Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
I really get worried when fellow Conservatives come up to me saying that ‘we have reached peak Corbyn’.
The argument goes like this: ‘the polls are fairly steady and didn’t we do well in the local elections’. My reaction to this, despite the extraordinary work of Brandon Lewis and his team, is that our local election relative success was as much due to voters lending us their support because of Brexit. If we get it wrong, those voters won’t be staying with us for much longer in the strong EU-sceptic areas around the country,
Moreover, the latest polls show us falling back a little and Labour rising. When Conservatives go on about Momentum et al, we often forget that this passes most of the public by. Rightly or wrongly, the Corbyn message on tuition fees, free bus fares for youngsters etc, resonates. As Corbyn showed on ITV’s Good Evening Britain, he still knows how to campaign. Our disunity, Cabinet squabbles – and Labour’s strong membership and infrastructure – means that we have a very high mountain to climb before we ever reach Peak Corbyn. By the way, despite Mark Wallace’s superb article on this site about “JezFest“, I actually thought it was a success. The day that we Tories can organise a similar festival attracting a few thousand (separate from Party conference), will be a great event indeed. TesFest here we come?
Textbooks not Tanks
I am not sure what all the fuss is about over the Defence Budget. We are spending at Nato levels, so surely this should be adequate. If Conservatives really want to win back marginal seats, campaigning for more tanks may not win us that many more votes. The public are much more worried about the level of funding for our NHS (answered recently by the annual £20 billion announced by the Prime Minister) and the future for our nurseries, schools and colleges. Ask any campaigning MP about the letters sent to parents by head teachers on school funding during the 2017 election.
If we are going to have a ten year plan for the NHS, we need a ten year plan for Education too – dealing with long-term funding issues, developing a strategic approach, addressing endemic social injustice across our education system, and properly funding further education colleges, which have been relatively shorn of funds compared to other branches of education. I hope that the Education Secretary is on the Hunt (pun intended) to achieve a similar boost to education to that which the Health Secretary has achieved for the NHS. If we want to seriously win an election we need to spend more funds on text books rather than tanks.
I was horrified to read in the Guardian that the Prime Minister is considering raising fuel duty to pay for the NHS increase. Remember that the international oil price has been rising, leading to an ever-increasing cost of petrol and diesel at the pumps – which has also meant increasing revenues to the Exchequer. It is also worth noting that a tax on motorists doesn’t just affect petrol-heads, but struggling families, and businesses with bigger transportation costs and bus prices. It also hits food prices too, as the cost of transport rises significantly.
As I indicated above, I support the new funds to the NHS, but I am not sure that increasing tax on workers is the right way to go about it. Talk of how to alienate hard-pressed families. If we really want to raise extra monies for the NHS, rather than going for the easy option of tax rises on workers, why not slaughter some sacred cows, by cutting the Overseas Aid Budget for example?
Well done Greg Hands
Greg Hands was once my whip, and he was a good one. I was able to negotiate the fuel duty freeze campaign with him (in terms of Parliamentary activity), as the then Chancellor, George Osborne, became convinced that it was the right thing to do.
So I have nothing but admiration for his principled stand, giving up a great job in Government as Minister, in order to keep his election promise to his constituents on Heathrow (I am on the other side of the argument). His tweets from a Romanian Monastery have to go down in political history as a classic ‘resignation whereabouts’. I hope Greg will be back in Government soon.
The Cabinet and Harry Potter
I was asked by the BBC recently about Cabinet divisions, after the Liz Truss speech and I said that every Prime Minister needs a Dumbledore. It seemed to me that Michael Gove is playing Harry Potter, Boris is Ron Weasley and Liz Truss is Hermione Grainger. I thought that the Prime Minister was more like Professor McGonegall. But who could be Dumbledore?
Hospital Car Parking Petition
My campaign since 2013 to scrap Hospital Car Parking Charges for patients, visitors and staff continues apace. Over 21,000 have now signed a petition which I launched with Fair Fuel UK, Cancer Charity Clic Sargant and Headway. If you agree, please kindly sign the petition here: if we reach 100,000 we are guaranteed a debate in Parliament.