The last month has certainly proved a significant political epoch – but not much of it occurred at Westminster. Most of the action took place at the party conferences, with each party leader seeking to consolidate their own political status. On those terms, Nick Clegg and David Cameron didn’t do too badly, but the stand-out winner from the Conference season was Ed Miliband. I thought his speech hugely impressive, and I very much liked the idea of One Nation Labour – it spoke a language of social equity, rebalanced economy, and cohesive Britishness which I admire. I wrote up my thoughts on the speech in my column for The Sentinel – http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/Tristram-Hunt-great-distance-rich-poor-harms/story-17050935-detail/story.html
Parliament has been back for four days and the economy – as well as Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell’s ugly spat with the police – has been centre stage. The fall in unemployment is to be greatly welcome (here in Stoke-on-Trent as well as elsewhere), while next week’s GDP figures might well show Britain coming out of recession. The problem is that British industry remains very nervous and a willingness to invest some of the huge sums on its balance sheets looks as far away as ever. What is certainly clear is that if the Government had not slashed capital spending so aggressively at the beginning of this Parliament then we would be in a much stronger, counter-cyclical position. Instead, the Coalition’s response is the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which passed the Commons this week. We were unhappy with some of the watering down of health and safety legislation and crass deregulation – but our main criticism was that we needed a fully-fledged industrial policy, not this kind of tinkering.
In less welcome news, the Boundary Commission announced the abolition of our constituency! Under the revised plans for boundary changes, some 60% of Stoke-on-Trent Central would be merged with 40% of Stoke-on-Trent South to form a new Stoke-on-Trent South seat and our other 40% would be merged with the North. These plans will be voted on next October, but there is every indication that this time the Liberal Democrats will stick to their word (!!) and help to vote them down. If the legislation is passed, our party will have to undergo very radical changes very quickly. And if the Tories win in 2015, they will certainly try again to introduce these gerrymandering schemes. What is certainly clear is that with a relatively small electorate of some 60,000 registered voters (and we need to make sure we register more), our constituency is vulnerable to change.
In other activity in Stoke and Westminster, I have met with Marc Jordan of Creative Education Trust, the academy sponsor of Thistley Hough High School, to see how we work towards taking the school out of special measures and giving those kids the education they deserve. I had another meeting with Mike Herbert, director of St. Modwen’s, who said work could begin at the Victoria Ground site in spring next year – but we’ve all heard that before! I attended the 50th Anniversary reception of Keele University at Westminster, which was very well attended by the North Staffordshire great and good and rightly celebrated the continuing excellence of one of our local university’s. Closer to home, Staffordshire University reaffirmed its commitment to the city with the opening of the new Science Building next to Stoke 6th Form – it is a fabulous addition to the University Quarter and will hopefully attract more students and research funds. Equally encouraging is the University’s decision to move the engineering department from Stafford to Stoke, which can only help our local engineering and technology firms. I also met up with the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University to ask what his institution is doing to ensure that some of North Staffordshire’s best and brightest have a crack at getting into the top colleges. We have real talent in our local schools and colleges and we need to ensure that every available opportunity is open to them. Finally, the Michelin Team came to Westminster and I arranged for meetings with various Ministers to help keep that great Stoke company a globally successful, UK-based business.
Dates for your diary:
1 November – ‘Unwelcome Truths from the US Rustbelt.’ An evening discussion with Len Gibbs of the Epic Housing Association in Bentilee, following his recent trip around the cities of post-industrial northern America and lessons we can learn for North Staffordshire. This will be a provocative evening debate about how we avoid becoming Detroit! Thursday 1 November 6.30pm on 1st November at the Hartshill Medical Institute.
7 December – Christmas Party! Please come along to the annual Stoke-on-Trent Central CLP Christmas Party and fundraiser with special guest, Rt Hon Stephen Twigg MP – the man who sent Michael Portillo packing onto daytime TV…