Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
We have to leave the EU on October 31st. Whenever I speak to people in my constituency of Harlow, most people, whether they voted to remain or leave, have had enough. People are fed up to the back teeth of Brexit dominating the news; fed up with the indecision of Parliament and they’re fed up with what they see as the political establishment trying to stop the democratic will of the people.
Of course, Boris Johnson has put all his cards on the table and is taking a big risk, but there is simply no other way. We’ve tried ticking and tacking in all directions over the last three years and it hasn’t worked. I really fear for the social fabric of our country if we delay leaving beyond October 31st and the public feel that the referendum result has not been respected.
The irony is that I’ve often found myself in the middle of this argument and see both sides – Remain and Leave; however, I’ve always strongly felt that, whatever happens, we must carry out the wishes of the electorate.
It seems incredible that the very people who are arguing that it’s a coup to prorogue Parliament, are trying to stop an election – the most democratic exercise of all. Many of those same people who continually press for a second referendum seem to be against an election which will decide this issue conclusively.
We, as a Party, need to make a choice; we either back the Prime Minister, unite, support leaving on October 31st and then recast a new relationship with the EU, or we will face oblivion. Not only will we lose millions of votes to the Brexit Party, but we will not win the remainer establishment who will, most probably, be voting Liberal Democrat.
The disaster of Permitted Development Rights
I’m sad to say that permitted development rights is a policy that is possibly the most ill-thought-out, ill-conceived and subject to the law of unintended consequences, than almost any other policy of the Conservative Government over the past few years.
Of course, as with most Whitehall plans, the intentions were no doubt laudable; why not make it easier for people to turn office accommodation into homes, when nearly one million people are living in overcrowded accommodation in this country?
The extension of permitted development rights legislation has allowed properties to be bought up on the cheap by landlords, rabbit-hutch homes to be constructed, and ghettos to be established for the poor and vulnerable.
It has allowed London councils to engage in the social cleansing of their most troubled families and shove them to places around the country, like Harlow and Croydon – relinquishing all responsibility for them. Not only do they discharge their duty of care, but these councils are passing the buck; hardworking Harlow taxpayers are forced to pick up the financial tab, the social tab, and the crime tab.
Out-of-area-placements do not even benefit the troubled families themselves. They lose all their family, social networks and community ties. They are thrust into strange places that are totally unfamiliar to where they may have lived for years.
It costs Harlow taxpayers a huge amount of money because of the social and economic impact, and the spike in crime rates.
Headteachers, already facing significant funding pressures, have to deal with an influx of pupils and do not receive any extra support for doing so.
The anti-social behaviour that increases on our streets demands more policing, but again, no more funding is given to resource that policing.
Last Friday, in my constituency surgery, a reformed crack-cocaine addict – off drugs and wanting to turn her life around as a single parent – told me about the awful conditions in these office blocks; drugs, violence and intimidation. She presented me with a picture of her flat – a room smaller than some offices in the Commons.
How can she turn her life around, for her and her daughter, living in a place like that? I felt ashamed that we have allowed such a situation to happen, and disappointed that this Government isn’t doing enough to stop it
The previous Housing Secretary committed to a “review” of permitted development rights legislation and yet, what has been done?
We’re allowing social cleansing and ghettoisation and, all the while, we’re destroying towns up and down the country with this disastrous policy. If we are a Government that really believes in social justice and wants to make a difference, these kinds of places should be closed down, straight away.
Office conversions under permitted development rights must be stopped and local councils should have full say over planning. It’s no good us just being the Party of Help to Buy and Right to Buy (both of which I believe in), if we’re not also the Party for proper, decent housing for our most vulnerable families in our communities.
We need more R.U.M.
Like many Conservatives, I’m delighted with the Chancellor’s spending announcements. Billions for hospitals, billions for schools and billions for police – these are people’s genuine priorities.
But, the problem is, when we say we’re spending an extra £34 billion on the NHS, what does it actually mean for people in their day-to-day life, and for the hardworking NHS staff on the frontline?
We recognise it’s a big number – but so is £34 million to most people. Of course, people understand we’re spending more on the NHS, but if we are to really change perceptions in our forthcoming election manifesto, we need more Retail, Understandable and Memorable policies. We need more R.U.M.
For example, which would be more effective: a generic commitment of spending £20 billion per year on the NHS, or spending just £200 million to scrap hospital car parking charges? The latter is Retail, Understandable, Memorable, and impacts almost everyone.
Again, we announced that we’re spending billions to cut student loans which won’t make that much practical, noticeable difference. But just imagine if we spent those billions on guaranteeing an apprenticeship for every young person.
We talk a lot about big corporation tax cuts which, of course, are beneficial but, again, to ordinary folk, it means very little. What would make an impactful difference would be to give every independent shopkeeper and business owner a huge tax rebate – millions of small businesses in our country would reap the benefits.
On overseas aid, a hugely controversial policy, we say we have to spend £14 billion a year. Just imagine if not even half of that was spent on sending our young people to do apprenticeships overseas in developing countries. Retail. Understandable. Memorable.
So, rather than esoteric spending announcements, let’s have some more R.U.M. – I happen to enjoy the other kind very much.