Find out about my week in my weekly update, 20th November 2015
Paris – a joint initiative
I felt it was right to reach out across the whole of Camden, involving my fellow MP, Tulip Saddiq, all the political parties on Camden Council and faith groups, to condemn the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris.
The unity of our wonderful and diverse community is the most effective answer to these atrocities. This is the letter we sent to the Camden New Journal and Ham and High:
After Paris: Together we must champion respect and tolerance
CNJ: 19 November, 2015
• WE are deeply shocked and saddened by the appalling attacks in Paris last weekend. We condemn these monstrous attacks unreservedly and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those affected and to the people of France. We also wish to recognise the exceptional service of all emergency personnel called upon to deal with the consequences of these barbaric acts.
We deplore such acts of violence wherever in the world they occur. To claim that the taking of innocent human life could in any way be a “religious act” is a wicked perversion of faith. Such an interpretation should have no place in any of the world’s great religions.
It is important to remember that, despite their claims, the groups responsible for the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere follow a hateful and perverted ideology and do not represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims across the world.
In the face of this inhuman violence, we call on the diverse communities of Camden to come together and demonstrate their absolute rejection of the twisted values used to justify these atrocious acts and others across the world.
We must work together with strengthened resolve to confront this evil ideology wherever in our society it appears. It is only by standing together that we will defeat those who seek to misrepresent religious teachings and sow seeds of hatred in our communities. We commend the multi-faith Vigil for Paris that took place on Saturday night in Trafalgar Square. This powerful act brought together the UK’s main faith communities to show solidarity with the people of Paris in their hour of need.
There can be no absolute guarantees when it comes to the fight against terrorism and we must always remain vigilant. Our best chance of protecting Camden and our wider community lies in us working together, across religious, cultural and other lines, to champion virtues of respect, acceptance and tolerance.
Junior doctor’s strike
As you will know, the junior doctors have voted for three days of in industrial action over the new contract Jeremy Hunt is attempting to force through. I put out this statement: “It is a mark of how badly the government has mismanaged its negotiations with the Junior Doctors that 98% of them have felt compelled to vote in favour of strike action. It is – as they have made clear – the last thing they want to do. But with a 76% turnout there can be no doubt that this reflects the anger and frustration of these doctors, who are the backbone of the NHS. It is vital that Jeremy Hunt immediately re-opens talks with the British Medical Association without preconditions so that this dispute can be resolved.”
Criminal Court Charges
The Government’s decision to introduce mandatory criminal court charges of up to £1,000 has led to widespread criticism and concern, with over 50 magistrates resigning in protest. Here’s my article in The Independent setting out why I think the Government urgently need to rethink this.
I also raised these concerns in a Parliament on Tuesday in a debate led by my colleague Tulip Sadiq. The Hansard of this debate is available here. Let’s hope the Justice Secretary now drops these unjust and unfair charges.
A welcome in Parliament
On a more cheerful note, it was wonderful to be able to meet around 60 volunteers who had come to visit the House of Commons. It was recognition of the great work that they do, day in and day out.
It is their time and effort that binds us all together.
Among those I met was Monique Lucas. She’s just 19, but is already part of the Royal Free’s young volunteers programme, working with dementia patients.
Monique lives in Kentish Town and is hoping to one day study medicine. I wish her every success!
Mental health – a vital service with Camden support
Last Friday I had the chance to visit Mind in Camden. What fantastic work they are doing!
The organisation has been up and running for 28 years and Melanie Davis, the service manager for the REST Project has been working there for almost as long – 22 years.
Among the Mind clients I met was Jilly Moore, who is a member of the REST group – people recovering from an addiction to perfectly legal drugs that they have been prescribed: like Valium.
Jilly (on the left of the photograph) described to me in just how hard it was to come off.
She used to be on to 30 mg a day, and was on them for 15 years. She found the centre almost by accident: it is only one of 4 in the country. Now she is virtually down to zero. “It is wonderful to get off these pills”.
Melanie (centre) explained just how hard it is to come off. If done without care it can lead to a seizure. “Coming off is harder than giving up heroine,” she said. The ‘Rest’ group meets every Thursday. Camden funds the project and if you come from the borough the service is free.
There is also a hearing voices group, which also meets at the centre. At the end of the 1980’s a Dutch psychiatrist found that many people lived with this syndrome. Some are as young as 12. Around 4% of population hear voices – perhaps as many as 5,000 people in Camden.
There is also Phoenix: a drop in centre, but you must be funded to come. I met some of the people who come, for up to two days a week.
For many it is a real lifeline: an alternative to walking the streets. It is a place of friendship and support and much valued. Again it is funded by Camden. They run a writing group along with other services. As one of the clients told me:
“I can be myself here: it is an honest place, where we can share our ups and downs.”
You can contact Mind in Camden at:
Barnes House, 9-15 Camden Rd, London NW1 9LQ
020 7911 0822
It is a real pleasure and a privilege to meet people like this but of course most of my time is taken up with Parliamentary business.
Very briefly, I have been working with Labour’s team to try to head off the worst excess of the latest Immigration Bill. That is now through Committee. I think I can say we managed to persuade the Tories to allow some changes, but many elements are not at all satisfactory and we will continue to resist them as they make progress towards becoming law.
The Investigatory Powers Bill is also a major concern. As a member of Andy Burnham’s Home Office team I have been meeting tech companies and concerned groups. As you can imagine there is much that they are worried about. We need to resist attempts to erode our democratic rights while giving the security services the tools they need to prevent atrocities like Paris taking place on our streets.
No easy balance!
I raised the impact of police cuts with Boris Johnson as London mayor. His reply was interesting:
“Should any proposals to reduce the number of PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers), particularly in neighbourhoods, be presented to me I would take some very significant convincing before sanctioning their removal and would only do so if I was satisfied that every option to make savings in the back and middle office had been fully explored. I am confident we will ensure a sensible resolution to this issue.”
I was not so easily reassured and issued this statement:
“Boris Jonson’s reply comes after pressure from Tulip Siddiq and myself, as Camden MPs as well as Jonathan Simpson from the Council. It is a step in the right direction, but does not go nearly far enough. We need an unequivocal assurance from the mayor that he will resist cuts to community police – particularly after growing fears to security following the attacks in Paris. The contribution of neighbourhood policing to the fight against terrorism should never be underestimated.”