Catch up with some of what I've been up to in the last week
Camden unions in Parliament
On Monday I met Camden trade unionists who came to lobby Parliament over the draconian Trade Union Bill. Organised by Frances O’Grady of the TUC, it was a chance for MPs to hear the experience of union members. I told the representatives of Unison and Unite that I regard the bill as an ideological assault on trade unions.
George Binette, the Unison branch secretary explained the law would put an end to time off for union activity - critical in winning recent disputes. “The successful campaign to secure the London Living Wage ahead of schedule for scores of Camden residents working on the Caterlink contracts in school kitchens was an illustration of the real value of facility time for trade union representatives,” he said.
Surveillance: a step in the right direction?
On Wednesday the Home Secretary, Theresa May published the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill. Once dubbed a ‘snoopers charter’ the new bill is a considerable improvement. It goes without saying that all intrusions into our privacy are a diminution of our democracy. But a balance has to be struck between these concerns, which I hold strongly, and our need to fight terrorism, child sexual abuse and human trafficking.
This is a difficult area and there are no entirely right answers. You can read my views at greater length in the Guardian.
David Cameron and George Osborne are flailing around to try and come up with the £12 billion cuts in government spending they promised in their manifesto. Last week it was an attack on Tax Credits, which Labour managed to halt – at least for the time being. This week Labour initiated an attack on Police cuts, which could see the end of ‘bobbies on the beat.’ You can see the letter I wrote with my colleague, Jack Dromey, for the Times.
Event with Holborn & St. Pancras residents in Parliament
I was delighted to welcome some sixty Holborn & St. Pancras residents to the House of Commons last Thursday. We held it just off the historic Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the the Palace of Westminster, dating back to 1097. There was plenty of lively discussion, with contributions from two of our Camden councillors, Pat Callaghan and Georgia Gould.
Photographs from this very successful event can be viewed here.
More than just a laugh
There’s plenty of an MP’s work that’s serious and complex. But occasionally you get to participate in something that raises a smile. I had the chance to open the excellent exhibition of the work of the cartoonist, James Gillray. He died on 1 June 1815, but his work has echoed down the years.
‘Gillray’s Ghost’ is to be highly recommended. More information can be found here.
This is what I said at the opening:
“Gillray’s cartoons – powerful, provocative, pungent - are among the most memorable images of their era. They are far more than simply amusing: they summarise perfectly historical moments. And they live on in our imaginations: there to be drawn upon by the cartoonist when the need arises.
A perfect example of this is the famous ‘Plumb-pudding in danger’ - Gillray’s famous satires of the Napoleonic wars. British Prime Minister William Pitt sits on the left of the picture opposite Napoleon Bonaparte, with both carving chunks out of the globe.
How apposite it should be that the Guardian’s Stephen Bell commemorated the two-hundredth anniversary of Gillray’s death by showing David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon carving up the Labour vote at the last election – painful as that reminder is for all of us who support the party!
But that, of course, is the point. Without an element of poison the cartoonists pen would surely run dry. Yet politicians are among the most avid collectors of cartoons. In an age dominated by the searing, bitter and often destructive public comments that appear on the social media, the cartoon is a friendly reminder that wit and skill is required to really make a point.
Holborn & St Pancras, which I am lucky enough to represent, is richly endowed with creative people and no doubt many cartoonists among them.
Long may this continue to be so: jesters poking fun and deflating the egos of the proud and the mighty. And reminding all of us that we are mere mortals – servants of the people we represent.”