Commons Diary: Wes Streeting
A taxing week for Wes Streeting as he learns the hard way that private remarks can be for public consumption – and is baffled by a Brexit-free Budget statement
It turns out that Philip Hammond has a better sense of humour than his reputation would suggest. He had some good gags as he delivered his first Budget, but he left the country with little to laugh about.
As a member of the Treasury Select Committee, I spent the days leading up to the Budget pouring over the newspapers for clues as to what the chancellor had in store for us. I must admit that I hadn’t taken speculation that he was planning to increase National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed very seriously.
Surely the new chancellor wouldn’t break a manifesto commitment in his first Budget, not to mention by taxing aspiration, enterprise and entrepreneurialism? It turned out I was wrong – though if the glum faces on the Conservative benches were anything to go by, Mr Hammond’s last spring budget may also produce Mr Hammond’s first big U-turn.
By announcing £2bn additional funding for health and social care, the chancellor may have hoped to appease those of us concerned by the crisis gripping the NHS and local authorities, but this falls far short of the £6bn funding gap. Similarly the additional funding announced for new grammar schools will be small consolation to existing schools in my constituency facing funding cuts of £188 per pupil per year.
Contrary to the propaganda, Britain’s economy suffers from serious structural weaknesses. Growth is sluggish and driven by credit card debt. Productivity is poor, which holds our economy back and keeps wages down. The fall in sterling creates inflationary pressures that many households and businesses could do without. So it was surprising that the biggest challenge facing our economy – negotiating a smooth exit from the European Union – barely received a mention from the chancellor.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves certainly took on the big issues in her rousing Budget speech. It got the attention of a number of Labour MPs in the Commons tea room and I was left reflecting, this International Women’s Day, on how much better things would have been had she been speaking from the despatch box as Britain’s first woman chancellor.
My party needs to get on the front foot on the economy – not just to address our dire ratings in the polls but because our parliamentary system requires strong opposition and people are counting on us to hold this government to account.
Parliamentary Labour Party meetings are supposed to be places where we can speak candidly with colleagues in private, but this week I learned the hard way that they’re more effective at generating media coverage than any press release! So I ended up reading about my own exasperation that the shadow chancellor was busy spinning nonsense about a ‘soft coup’ in the pages of Labour Briefing, Morning Star and the Socialist Worker while it was left to a former Conservative prime minister to take the Tories to task on Europe and the economy in newspapers read by normal people. It’s a strange old world.
As a London MP I have the advantage of going home to my own bed every night. I tend to spend Thursdays and Fridays at meetings and events in the constituency. This week’s involved a visit to a local college, a Q&A with a primary school council, a debate with my predecessor at a Jewish community centre, promoting our forthcoming march to save our local A&E, my constituency advice surgery and knocking on doors during one of my weekly campaign sessions.
It’s a part of the job that I genuinely love. Before the last general election we spoke to more people than any other constituency Labour Party in Britain and I haven’t stopped campaigning since – which is just as well as William Hague has hit the headlines with calls for an early general election. We won against the odds in Ilford North last time, so whether the next election is months away or years away we’ll be ready.
Wes Streeting is Labour MP for Ilford North and a member of the Treasury Committee
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