MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
I’m off in a minute to Ed and Russell’s wedding breakfast – and it’s a bit of a do!
So I just want to publicly wish them both all the happiness in the world. Ed has been and is an amazing campaigner for LGBT rights – and so for me to be at their wedding is super special.
May they live happily ever after!
The Labour leader recently made a speech supposedly announcing his party’s plans for a localism agenda. The speech was interesting because every suggestion made by Mr Milliband is already being put in place by the Lib Dems in Government!
The 11th hour conversion to Lib Dem policy is an unexpected move by Ed Milliband, but it is good to hear he has seen sense.
Here is a breakdown of just a few of Labour’s “new” policies, compared to those the Lib Dems have already implemented:
Labour Opposition: Increase the number of apprenticeships (despite describing half a million apprentices as ‘deadweight’)
Lib Dems in Government: Led by Vince Cable and Gordon Birtwistle, the Coalition has created 1.8 million apprenticeships since 2010.
Labour Opposition: Move towards keeping rates locally.
Lib Dems in Government: We’ve reformed rates to ensure that Local Authorities keep a proportion for the first time in 20 years – meaning they have direct control of 80% of their budgets rather than 50%.
Labour Opposition: 25% of government procurement contracts to go SMEs
Lib Dems in Government: This is already government policy, up from the 6.5% under Gordon Brown.
Labour Opposition: Create new University Technical Colleges (UTCs).
Lib Dems in Government: Since 2010, 45 new UTCs have opened, allowing 27,500 students to train as engineers and scientists.
Labour Opposition: Expand Catapult Centres for manufacturing and cell therapy
Lib Dems in Government: Catapult Centres, brought in by Vince Cable, give scientists, engineers, and businesses a place to work together on late stage research. These are extremely successful and will be expanded with two new centres and £7 million further funding.
So, yet again, Labour are adopting ideas from the Lib Dems just like they have with tax cuts for low earners, voting reform, and decarbonisation.
They’ve even admitted they would have made the same spending cuts if they were in Government after the last General Election!
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….
Since entering Government, my Lib Dem colleagues and I have worked hard to make the childcare system fairer for working families.
Couples and single parents should not be forced to give up work to look after children because of the costs of childcare – and more generally people shouldn’t have to choose outright between a career and a child.
That’s why we recently announced that working families will get up to £2,000 a year tax free childcare, from Autumn 2015.
Parents will be given vouchers for any Ofsted regulated childcare in England. In Haringey alone it is estimated that 8,340 families will benefit from the new scheme.
This is another boost for children and their parents, to work alongside the other changes guaranteed by the Lib Dems.
These include supplying 15 hours a week free childcare for 2, 3, and 4 year olds, introducing free school meals for infant school pupils, and the Pupil Premium – providing schools with £2.5 billion extra a year.
In tough times we need to ensure that families are given the support they need to help children thrive. The schemes brought in since 2010 have been put in place to provide a more equal playing field for all children and their families.
At school, teachers are getting extra funding to help the most vulnerable, and the administrators can now provide nutritious meals. At home, with the cost of childcare reduced, parents can feel secure in the knowledge that they will be better off in work and their children will be provided for.
These changes are making the country fairer, and they would not have happened if the Lib Dems hadn’t entered Coalition in 2010.
The Government announcement that there will be no change to civil partnerships because the consultation did not present a united voice in favour is not a surprise.
However – it is Liberal Democrat policy – and it will be in our manifesto!
The most recent statistics are out, and they show yet another dramatic fall in unemployment. From February – April this year, 46,000 extra people were employed in the capital alone.
103,000 people have found work here in total since April last year.
London really is bouncing back!
Nationally, the numbers are just as good. Across the UK the increase in employment averages out at 1.6% (2.8% in England). That means, since the same time last year, 445,000 men and 315,000 women have found a job in the UK, the great majority of them full time.
The numbers are clear: there are now more people with a job than there ever have been.
In terms of percentages, as a nation we are now only 0.2% away from the record for lowest ever level of unemployment – set back in 1974.
When Gordon Brown and Labour left office in May 2010, unemployment was at its highest since 1994 (which is the last time the Tories were in Government on their own). Labour also managed to preside over the lowest levels of economic activity since records began in the same year.
With wages also going up too, the recovery is significantly more stable that it would be had we let either of the other parties go it alone. There still a lot of hard work to do, but we are getting there.
The last two crashes were caused by Conservative and Labour-only Governments and I am proud, as a Lib Dem, to be helping to get the country back on its feet.
It’s another example of the Labour-run council failing to listen to residents and opposition councillors – with disastrous results.
Along with many residents and the Haringey Lib Dems, I raised concerns that the Hornsey Depot application was deeply flawed.
That’s why so many residents objected, and that’s why the Lib Dem opposition councillors voted against the application.
But instead of listening to concerns, local Labour councillors ignored our pleas and ploughed on regardless.
This has now prompted a Judicial Review of the plans, which could delay the development for a long time to come.
It’s also created a financial mess. Haringey Labour prematurely factored £15m from the sale of the Hornsey Depot into their budget, to ‘underpin’ the council’s capital for projects like new school buildings. So now they have a £15 million gap in their budget.
Banking on money that isn’t assured is the height of risky planning – and sadly, it will be local residents who suffer the consequences now the money isn’t available!
And Haringey Labour only have themselves to blame. If only they had listened from the start and taken a short time to agree an application that is both suitable and acceptable to residents – this could all have been avoided.
Once again, Haringey Labour have proved that they simply cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the residents of Haringey.
It was good to hear Nick begin to set out our real narrative – not the one written for us by other parties.
He said in a speech on Monday: “We may be the smaller party, but we have all the biggest ideas,” crediting the team who have brought so many good things into the coal – including:
And there is much more obviously. For example – one thing I will be forever proud of in my national work is my campaign on FGM. Of course it is now talked about on a daily basis (and on this I also have to thank the media particularly the Evening Standard) but hardly known about a year and a half ago when I came to the Department of International Development and said ‘we are going to campaign on FGM’. Working with all those campaigners who had campaigned tirelessly for years with no take up – now I would work with them to make sure that ending the cutting off of girls’ genitals was at the top of the political agenda. And now it is.
Even the Prime Minister has now recognised how important this is and chosen this as the subject of our Development World moment in July on FGM and Child Early and Forced Marriage which he will be hosting.
The economy was the reason we went into Coalition – and that is looking really good as are the employment figures. And make no mistake – without LibDems – that would not have happened. But the list above just shows how effective we have been at delivering our fair, green and liberal agenda – even in a Coalition.
Yesterday I got back from Rwanda. I visited in my capacity as Minister for International Development, and on the final day, I opened a new school:
There’s an amazing sense of positive energy and happiness as you come in to the school I’m here to open. It’s a brilliant space filled with bright colours and content children and it’s set against the most dramatic backdrop of peaks and valleys of the Rwandan hills. It all combines in a way that makes me want to set aside my packed programme of meetings ahead and play on the swings with the children all day instead.
I’m here with Noala Skinner, Rwanda’s UNICEF representative and the Honourable Minister of State for Education, Dr Harebamungu Mathias, and we’re surrounded by a sea of little faces – I must confess that they look a little bemused about all the fuss of having so many visitors to their school, but they sit very quietly and patiently whilst the grown-ups make their speeches and officially declare their pre-school to be open.
Initiatives like this one are so important. The early years of life are crucial in a child’s development, and investing in young children can have so any benefits. As I walk round the compound and watch the children busily building houses and skyscrapers with their wooden blocks, I think about how many doors a good start in life will open for them in the future. I’m really pleased when the Minister of State for Education tells me that the Government of Rwanda has made a commitment to expanding access to pre-primary programmes across the country. The UK is helping too – the school I’m visiting today is only one of ten community based childhood facilities that we’re supporting.
During the speeches, there’s lots of formal talk about education sector plans and government commitments, but what it all really comes down to is families and teachers. The desire for children to have the best start in life is one I think will resonate with all parents, and I’m really pleased to see that many of them are joining us for the opening of the building. It’s great that they are seen as partners in the school and they’ve worked just as hard as anyone to get it all up and running. The teachers keep a close watch on the children – and without their expertise, enthusiasm and dedication, we wouldn’t be here today. Providing the foundation for learning for young children is a very specialised and important job, and one that deserves the utmost respect.
I leave the school feeling uplifted and happy. I feel very lucky to have been a part of this pre-primary. I’m sure this is where the journey starts for the leaders, professionals and politicians of Rwanda’s future.
I’m currently in Rwanda in my capacity as Minister for International Development. Here’s my first blog from the three-day visit:
On arrival in Kigali this morning, I went straight to the genocide memorial at Ntarama Church to lay a commemorative wreath for the Rwandans who lost their lives in 1994. Only twenty years have passed since the Genocide, and – understandably – it remains an episode that defines and shapes the political, social, economic and development context of the country today.
At Ntarama church, the story of the genocide unfolds before me as my guide from the Aegis Trust explains the harrowing events that took place in April 1994. The militia told Tutsis in and around Ntarama to stay together on the church compound so that the government could guarantee their safety. As large numbers of Tutsis sought protection, they thought they would escape unharmed.
They did not.
Soldiers and militia attacked the church where the Tutsis sheltered. Five thousand people lost their lives as violent atrocities almost too difficult to speak of took place.
I knew that visiting the memorial would be distressing, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of coffins filled with multiple bodies, or the rows upon rows of skulls of those who had perished, some small enough to fit in to the palm of my hand. Most upsetting of all – a corner of the church’s Sunday School room remains forever stained by blood where children were swung by their legs and smashed repeatedly against the stone until dead. I cannot bring myself to imagine the terrified screams of the little ones who were faced with such brutality.
As I laid the commemorative wreath amongst the remnants of clothes and shoes belonging to those who perished, I reflect that Ntarama is just one of many similar sites across the country. It is truly sobering to visit a genocide memorial, but it is so very important that we remember – it’s vital in making sure these terrible events are not repeated. With UK support, the Aegis Trust is working to turn the site at Ntarama in to an exhibition that – alongside the main Genocide Memorial in Kigali – will provide a space for reflection, remembrance and healing.
In the bloodied Sunday School building, there is a large banner where the school children of today write messages to the children who died. One simply and bravely reads “I will stand in your place”, and – although communities are still coming to terms with the tragedy, the country has made remarkable progress and people are looking to the future. A stronger, more cohesive future where the motto of my hosts for today – the Aegis Trust – rings loudly: ‘Genocide. Never Again.’
The inevitable letter to the papers calling for Nick to go was bound to happen. It always does when things get tough – and they don’t get tougher than the elections we have just been through.
But that is why Nick must stay. He is brave and capable – and taking us into government has achieved remarkable progress. I won’t rehearse all our achievements here – but even if you just take turning round the economy – which would not have happened without the Liberal Democrats – for that alone he should be applauded. Putting the country’s interests before party interests is the right thing to do.
Nick has taken so much flak from the moment he became Deputy Prime Minister – and borne it bravely. He is always focused and has a phenomenal strategic understanding. And right now when people are saying that he shouldn’t have given Farage exposure in the debate – I say well done Nick. Standing up for what you believe in is something the cowardly leader of the Labour party is incapable of and something we need politicians from all parties to do more of. Staying silent simply lets evil prosper.
Thank goodness there are still more progressive MEPs elected in Europe from other countries to hopefully hold it safe. I find UKIP and the rise of the right a terrifying prospect. Sending a message to government is one thing – but sending MEPs to Europe who want its destruction is quite another.
However – the country has spoken and we will see what happens next.