Thank you to all of you for working so hard in the general election campaign to ensure that Labour won 40% of the vote share. Together, we reduced the Tory lead from 24 points to just two and added 30 extra Labour MPs. A personal highlight was seeing Preet Gill elected as the first ever female Sikh MP. The result is a Conservative party in chaos and a zombie prime minister with no mandate, no manifesto and no plan for the country or Brexit.
Theresa May has demonstrated once again that her only concern is the future of the Tory party, not the country. She managed to find £1 billion of taxpayers money in order to cling onto power by bribing the DUP, but at the same time refuses to give our nurses, policemen and fire-fighters their first pay rise in seven years.
June was another month filled with tragedies. The Grenfell Tower fire was the worst of all, killing at least 79 and probably many more. Since the calamity, tests on the cladding of 95 other tower blocks all failed fire safety tests. Before becoming a politician, I worked in social housing for 18 years, so this is an area that I care deeply about. Other EU countries like Germany, Denmark, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic ban the use of combustible products on tower blocks as high as Grenfell. Regulations like these can save lives, but many of the most zealous Brexiteers see leaving the EU as a chance to slash “red tape”. I will campaign to keep the rules that keep our people safe after Brexit.
On other issues in Brussels it has been a productive month for me personally, and the EU as a whole. You may have noticed me discussing Money Market Fund regulation a lot over the past three years. It was a proud moment to see the new regulation that I have been leading as Rapporteur officially signed and turned into law.
Meanwhile roaming charges have now been scrapped. If you have had the chance to travel to another part of the EU this summer, you will have received a text explaining that all calls, texts and phone calls are now charged at your normal rate. No more surprise phone bills! It was also great to see the Commission standing up to tech giant Google for illegally prioritising its own products in search results. The €2.42 billion fine shows that the EU is the only institution worldwide which has both the power and the political will to properly regulate multinationals. These examples all demonstrate what we can achieve when we work together.
Stourbridge Young Labour’s Andrew Tromans takes a look at Siôn Simon’s Labour candidacy for West Midlands Metro Mayor, and what his policies would mean for our region…
London. Bristol. Liverpool. The West Midlands? The question of whether the second biggest conurbation in the UK will elect a Labour Mayor will be settled on 4th May. Siôn Simon, Labour’s candidate in the West Midlands Mayoral election, has a strong record of standing up for our region, both as a government minister and MEP. He has pushed for the West Midlands to have greater autonomy for years – long before the Tories cottoned on to the devolution agenda. Mr. Simon has bold and ambitious plans for transport and housing, and has also recently called for the West Midlands to have its’ voice heard around the Brexit negotiating table.
Much like London, transport policy will be a key battleground for the runners and riders in the West Midlands Mayoral contest. Siôn Simon has touted several ambitious policies such as introducing 24-hour bus services on popular routes to help shift workers or late night revellers get home on public transport. Labour’s man has also proposed scrapping the charges for using the M6 Toll road. This would be music to the ears of anyone who has commuted in or out of Birmingham during rush-hour.
Closer to home, the Combined Authority that the new Mayor will chair from 8th May has already signed off on a major transport project that will provide a tram to link from Brierley Hill to the Wolverhampton-Birmingham Metroline, offering Black Country residents an alternative to using the roads to make their journeys. Furthermore, in recent weeks there has been lively discussion about undoing some of the damage Dr. Beeching inflicted upon our railways in the 1960s and reopening the Stourbridge-Walsall link.
However, it is HS2 that dominates the transport debate in the West Midlands. Optimists suggest that HS2 will bring businesses to the West Midlands and increase the value of housing. Others have grave doubts about the economic benefits that marginally quicker journey times to London will bring. Regardless, it’s certain that – if elected – Mr. Simon will work tirelessly to ensure our region gets the crucial transport investment it needs.
Addressing the housing shortage is a priority for the Labour Party both nationally and locally. It would seem that the West Midlands public agrees – a poll conducted by the Birmingham Mail suggested that residents want the new Mayor and Combined Authority to focus on housing as a matter of urgency. This concern appears to be well founded, with The National Federation for Housing suggesting that only 48 per cent of the new homes needed to meet demand were being built in 2014. At the first public hustings event for the West Midlands Mayoral candidates held recently at the Black Country Museum, Siôn Simon called for action on the ‘indefensible’ state of housing in the West Midlands and outlined his plan for a region-wide housing strategy that includes using a £200m budget to develop 15,000 new homes. This fund was granted as part of the devolution deal between Whitehall and the West Midlands. However, as Birmingham and the surrounding areas receive new funding and development, the Mayor and Combined Authority will need to ensure that a similar pattern of gentrification and “social cleansing” to that seen in areas of London does not occur in the West Midlands.
More for Birmingham?
There is a justified concern in some parts of the region that the new funding for the West Midlands through the Combined Authority will simply mean ‘more for Birmingham’. One of the key challenges for the new Mayor is to make sure the benefits of devolution touch every part of the West Midlands. This problem is compounded by the fact that residents in areas outside of the main conurbation such as Redditch and Cannock Chase will be affected by decisions made by the Mayor but will not be able to pass judgement at the ballot box. Labour’s Siôn Simon is keenly aware of this tension and has pledged to be a ‘Mayor for the whole region’. It is Mr. Simon’s vision, for example, to ensure that everyone in the region lives no more than 30 minutes away from a cultural attraction or green space.
The election on 4th May represents a huge opportunity for Labour in the West Midlands. It is an opportunity for the party to win back the confidence and trust of voters and wield executive power. It is also an opportunity to show just how different Labour’s priorities are to those of Theresa May’s Tories. A Labour victory in this historic election will be owed to the dedication of grassroots members and supporters, and we should all remember that the road to Number 10 runs through the West Midlands. It’s time to knock on some doors…