This is a guest comment piece by Andy Slaughter, who has been Labour MP for Hammersmith since 2010 and previously represented the now defunct constituency of Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush. UK Polling Report currently describes Hammersmith as “semi marginal” after Andy strengthened his majority in 2015. But Conservatives may still covet this seat in a West London borough that is finely-balanced politically.
I am shocked by the cynicism and dishonesty that Theresa May exhibited in manufacturing an election on false grounds and in contradiction to her often repeated promise.
Two weeks ago she was telling journalists and her own MPs to their faces that there would be no poll until 2020, while planning the current campaign with her closest advisers.
Her excuse – the threat to Brexit – is palpably untrue. She triggered Article 50 by a majority of 5 to 1. She, a Remain voter, has embraced not just Brexit but the hardest and most damaging type of Brexit, partly because she is in thrall to her own extremists and the anti-European press, and partly because she thinks she can use it to divide her opponents.
None of this makes her a suitable candidate to be Prime Minister.
I am happy to fight this as a Brexit election if she wants. As I’ve written before I think Brexit and in particular May’s hard Brexit – out of the single market, out of the customs union, cosying up to dictatorships in a desperate effort to replace lost European trade – is a disaster for our country on social, economic, cultural and security terms.
However, if we let Brexit be the only issue, we let this government off the hook. Brexit is Britain’s downhill path, and the harder it is, the steeper the decline. But it is also a distraction from the more urgent and more dramatic collapse of our public services and quality of life.
Let me highlight just three immediate crises that affect people in Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) every day.
Charing Cross Hospital – disaster delayed but not avoided
Charing Cross Hospital was zoned for demolition and downgrading from a major emergency hospital to a glorified clinic and treatment centre in 2012. That scheme should now be underway, with the bulldozers on site.
But pressure on services has only grown in the last five years, leading to longer waiting times, and a redoubtable campaign by the Save our Hospitals group and H&F Council has forced the demolition plans to be put off until 2021.
So, good news – except the threat still hangs over the hospital. And as a result it is in slow decline from failure to attract staff and a lack of basic maintenance. I want Charing Cross to have its future as a major, world class hospital guaranteed.
Schools out – of money
Every single school in H&F is seeing its budget cut for the first time in two decades. Starting in 2013 the cuts have accelerated and by 2020, if this government is re-elected, will amount to 15% or even 25% for some schools. These are huge and unsustainable cuts, meaning basic supplies, like books and stationery and teaching jobs will go.
After just seven years of Tory government we are again seeing scenes from the 1990s when, after four terms in office, school roofs leaked and patients were backed up on trolleys in hospital corridors, or died on waiting lists.
Homelessness has risen 130% since 2010. That was not inevitable. In the previous ten years under Labour it fell by three quarters. But this is only the worst symptom of the housing crisis, which sees developers building luxury blocks for sale overseas, while local people cannot afford to rent or buy anything in the borough.
A Conservative government will not build affordable homes, will not help people onto the housing ladder and will not tackle the high rents and low standards in the private rented sector.
These are the issues on which I will be campaigning in this election.
This article is a shortened version of Andy Slaughter’s latest newsletter to constituents and other H&F residents.