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Jonathan Ashworth MP: Growing list of Tory failures await PM after holiday

4 min read

Shadow Cabinet member Jonathan Ashworth writes that when the Prime Minister returns from her break in Switzerland she will be confronted with a long list of Government failures including the row over grammar schools and rail strikes.

I never begrudge politicians a summer holiday. I myself have just returned from the South of France where for 10 days with my family I enjoyed the sunshine, splashed in the pool with my children before reading in the balmy evenings Hanya Yanagihara’s moving ‘A Little Life’ with a glass of rose. What’s more the temporary deletion of twitter from my phone turned out to be a restorative tonic for this Labour politician weighed down with travails. I heartily recommend all my Labour colleagues do the same.

So in that spirit I wish the Prime Minister well on her break in Switzerland. I hope she finds time to relax and read some good literature. I trust her walking holiday also means the nation is spared the customary awkward photo pointing at a fish in a market place that became the customary standard under David Cameron

I don’t doubt she will take comfort from her opinion poll ratings but those of us determined to plot a course to a Labour victory at the next general election can detect serious weaknesses opening up in her government.

Just look at the last few weeks.

The fallout over David Cameron’s crony-packed resignation honours ‘lavender’ list to the row with China over the stalling of the Hinkley Point power plant, May’s first month as PM has not been as smooth as she might have hoped.

It’s been a rocky start for many of the new Cabinet too with many Government departments, from the Home Office, to Transport, to the Cabinet Office, being beset by disappointing new statistics, senior resignations and huge disputes with industry.

Of particular concern is the plethora of failings in our international relations.

Theresa May suddenly putting the brakes on the Hinkley Point nuclear energy plant has put in jeopardy £40 billion of inward investment. At a time when this Government is about to undertake the biggest trade and investment renegotiation in our history the bungling of this project is extremely concerning.

This is particularly true given the dire situation of our current trade deficit. Figures released earlier this week show that our trade deficit in goods grew by £0.9bn in June to a total £12.5bn deficit, the worst ever recorded figure for the month.

Unfortunately our new Secretary of State for International Trade, formerly disgraced minister Liam Fox, seems unlikely to be able to turn the situation around. Just last month he was rebuked by Theresa May after clumsily trying to begin trade negotiations with America before Britain had invoked Article 50, against the specific rules of the EU, resulting in the American Trade Representative having to make a statement making clear no negotiation would be possible before Britain begins to leave the EU.

There’s been huge trouble on the home front too.A row erupted last week when proposals were announced for Companies House to delete companies’ data after 6 years rather than 20 years, with huge backlash from journalists, civil society and anti-corruption organisations. The commitment of May’s government to the anti-corruption agenda has already been questioned and this proposal is yet more evidence that the previous regimes commitment to tackling corruption is fading away. There is no significant cost benefit and deleting records after 6 years would seriously undermine the ability of the Serious Fraud Office and other agencies to investigate crime and spot patterns of fraud and money laundering.

Speaking of rows the whole Southern railway network was ground to a halt this week as the Government seemed more interested in picking a fight with the rail unions, with one civil servant saying he wanted to ‘break’ the unions and make them ‘get the hell out of my industry’, than sorting out the abysmal service run by Southern Rail, the country’s big rail franchise. Let’s hope the Government does a better job going forward of helping achieve a long term solution than it has so far.

All this is not even to mention the resignation of the third chair of the child sexual abuse enquiry, the ongoing arguments about the resurrection of new grammar schools and shocking new figures about staff shortages in the NHS.

Government failures can escape notice in the summer months of parliamentary recess, but these failures are too big and too frequent to be hidden away. So my message to Theresa May is this – enjoy your holiday, you deserve it but let me reassure you the growing list of Tory failures will not go unchallenged.

Jonathan Ashworth is the shadow minister without portfolio. He is the Labour MP for Leicester South

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