As we approach a new year, two things strike me as I look back at 2022. The first is that when I wrote in my New Year’s message in January that ‘it’s perhaps difficult to find things to feel positive about in the coming year’ I was proved right many times over. I did say I hoped this was the year we could put Covid behind us, and it’s true that we have come through the worst, but I also spoke about the growing cost-of-living crisis, public services under strain, and the impact on people’s mental health. As we end the year, these are all still very current concerns.
The other thing is that although it seemed like a year in which everything changed – three Prime Ministers in a matter of months, four chancellors, the death of our longest-serving monarch – so little progress has been made. The chaos at the heart of Government hasn’t helped; it’s hard to lobby for change when you don’t know from one moment to the next who is actually running the country! So if I have one wish for 2023, it is that things are actually a bit more boring. Less drama, and more getting on with the job.
Januarysaw the Lords defeat the Government in 14 separates votes on its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This included draconian measures to crack down on public protest, in part inspired by the Colston Statue incident in Bristol. As if this wasn’t enough, later in the year the Government introduced a Public Order Bill, when went even further. // I welcomed the fact that the birth centre at Cossham Hospital had reopened, after having been temporarily closed due to a shortage of midwives; by the end of 2022 it had once again been – I hope temporarily – closed for the same reason. Labour has spent the year calling on the Government to publish an NHS Workforce Plan and has identified how we could, over the course of a decade, pay for 15,000 doctors, and 10,000 nurses and midwives a year by taxing the non-doms. (No prizes for guessing why Rishi Sunak isn’t keen on that!)
Februarywas marked by the start of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. 2022 ended with President Zelensky leaving Ukraine for the first time since war broke out, to visit President Biden, and, quite rightly being hailed as Times Magazine’s Man of the Year. Despite widespread destruction and loss of life, with many Ukrainians spending this Christmas without heat, light or water, the spirit of the Ukrainian people is still strong, and they still need our support.
Marchwas dominated by the cost-of-living crisis as Rishi Sunak presented his spring Budget. He bowed to pressure from Labour, announcing some support with energy bills. It took him till May for him to concede to our calls for a windfall tax (which he insisted on calling an ‘oil and gas profits levy’ so as to not be accused of a U-turn). However, this was accompanied by a 91p in the £ allowance for the companies to invest in oil and gas, meaning Shell didn’t have to pay any additional tax at all on its £8.2bn profits. // We did have some good news this month, with the long-awaited release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison in Iran; it was a privilege to meet her in Parliament shortly after her release.
April brought more good news, with the inspirational charity Children Heard and Seen in Parliament to receive an award from Kids Count. I’ve been working with them throughout the year on how we can better identify and support children with a parent in prison. I also joined the parliamentary steering group for the Commission on Young Lives, led by former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, and continued to work with the Kinship Care Taskforce. This is part of my ongoing work on issues affecting vulnerable children, which included speaking in Parliament in debates on Children’s Mental Health Week, children with SEND, and the Children’s Social Care White Paper.
May was in some ways the highlight of the parliamentary year for me, albeit discussing a very sad topic. I was joined by Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, from my favourite band, New Order, at an event in Parliament to mark the 42nd anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis, the singer in their former band, Joy Division. Also on the panel was the chief executive of the suicide prevention charity, CALM. Keir Starmer, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and the Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan all gave speeches, while Andy Burnham was in the chair. I’m pleased that the band have now become patrons of CALM. // Another hero of mine, Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has spoken out about his own mental health issues, won his 7th world snooker title this month. I live in hope that one day he will lift the SPOTY trophy too!
Junesaw me take up the post of shadow Climate Change Minster on the Labour frontbench, working with Ed Miliband in his team. My responsibilities include developing Labour’s policies and our Green Prosperity Plan, and, increasingly, looking at how we would deliver on these pledges in Government. There’s a lot of work to be done on ensuring we have the right infrastructure and, as part of a just transition, people with the skills to take up new green jobs. I’ve also been challenging the Government over its green credentials: this year we’ve seen it issue 100 new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea; try to lift the ban on fracking (before a U-turn); reinforce the ban on onshore wind (now another U-turn, we think); and blocking new solar (not quite sure where we’ve got to on that!). Green investors are telling me what they need above all else is certainty, and they’re not getting it from this Government.
July and the start of the summer holidays revealed the extent of what was dubbed “Backlog Britain”. My constituency office was kept busy trying to help people who’d contacted us in desperation, having waited months to get their passports renewed. We were also chasing DVLA on behalf of people who urgently needed their driving licences and trying to get HMRC to process people’s tax refunds. Constituents were finding it increasingly difficult to get doctor appointments too but the biggest problem for people was finding a dentist. That reached crisis point this year, and there are no signs of it abating. // This month also saw tragic news from the Amazon, with the discovery of the bodies of murdered environmental activists Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira. The campaign against deforestation continues, and the defeat of Bolsonaro in October’s election run-off against Lula was very welcome. // In better news, football was coming home, with the women’s team winning the Euros in style at Wembley. // And even better than that, we saw the resignation of Boris Johnson as Tory leader, although it took a couple of months before we finally saw the removal vans outside No. 10. We haven’t yet been told whether Rishi Sunak is keeping the £840 a roll gold wallpaper, but at least if he does redecorate the No. 10 flat he can afford to pay for it himself.
Augustgave me the chance to catch up on things in the constituency, including being briefed on the world-leading City Leap project, which has the potential to bring £1bn in green investment into the city and visiting the Castle Park Heat Pump project. Bristol aims to be a net zero city by 2030 and City Leap will help by removing 140,000 tonnes of carbon during its first five years. I also met with the Bristol-based Centre for Sustainable Energy to talk about the energy crisis, and how they’re helping people make their homes more energy-efficient, reduce their bills and keep warm, and with the Bristol Energy Co-operative. It’s so useful in my role as shadow Climate Change Minister to be able to point to Bristol as an example of what can be done at a local level. Our mayor, Marvin Rees now chairs the Core Cities network and was at COP27 this year to promote Bristol’s work.
Septemberwas when Boris Johnson finally left Downing Street with his tail between his legs and Liz Truss bounded in, wagging hers furiously - only to be sent to the dog-house in disgrace after Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget. (Some might describe it as a dog’s dinner…) // By contrast, Labour staked its claim to be a Government-in-waiting at its annual Conference in Liverpool, revealing its £28bn a year Green Prosperity Plan and intention to set up a publicly-owned GB Energy company. // September was also, of course, the month we lost our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The new King came to Westminster Hall to be addressed by both the Commons and Lords Speakers, and mourners queued for hours to see the Queen Lying-in-State in Westminster Hall.
October will certainly go down in political history. In a rollercoaster year, we plummeted to new depths – along with the financial markets - as the new Prime Minister resigned after 44 days in office. Her resignation came after Labour called an Opposition Day debate on her plans to bring back fracking, which were highly unpopular not just with the public but also with many Tory backbenchers. I was winding up the debate on behalf of the Opposition when chaos broke out amongst the Tory ranks over whether or not it was deemed to be a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. One way or another, her own MPs clearly didn’t have confidence in her and she was out of office the next day.
November saw yet another Chancellor – our fourth this year - present yet another financial statement. It represented yet another missed opportunity. The answer to the cost-of-living crisis isn’t Austerity 2.0: squeezing wages, eroding public services, and taxing working people as living costs soar. We need to invest in public services, invest in our infrastructure, and invest in our workforce. // As the Chancellor addressed the Commons, there was one face missing – former Health Secretary Matt Hancock decided he hadn’t had quite enough public humiliation for one year and entered the jungle. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere about being surrounded by snakes...
Decemberbrings 2022 to an end and I think it’s fair to say that this is a year most of us would quite like to see the back of… Whether it’s nurses forced to take strike action for the first time ever or England crashing out of yet another football tournament because of a missed penalty, there’s been little by way of good news in recent weeks. (I did win the office World Cup sweepstake, having drawn Argentina, but I will be donating the winnings to CALM.) // The Council and voluntary sector have, as always, been brilliant in rallying round. There is support for you if you’re struggling, whether that’s advice on energy bills, spending some time at one of the 80 or so Warm Places across the city, or paying a visit to your local food bank. As always, you can contact me and my team if you need assistance.
Let’s hope 2023 is a better year for everyone.
Member of Parliament for Bristol East