Parliament returned after the summer recess to a new Prime Minister. Liz Truss had made some alarming remarks during her campaign for the votes of Conservative party members (the rest of us didn’t get a say). She promised tax cuts for the rich and a cut to corporation tax, the resumption of fracking, and said she wouldn’t give ‘handouts’ to people struggling with swingeing energy bills this winter.
Some of these promises have already fallen apart – thankfully, there will now be a cap on energy costs for consumers and businesses (as Labour suggested weeks ago), although there remain gaps in the coverage, and it’s quite frankly irresponsible not to fund this support through a windfall tax on energy companies who’ve made excess profits (and even the energy companies seem to agree). But other announcements – such as on fracking, and a plan to remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses – show what kind of prime minister she will be. She holds blindly to her right-wing ideology, even though all the evidence is that this will benefit the better off more than those on lower incomes, exacerbate the climate crisis and do nothing to address the underlying disfunction of the energy market.
But before we could begin to scrutinise the detail of her plans, parliament was adjourned for two weeks following the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II just two days after we’d returned to Westminster. This was partly as a mark of respect, and partly because parliament was the scene of a number of the ceremonies to honour the Queen and welcome her successor, King Charles III.
I attended a number of events, both in parliament and locally, to represent my constituents, including: the address by the King to members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the proclamation ceremony at Trafford Town Hall, and ceremonies of commemoration and celebration of the Queen’s life at Manchester Cathedral and in Trafford. I also signed parliament’s Book of Condolence.
Parliament returned to normal business on Thursday this week, and I spent the morning in a session of the Public Accounts Committee looking at the so-called Affordable Homes programme (not that affordable, to be honest, as a large number of the homes built under the scheme will be let at rents of 80% of the market rate. Which, as we know all too well in Trafford, can be very high where there’s a shortage of housing). I then headed into the chamber where the new health secretary, Therese Coffey, was explaining how she planned to support the NHS and address pressures on ambulance waiting times, GP and dental appointments and social care provision.
Labour members were unconvinced by her plans, and her apparent ignorance that it’s 12 years of Conservative governments that have created the pressures the NHS is battling against. I know from conversations I had with local GPs that staffing pressures are severe, but the health secretary refused to say she’d publish the workforce plan that’s desperately needed.
However, I particularly wanted to ask about the Healthy Start scheme, which supports new mothers, babies and young children get the nourishing food and vitamins they need to thrive. But around 40% of families who should get support don’t claim the help they’re entitled to. I’d had a debate on this subject at the very beginning of September, and I’m determined to continue to campaign on it with colleagues in parliament and in Greater Manchester, charities and retailers.
Now, as I write, we’re awaiting the chancellor’s ‘not-the-budget’ in parliament. I’m not at all confident it will benefit those who most need help. I’ll be sharing Labour’s reaction on my social media pages. Parliament then adjourns for another two weeks for the Labour and Conservative party conferences.