Important opportunity yesterday to make a speech during Black History Month and pay tribute to the immense contribution made by the black community in Ipswich. We’d be much poorer without this community among us and I thought it was right to pay a particular tribute to the Caribbean and African Health Support Forum in Ipswich which I was able to visit in August and does excellent work raising awareness of the health issues disproportionately impacting Caribbean and African people in our town.
As part of the debate we were also discussing petitions on black history in the school curriculum. I do think there is more we can do to teach the history of black people in this country, including the injustices they have suffered in the past. But this must be done as part of a shared history, which also recognises the great many things we have to be proud of in our past, rather than a separate curriculum being proposed by some. There is much more that unites us as Britons than separates us based on what colour skin we happen to have, and we mustn’t encourage separateness among young people by deciding what they learn based on the colour of their skin.
It was also important to talk about the shocking death of George Floyd and the importance of continuing to stamp out the racism which still exists in our society. I believe this is the true intention of the majority of protesters but it is disappointing that some leadership figures in BLM UK have strayed beyond a unifying anti-racism message into sometimes promoting divisive political rhetoric with calls to abolish things like the police, the nuclear family and capitalism. I also think we have to be careful about divisive terms being used by some like institutional racism which smear entire institutions. We need to root out racist individuals in our institutions and society but it’s counter-productive to label many who aren’t in this way. We must uphold a message of unity and one that focuses about how we can keep improving on the past.
Got an important question in virtually today about the return of Ipswich Town Fans to Portman Road. I visited the stadium last week where the club had been ready to welcome back 1,000 fans to a test event before the Government announced a nationwide postponement of fans returning.
I made the point to Jacob Rees-Mogg that this blanket decision is a disappointment for Ipswich when we have a relatively low rate of Covid-19 and our local club is confident it can welcome back a small number of fans safely. The club is an iconic feature in our town but it’s struggling and we need to get to a place where lockdown measures take local factors like this into account.
I’ll keep doing everything I can to support Ipswich Town through the challenges it’s facing
Like many in this country, I believe Winston Churchill was one of the greatest Britons ever to live. It was with great sadness that the National Trust placed his former home, Chartwell as one of 93 properties currently in the care of the National Trust with links to slavery and colonialism.
I asked the Leader of the House if he could find the time to debate Winston Churchill’s legacy, the man he was and how we should be concerned by actions of some on the left to tarnish his reputation as a great leader and hero to many of us.
I also asked the leader to take into account that many people are becoming increasingly concerned that a growing number of our national organisations are being infiltrated by wokist elements.
Brought up the excellent Combat2Coffee project in the Commons today which does vital charity and community work supporting local veterans in Ipswich. When I visited the new coffee shop on Princes Street in February, I was clear to the founder, Nigel Seaman, that the project and the people it helps have my full support in Parliament.
One of the things Nigel has raised with me since then is the bureaucratic health assessments veterans often have to go through to get the pensions and benefits they’re entitled to. This can be a distressing process for those who are living with physical and mental injuries they got serving on our behalf and it risks putting veterans off accessing the support they’re entitled to. I urged the Minister for Veterans today to ensure the process is streamlined to protect against this as much as possible, and I’ll be monitoring the roll out of the Government’s plans to move parts of the process online very closely.
UNCONCIOUS BIAS TRAINING FOR MPS: Was on Talk Radio today to set out why I won’t be taking unconscious bias training for MPs. I’m immensely proud to represent Ipswich and the diverse communities which make up our town. And I’m against prejudice in all its forms.
This “training” is deeply patronising to me and all other MPs who take this incredibly seriously. Sitting through a 2-hour session with a giant blue puppet talking about prejudice will have no effect whatsoever. My time is my constituent’s time and I think most of them would prefer it’s spent on making sure their priorities are addressed in Parliament as we deal with a number of hugely significant challenges. Many will also rightly have questions about why the parliamentary authorities are pandering to the woke agenda and using large amounts of tax payer money to do it. Driving this agenda has become an industry and we shouldn’t be fuelling it with public money.
Like many, I’ve had concerns about the BBC for a number of years now. The coverage of Brexit and last year’s General Election are just some of the high-profile examples of where the Corporation’s output has fallen below the standards the public expect from their national broadcaster.
However, I’ve always stopped short of joining others in calling into question the future of the licence fee. For me growing up, the BBC represented a unique part of our national identity and the role it played in our country’s life always gave me an emotional connection which I wouldn’t have with any other broadcaster.
I also recognised that the BBC has come in for criticism from both Conservatives and those on the radical Left over the years so perhaps the BBC was getting somewhere near the middle ground.
This has been my view on balance until the last few months where the BBC’s coverage and the actions of many of its publicly funded executives and journalists have unfortunately become completely out of control; leading me to reflect seriously on whether the licence fee continues to be justified.
Last week I sought the views of my constituents by setting up an online poll, asking people whether the licence fee should be abolished.
In total 4773 people took part and 97% were in favour of doing away with the licence fee. I asked people to enter their postcodes so I knew which responses came from constituents. The results were just as clear. Over 870 Ipswich residents voted with 90% in favour of abolishing it.
I understand this isn’t a scientific poll and that there is no perfect way to capture the views of everyone in Ipswich. I also know some will be disappointed they didn’t know the poll was up. Nevertheless, I do think the feedback provides a window to where many local people stand and how considerable their concerns are.
It’s with great reluctance that I now have to say I’ve reached the same conclusion as them on the licence fee. I’m reluctant because I do think in principal having a national broadcaster can be a public good. But the negative direction the BBC is heading in has only accelerated over recent months and I don’t believe the Corporation can ever get back to a position where my concerns will be alleviated.
This hasn’t come from a lack of warning from those of us who continued to hold out hope that the BBC could change course for the better. In June I spoke in Parliament about the important role local BBC services like Radio Suffolk and Look East play in our local democracy. And how plans to cut funding for popular regional news broadcasting would only heighten the sense among people in the country that senior executives at the BBC are out of touch with their audience and determined to take the Corporation on an ever more London-centric trajectory.
At time when the BBC should be further localising its services and looking beyond the M25 it seems to be going in the other direction.
Add to this the BBC’s decision to remove free TV licences for most over-75s and it becomes clearer how seemingly at every turn the BBC’s leadership makes bad situations worse.
This has been a bitter pill to swallow for many of my older constituents who have told me they’ll struggle to pay for a service which has anyway become completely detached from mainstream public opinion.
While the BBC has been making plans to cut back what makes the licence fee stomachable, it’s been chipping away at many of our most cherished cultural institutions. And has been played like a fiddle by woke Leftists who have demonstrated their determination to radically change the character of this country.
This has now reached an unbearable crescendo with the farce over the Last Night of the Proms. The reports of plans to expunge ‘Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ entirely and then the BBC’s announcement they would be played without their lyrics, represent an assault on one of the most important nights in our cultural calendar.
This decision has been taken under the cover of Covid-19 with no concert audience there to disappoint directly. And the messaging that dropping the lyrics is a one-off this year is ridiculous as the words to other songs will still be sung.
This condescending and judgemental censorship follows the mass removal of past episodes of British comedy programmes like Fawlty Towers and Little Britain. I wrote extensively earlier this year about how this politically correct attack on our sense of humour is not what the vast majority of tax and licence fee payers pay the large salaries of BBC executives to do.
We don’t fund these executives at our supposedly politically neutral national broadcaster for their views on politics, but increasingly this seems to be what guides what they say and do.
Many will have read the disgraceful comments by the Executive Producer of the BBC’s Songs of Praise programme likening the singing of Rule Britannia to Nazis singing about gas chambers because of the slave trade.
In her rush to apologise for the history of this country, she must have forgotten the blood and treasure the Royal Navy spent in abolishing the appalling Atlantic slave trade and how we can be proud of that today.
This is by far not the only abject failure of impartiality by those paid well to keep their biases in check. The article on exam results by Newsnight’s policy editor, Lewis Goodall, which took the front page of the left-wing New Statesman magazine last week, didn’t even pay lip service to the principle of impartiality in its hostile and partisan attacks on the Government.
By all means people should criticise the Government whenever they feel it’s appropriate but too many times journalists at the publicly funded BBC have taken advantage of the special and privileged role they hold and forgotten the responsibilities that come with it.
In other words, if Lewis Goodall wants to make a living out of launching political attacks on the Government I’m sure he can find a well paid job at The Guardian or the New Stateman but I’ll be dammed if I’m going to be silent whilst both I and my constituents contribute towards his publicly funded salary at the BBC.
This bias now also frequently seeps into the BBC’s own news coverage. People won’t so readily forget the Newsnight programme at the height of concerns about PPE which presented the views of five doctors and nurses critical of the Government who all later turned out to be long-standing Labour Party activists or supporters. Or the time when even the BBC felt it had to rebuke journalist Emily Maitlis for her completely one-sided television monologue on Dominic Cumming’s decision to go to Durham (something that I myself expressed concerns with at the time, but that is beside the point).
It’s given me no pleasure at all to go on this journey with the BBC and I’m sad it’s got to the point where I can no longer look my constituents in the eye and justify them paying the licence fee if they don’t want to.
But the BBC has continued its long, and now irreparable, march away from its audience. Not the other way around. The woke, metropolitan and censorious worldview that the BBC is offering no longer interests vast swathes of people up and down the country, many of which have become frustrated at being obliged to pay for content they don’t want, cuts to content they do want and an organisation which fundamentally doesn’t represent them and doesn’t even look like it wants to.
Sometimes it seems as though the BBC exists in its own parallel universe and even if it wanted to change, I believe it would be unable to do so. Outgoing BBC Director-General Tony Hall stated last week that post-Brexit the BBC has a unique responsibility to promote our country’s “voice and values”, sadly, I’m not sure whether the BBC leadership even know what these values are and I can’t think of a group of people less suited to taking on such a pivotal ambassadorial role..
I haven’t taken this decision lightly and my decision is in no way a reflection on the highly effective local BBC journalists that perform such a key role in supporting local democracy in Suffolk, my view is that they’ve been badly let down by the organisation’s national leadership.
As it stands I know the Government is seriously considering decriminalising the non-payment of the BBC licence fee and I will encourage the them to take this step. This would be a significant step and one could well path the way for the whole licence fee structure as a way of funding the BBC being reviewed at the nearest opportunity (most likely when the BBC Charter is next up for renewal). Ultimately I believe its time to look forward to a future where the BBC is no longer our country’s publicly funded state broadcaster.
Visited the Mansion and Ipswich Museum yesterday to hear about plans to acquire new funding to make significant investments in the offerings over the next couple of years. Significant opportunities for improvements particularly at the Museum where I believe there is greater capacity to tell the story of the Town particularly over the recent past. Would be good to have strong focus on all the different parts of the Town and communities and how they all came to be. There is a slight focus on this towards the end of the Museum exhibition but could be a lot more.
Would be interested to hear all your views. There is currently a public consultation ongoing regarding future plans.
Bit surprised to have been nominated by constituents for the MP of the Year Awards for my work on supporting children with SEND. I wasn’t aware of this awards scheme before being nominated but it’s a good opportunity to keep raising the profile of the issues affecting these children.
It’s an honour to have been nominated for this award. But actually delivering more support for children with SEND will remain the only measure of success that matters to me.
You can vote in the awards here: https://patchworkfoundation.org.uk/peoples_choice_2020_votesopen/
This week I used my weekly column to talk about the Black Lives Matter UK movement. I have become increasingly concerned that some of the policies they promote, actions they undertake and language they use such as “white privilege” and “white fragility” are doing more to create division within our society. I was shocked and saddened by the brutal murder of George Floyd and fully acknowledge that a number of my constituents have and continue to endure racism but what we need is a unifying message and set of goals that seek to eliminate racism in all its guises without seeking to stoke further division and separateness.
Fortunately we are not America and race is not as divisive an issue in this country as it is across the Atlantic, we all have a duty to ensure this remains the case, this can be done by calling out and dealing with genuine racism whilst at the same time steering clear from organisations that promote a divisive agenda.