A bit of just about everything this week! A weak and speculative budget, the Investigatory Powers Bill and lots of discussions and meetings about refugee and immigration in Camden and Sheffield.
A budget built on quicksand
On Wednesday George Osborne delivered his budget. It was more smoke and mirrors than an opportunity to address the real issues facing our country. As the Financial Times put it, the budget “masked a bleak backdrop”.
Apart from the tax on sugary drinks (which I am sure we all welcome) there was little attempt to address the inequalities and homelessness that are now afflicting so many. Below is the statement I put out on the day of the budget.
“The budget that George Osborne delivered today was one built on quicksand: slower growth than he had predicted just three months ago, when he claimed the economy was in robust health, and worsening debt. Borrowing is predicted to be £4bn higher this year than projected in November.
The measures the Chancellor announced on education are worse than a diversion. In Camden we have a productive relationship between our schools and the Council – which have produced excellent result for our children. It is outrageous to threaten this vital link by insisting that all become academies.
As for the budget itself: more stealth taxes on our insurances. And some of the weakest in our society will be made to pay. Just last week he cut benefits for disabled people who are attempting to return to work. Now there will be further cuts in government spending of another £3.5 billion and we will need to see where this falls.
But there is one golden rule for all budgets: don’t judge them on the day. The real issues are hidden away in the small print and it is only when these are revealed that we will know what George Osborne has really been up to.”
The Investigatory Powers Bill
The Investigatory Powers Bill had its second reading in Parliament this week. Andy Burnham MP opened for Labour, and I closed. Here’s a link to my Guardian article setting out my view.
The Bill has, quite rightly, attracted a lot of media attention and public interest. I had a chance to discuss the detail of what is currently proposed with campaigners – including representatives of Liberty and Don’t Spy On Us I - at a meeting organised by the Labour Campaign for Human Rights.
It was a lively interchange, as you can imagine. I fully appreciate the concerns of the human rights organisations – I have spent my whole life as a human rights lawyer but also know the real dilemmas facing the police and security services from my time as Director of Public Prosecutions.
Confronted with plots to blow planes out of the sky, or the horror of a family whose child has been abducted, phone records of suspects are vital tools in cracking cases. The question is how to ensure that they are available for investigations, while protecting ordinary citizens from the invasive scrutiny of the state.
These are issues which naturally make us all uncomfortable, but they have to be faced. It would be quite wrong to leave the police and security forces without clear parliamentary direction as they go about their business.
Refugees and immigration – Sheffield and Camden
I have continued my series of visits to parts of Britain to take the temperature on these knotty issues. This week I was in Sheffield where I spent the day in meetings and walking and talking to members of the pubic. We started in the university and then held meetings with those dedicated to helping asylum seekers and trafficking victims before a session on the streets of Page Hall and a big and lively Sheffield CLP meeting to end the day off.
On Monday Camden Citizens held a well attended meeting on the refugee question and what our borough could do to help. Sarah Hayward and Sally Gimson explained how the Council was responding – with a commitment to take and house 20 families.
The meeting heard moving testimony from a Syrian – Ahmed al Rashid. “Don’t deprive us of hope,” was his appeal to the meeting.
I explained just how powerful the experience of being in Calais and Dunkirk had been on me, saying that no-one could come away from the camps without being changed by the experience.
In Glasgow I had met a 15 year old Congolese boy who explained how he had made his way across seven countries to finally arrive in the UK. Along the way the smugglers had told him: “throw all your papers overboard” yet when he arrived in Scotland he was detained for being unable to prove his age!