press and in Parliament.
I also opposed another related policy: the Tories’ decision to slash our international commitment to overseas aid. I raised this several times in Parliament and in writing.
Supporting refugees in Bristol, a City of Sanctuary
I have long campaigned for safe and legal routes to allow refugees to come to the UK. These routes would help prevent tragic deaths in the Channel. Safer routes for refugees were originally promised in the Nationality and Borders Bill, but failed to materialise. For this reason and many others, I opposed this Bill.
In Bristol, I’ve also spent some time this year working with the Council and local refugee organisations to ensure refugees are treated fairly.
My caseworkers have had some real victories helping people get fair treatment from the Home Office. They have successfully helped asylum seekers build a life in Bristol, helped numerous people get the documents they need and allowed families to be reunited.
Campaigning for justice for victims of the cladding crisis
As Shadow Housing Secretary until May 2021, I won some significant victories, including a £3.5 billion boost to the Building Safety Fund. But the Tories have struggled to deliver on their promises and make buildings safe. And many of these policies exclude many leaseholders who will still be forced to pay to fix safety defects they did not cause.
While I’m no longer leading on housing, I am still fighting for justice for those affected by this scandal. In the autumn I surveyed the hundreds of people who have contacted for help with this. The results were shocking, with 95% of respondents saying that building safety problems had still not been resolved almost four and a half years after the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Labour has a plan to protect leaseholders from unfair costs and the safety defects left by dodgy builders and corner-cutting developers. We’ll keep fighting for justice.
Covid: I push the government to learn from mistakes
It looks like 2021 will end with rocketing covid numbers and tough restrictions. The year started in the same way with the bleak winter lockdown.
The NHS vaccination programme brought some normality back this year. I’m so grateful to everyone who has made this happen.
But the government must learn from mistakes. This year I have stood up in Parliament and asked the government to launch a Covid inquiry seven times, to prepare for the inevitable next wave. Unfortunately they ignored this, and the next wave is now here. This week, the Prime Minister is once again unable to take decisive action
I’ve raised many of the questions you have put to me with ministers, hospital managers and top health officials in our area. And when Bristol’s healthcare managers and carers have raised the alarm with me, I’ve passed on their message to government.
My work tackling the housing crisis and homelessness
The pandemic threatened to make many thousands of people homeless.
As Shadow Housing Secretary, I successfully pushed the government to extend the ban on evictions. And I put pressure on my opposite number to bring rough sleepers in from the cold, at a time when night shelters were shut because of the Covid risk.
My caseworkers have dealt with hundreds of housing problems this year, from anti-social behaviour to helping people living in unsuitable accommodation.
Helping children to stay in education through the pandemic
This has been a very tough year for schools. Many of them started the year by opening for one day, before the order came to shut down again.
Throughout lockdowns many children have been unable to access the internet, despite government promises to supply laptops and routers for disadvantaged pupils. When these laptops failed to appear, I appealed to local businesses to help supply unneeded equipment.
My caseworkers and I have also prioritised Special Educational Needs and Disabilities this year. We’ve held several meetings with teachers, parents and Council officers to help children get the support they need.
I demand urgent action for climate and nature
Polls show people are more concerned about the environment than ever before. As the crisis affecting the climate and natural world becomes ever-more urgent, I believe people’s voices should be heard.
This year I organised several meetings with people across my constituency, gathering feedback from hundreds of people and took their concerns to government before the COP26 climate summit in November. Sadly, the conference did not meet necessary level of ambition. I will keep pushing the government to put climate at the top of its agenda.
Labour would invest £28 billion every year in transforming our economy and slashing carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. The UK can demonstrate real leadership on climate, as we did during the last Labour government.
More efficient and environmentally-sound homes was one of my top priorities this year when leading for Labour on housing policy. I repeatedly argued for the Tories to increase their ambition, including in the poorly-designed and under-resourced Green Homes Grant which was eventually abandoned.
Black Lives Matter
Bristol is still a deeply unequal place, especially along racial lines. Black Lives Matter and other movements have started to change things, but there is still a long way to go.
This year, my team and I organised a series of discussions with leading figures from the Black and minority ethnic communities, including a networking event for Black-owned businesses, a meeting on business finance and other public meetings. We also contacted Bristol’s biggest employers, asking how they ensure senior management is representative of our multicultural and diverse city.
Entrenched inequality also affects access to jobs and training. Another highlight this year was working with Lloyds Bank to help organise an online work experience course for students at City Academy, a school which serves one of the most deprived wards in the South West.
My team and I support businesses through difficult times
In my work in 2021, I put a particular focus on helping those local businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, including restaurants, pubs, bars, arts organisations, theatres, hotels, nightclubs, taxi drivers and all the other companies and supply chains that depend on them. Through 2020 and 2021 I brought many of these workers together in a series of events and took their concerns to government and the Council.
As Covid bites once again, I’m again working with Bristol’s hospitality businesses to assess their needs and make the case for the support they need.
This comes on top of a very difficult year for all of us. Food, fuel, train travel, electricity bills, rent, taxes: all are going up. I’ve repeatedly spoken in Parliament about the need to address the spiralling cost of living.
Continuing my previous work tackling violence against women and girls
Before I was elected as an MP I spent 26 years in work and campaigning to end violence against women and girls. This year, I’ve continued to speak out against misogyny and the culture that permits this violence.
Like many of you, I was deeply disturbed by the shocking murder of Sarah Everard. I’ve been working with Avon & Somerset Police to organise a summit in 2022 to confront the pervasive problem of male violence and the values of sexism and misogyny which underly the violence.
I know many of you have found 2021 to be a real struggle. The montage above shows me listening to the Tories’ justification for lockdown parties, but also sums up my feelings at many other times this year. Please be assured that as your MP, I will do what I can to help you and represent you in Parliament. If there’s something you’d like to ask me, please get in touch.
I hope you have a happy and relaxing Christmas break, whatever you decide to do. See you in the New Year!