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Lords Diary: Lord Austin

3 min read

I spent the 10 days before Parliament returned on my first summer holiday for over five years. I waved goodbye to blustery autumn showers to ride my bike in the sun. Cycling is fantastic for not just physical health but mental wellbeing too.

There is nowhere better to do it than along the coast, quiet country lanes or mountain roads of Majorca, and no one better to do it with than the brilliant team at the cycling holiday organisation SunVelo (I did pay them!) They cater for all levels of cyclist, from novices to elite-level racers and those of us somewhere in between. They know fantastic quiet routes around the island, provide support, advice and encouragement on the bike, and camaraderie and conversation in the evenings.

Some news from the United Kingdom did intrude. It’s obviously not been the best few weeks for the government, but I’m not sure Labour can be certain of victory just yet. Boundary changes, Scotland and coming back from Jeremy Corbyn’s terrible defeat will make winning next time very difficult. And, as I know from working on Tony Blair’s campaign before 1997, Labour can’t just rely on the government’s position in the polls but must earn the public’s trust itself with bold leadership that grabs people’s attention and surprising statements that remove their doubts about the party.

As I landed back in Luton, my phone buzzed with a message from Bill Browder, the financier turned human rights campaigner and leader of the global campaign for Magnitsky Sanctions against those responsible for brutality and corruption. Russian opposition leader and British citizen Vladimir Kara-Murza could face 20 years in prison for treason. Vladimir has already been poisoned and almost killed twice. He flew back to Moscow after the invasion of Ukraine, was arrested on trumped up charges and could now spend the next two decades in a squalid prison cell.
Majorca suddenly seemed a long way away as we discussed the campaign for tougher sanctions against more of the corrupt and brutal officials who sustain Vladimir Putin’s gangster regime.

I have been working with Bill and the Russian opposition for years. The invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the UK introducing a much tougher set of sanctions and we have provided international leadership to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s heroic leadership against the Russian invasion. Let’s pray the tide continues to turn in Kyiv’s favour and a Ukrainian victory could undermine Putin’s dictatorship.

The first week back in the Lords was busy with statements and debates on everything from the government’s growth plan to energy costs and fuel bills, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and sanctions on Russia. 

I was particularly pleased to see a debate had been timetabled to discuss The Times Education Commission. We should be grateful to the paper and its columnist Rachel Sylvester for assembling a stellar group of education policy experts to spend months asking fundamental questions about what young people should learn and how they should be taught it. 

Young people face a working life of unprecedented change. Technologies not yet invented will create jobs that have not yet been imagined as the pace of change gets faster and faster. International competition is greater than ever before. This is why we need an education system that teaches people how to learn and adapt. If you haven’t read the commission’s report and findings, download them now.

It was fantastic to welcome Sarah-Jane Marsh CBE and her family to the Lords for a celebration after her investiture. It is well-deserved recognition of the enormous contribution she makes to the NHS as CEO of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s hospitals, chair of a range of NHS taskforces and head of the test and trace taskforce, so ministers and Members of both Houses that she has worked with came along to thank her for everything she does for Birmingham, the West Midlands and the NHS across the country. 

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