The rise of the far right is a chilling threat to our democracy

I first saw the ‘Punish a Muslim’ letter when a colleague sent me a picture of one over the weekend. Although I see similar racist and hateful abuse on a regular basis, I literally felt sick. I can barely imagine how horrified people must have been to receive those letters, how victimised, dehumanised and terrified.

Of course, that was exactly the intention. These despicable letters were designed to strike fear into the heart of our diverse communities and to sow division.

Whenever anything of this nature occurs, whether a hate crime or a large-scale terrorist attack, politicians line up to assure that we will not allow attacks to divide us, because in doing so they win. After every terror attack on our country, Britons go back to work the next day with their heads held high, in defiance of those who seek to hurt us.

Read more

The UK penal system is designed by men, for men

Anna was a woman in trouble. She had been living on the streets for 12 years, was a heroin user on a methadone script, and would binge-drink alcohol. She lived with and cared for her partner in a hostel, often putting his needs above her own. Her children had been taken from her because of her drug abuse and neglect.

When Anna began the Enrich Programme at Alana House, a women’s centre in Berkshire, she said she felt hopeless. She was sure that she would fail, not because she wanted to, but because she was worried she’d miss appointments, just as she had in the past with her doctor.

Read more

Our Democracy Has Always Evolved And A Moment Comes When The Mood For Change Is Undeniable

It doesn’t’ seem too long ago that we had the commons debate in Parliament, 3rd November to be exact. But despite our frustrations on the day it is clear that a fire has been well and truly lit under the votes at 16 issue. It can’t and won’t be ignored. And now it seems there are whispers of support all across the Tory camp.

While the debate on the Private Members Bill was curtailed by a small number of filibustering Tory MPs, it was evident that there was a body of support with over 160 MPs in parliament to back the Bill. It was a bill which was signed by every party sitting in the commons bar just one, the DUP. Importantly, on that day I know that those few were not representative of many other Tory MPs who support progression. There were some brave but lonely Conservative voices in the Chamber that day, and I salute their courage in standing up to the shrinking old guard in their ranks.

Read more

A New Customs Union And Close Relationship With The Single Market Are Vital For A Jobs-First Brexit

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government would seek to conclude a new customs agreement with the European Union that would allow for trade to continue between the UK and the EU on more or less the same terms, would largely address question marks over the Northern Irish border and would give the UK a say on future trade deals.

The UK’s trade with the EU accounts for 44% of our total exports (£229billion). A further 16% of our exports go to those 70 or so countries which are party to some form of a trade agreement with the EU including South Korea, Norway, and Switzerland. In short, the majority of our trade is with the EU and countries with whom the EU has a trade agreement.

Read more

Maria Caulfield’s ‘baseless claims’ about abortion are concerning

In an interview with The House magazine last week, the new Conservative Vice-Chair for Women, Maria Caulfield MP called for a Parliamentary debate on reducing the 24-week time limits for abortions and criticised moves to decriminalise abortion and repeal the century-old laws which still treat abortion as a criminal act.

As the MP who moved the Bill to decriminalise abortion in March last year, I want to set the record straight and correct some misplaced concerns in her article. The decriminalisation of abortion would not have anything like the impact which she states, and the claims she makes on late-stage abortions up to 24 weeks do not match with the scientific evidence.

Read more

Career Advice To My Younger Self: 'Don’t Wait Until The Timing Is Perfect'

“MPs did not look like me, and they didn’t sound like me, so I didn’t think it was a possible career path,” says Chi Onwurah, 52, who has been the MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central since March 2010. Elected the first time she ran for office with a 40% majority, the Labour MP and now shadow minister for industrial strategy attributes much of her popularity to the fact she is not a career politician – she previously had a successful career as as an engineer and consultant in Denmark, France, the US and Nigeria.

Her childhood self would have been thrilled at her current job. “I would have been really, really happy if someone had told me I would end up here.” she says. “I would have thought they were having me on.”

Read more

Can Theresa May set out a viable Brexit vision? If not Labour is ready

Nearly 20 years ago, the Good Friday agreement was signed by the UK government, the Irish government and eight of the political parties in Northern Ireland. After decades of violence and bloodshed, during which more than 3,600 people were killed, it provided the basis for the relative peace and development we have seen in Northern Ireland since. The invisible and open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is, as the Irish government has said, arguably “the most tangible symbol of the peace process”.

Against that background, the UK’s exit from the EU undoubtedly presents a significant and unique challenge. That challenge has been on the prime minister’s desk for 20 months, but we are still waiting to hear how she intends to overcome it. The dilemma facing Theresa May is one of her own making. The red lines she laid out in her Lancaster House speech last January – including no customs union and no membership of the single market – are incompatible with the commitments she made later in the year to protect north-south cooperation and to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Read more

Theresa May must learn from the troubled history of Northern Ireland

On Good Friday 1998 I was on the way to Wales for the weekend when the news came on the radio that an agreement had been made in Belfast – something I never thought would happen. I was overjoyed.

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement stopped me ever being a political cynic and may ultimately have led me to becoming an MP. 

I am one of the millions of British-born children of Irish immigrants. Growing up in London during the 70s and 80s wasn’t easy.  The violence and murder in Northern Ireland and on the streets of British towns and cities hung over communities and fuelled anti-Irish sentiment here. 

Read more

Four key questions Yorkshire expects Chris Grayling to answer today

From the East Coast franchising to scrapping rail electrification schemes, and much more besides, this past year has seen a raft of failings on the watch of the current Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. That’s why I applied for this debate with the support of other backbench MPs from all main parties. During the three hour debate, the Secretary of State must come to the House of Commons to answer for these failings.

There are four key questions.

First, in the wake of the East Coast debacle, he needs to answer questions about our rail franchising system.

Read more

Why for this government, all roads lead south

If the economic challenges posed by Brexit loom large for Britain as a whole, they are even starker for northern England. There’s rarely been a more relevant time to ask not what the country can do for the North, but what the North can do for the country.

Westminster spends much of its time debating supply-side, micro-economic issues, such as education and skills, where the objective is to make people and communities ready for jobs in sunrise industries that we assume are coming. However, can we now be certain that those opportunities will arrive?

Read more