Today the Common Sense Group of MPs have launched our new book, Common Sense: conservative thinking for a post-liberal age, which covers a range of topics.
I have contributed a chapter, co-authored with Chris Loder MP, on ‘Taking the Politics out of Policing’ which is an area I have spoken about since I was elected.
I have been a member of the Common Sense Group since its founding shortly after the 2019 general election and think it is incredibly important as a way of voicing some of the concerns of ordinary people that I speak to in Ipswich. It allows us as MPs to put pressure on the Government on some key issues such as tougher policing. The expectation of our voters is for a government that reflects the will of the people, rather than pandering to the peculiar preoccupations of the liberal elite and the distorted priorities of left-wing activists. This is why we have written this book.
In my chapter I have written about the creeping role of the force in policing public discourse, particularly with regards to the recording of non-crime hate incidents. These are incidents which are registered without being crimes and despite being non-evidenced and yet they are formally recorded and can even show up during DBS checks when applying for work. This is unacceptable. It has a chilling effect on free speech and allows the police to be used as a weapon by ideologically driven activists who unfortunately think they should be able to control what people say.
It is very clear to me from knocking on doors in Ipswich that the vast majority of people want to see more police out in our town doing what they do best – protecting us from dangerous crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets. This is the people’s priority, but also that of regular police officers. They want don’t want to have to waste their time investigating offensive jokes made on Facebook which don’t constitute a crime, but sadly this is exactly what the College of Policing Guidance tells them that they must do.
I have welcomed the 20,000 new police officers being introduced by the Government and have spoken at length about wanting to push for a fairer funding deal for police in Ipswich. But I think that is just one half of the approach we need to be taking. I believe that we should be creating a framework for policing which ditches the ambiguous guidance about non-crime hate incidents, cuts bureaucracy and paperwork and allows them to do their jobs. This would be a framework which incentivises them to deal with actual crimes.
I have also written about amending the Public Order Act 1986 to enable police to more effectively deal with the most disruptive protests that have taken place over the past year. There is a place in our society for protest, but the police need to be able to act effectively when things become violent and intimidating. As previously stated, I am also a firm believer of the need to get more police on the streets which is another proposal I have recommended in my chapter.
There are a range of other issues tackled in my chapter and across the book as a whole, and I am looking forward to continued discussion in parliament on all of these.
I voted in favour of an amendment (the Lord Bishop’s Amendment) to the Fire Safety Bill which sought to protect leaseholders from the remediation costs associated with all fire safety defects (not just cladding). As you may know I was an early signatory to the McPartland-Smith amendment which was very similar but was voted down by the House of Commons on the 22nd March. I was disappointed that that vote was unsuccessful and hoped that the Lords Amendment would pass today. Unfortunately, it did not.
This is the second time I’ve voted against the Government on this key issue and it’s not something I take lightly, but given that there had been no material change between the last vote and this one in a way that would see many of my constituents better protected, I felt that I had to once again vote this way.
I’ve always been clear that my priority is to represent my constituents and it’s possible that from time to time this will involve me voting a different way from my Party colleagues. Yes, when people voted for me, they voted for a Conservative MP, but I also believe that people hoped they were voting for someone who was prepared to make difficult decisions that put their constituents first.
Over the past year the Government have outlined a range of support for leaseholders (in the Billions) and many of my constituents who are leaseholders have received the support they need. However not all. When discussing this matter with Ipswich leaseholders I have been clear that I do not want any leaseholder to be left behind, and sadly at this stage, many still are.
This issue is not just about cladding. Many leaseholders live in properties where there are fire safety defects that need to be urgently addressed including wall insulation, fire doors, wooden balconies and fire brakes. Sometimes remediating these issues can cost thousands of pounds and it is resulting in leaseholders being unable to sell their properties as many mortgage lenders are refusing to lend, essentially making many of the properties valueless.
These leaseholders have bought their properties in good faith and are not to blame for these fire safety defects, and I fail to see why they should be forced to saddle the costs.
Ultimately the taxpayer shouldn’t have to bear the cost of this either. Those who should pay are those who are responsible. Whether it’s the builders or the management agents.
I have had many detailed discussions with the Housing Minister over this matter and he has made clear to me that the Building Safety Bill will be the place to resolve these issues. However, a key concern for me is there isn’t currently much detail regarding this, and I haven’t been given a clear timeline for when this new Bill will be in place and when the uncertainty and anxiety that many of my constituents face will be ended. Ultimately this is what led to me voting again the way I did today.
Since the moment I was elected I’ve done everything I can to support leaseholders in Ipswich and I will continue to do so.
I was glad to be invited to attend a meeting of the IP3 Good Neighbourhood Scheme (“IP3”) yesterday evening to say a few words and hear about the work that they have been doing to benefit the local community.
The group covers a big chunk of the Southeast of Town in Holywells, Gainsborough, Priory Heath, and some of Bixley and during what has been a really tough year they have stepped up to support the area. They have been handing out food parcels, collecting prescriptions, and talking to vulnerable people on the telephone. They have also done a lot of litter picking!
Last year when the pandemic first hit, I set up a “Talks with Tom” phone line to offer company to vulnerable elderly people who were shielding over the pandemic. I wrote to over 7,000 people over the age of 70 offering my support and I had lots of chats with my elderly constituents.
IP3 are also hoping to run some coffee mornings when restrictions are eased so that people can meet face to face again and socialise to take care of their mental health.
Last May I also shaved my head to raise money for AgeUK Suffolk as they had been struggling to stay afloat with a presence in our town. I managed to raise around £3,000 but unfortunately, they folded just after the money was raised which was a big shame. At the time I was very concerned that there would be a deficit for the services that they provided in Ipswich but local community organisations really stepped up to fill in where there was need and IP3 is a fantastic example of this.
I am really grateful to the huge group of volunteers they have assembled to help the most vulnerable and I think it is great that they are now seeking charitable status which will make fundraising much easier for them. I am very keen to support IP3 in getting this charitable status and in any way I can to help them to keep improving the local community.
I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Ipswich Christian Leaders Conference last Thursday.
Our Churches have played a crucial role over the past year. They have had to adapt and change in ways I can’t imagine any were expecting but they’ve been successful in doing so.
Not only have they provided invaluable spiritual and mental support to huge numbers across Town through initiatives such as the BASIC community pop-up shops they have also providing a great deal of practical support to those most in need.
It was incredibly uplifting to hear their vision for the future and their passion and hope for the Town. I look forward to working closely with them all in future.
On Tuesday, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch spoke in Parliament about the release of the Sewell Report on Race and Ethnic Disparities as well as some of the abuse the commissioners had been facing from organisations and even from Labour Members of Parliament.
I wanted to raise with the Minister concerns about certain organisations pre-judging the Sewell report for political ends without actually fairly assessing the findings.
One concerning example is the Runnymede Trust which organised a campaign against the report over a week before it was even published and broadcasted a livestream event with Patrick Vernon, Chair of Labour’s Race Equality Advisory Group where they argued that the report authors were equivalent to “Holocaust deniers being asked to develop a strategy on antisemitism”.
I asked if the Minister agreed that not only does this kind of bad faith political action undermine the Runnymede Trust’s charitable objective of improving race relations, but that their shameful treatment of the report’s commissioners may actually discourage ethnic minorities from contributing to public life and public debate.
The Minister explained that the action was part of the climate of intimidation surrounding the report’s authors and outlined how the Runnymede Trust is now the subject of a complaint to the Charity Commission.
One of these complaints describes some of the horrific behaviour of the Trust’s CEO and staff towards ethnic minorities who have a different approach to racial equality. Kemi Badenoch explained that it included calling a black Conservative a “house negro” as well as horrific views on mixed-race relationships expressed by one staff member comparing white people having relationships with black people to slave masters sleeping with their slaves. I do not believe that these actions are appropriate for a charity committed to racial equality.
It is notable as well that just before I spoke, the Labour MP, Dawn Butler even accused Kemi Badenoch of being a “racial gatekeeper”. Kemi replied that it was disgusting behaviour and that the fact that Dawn Butler MP stood up in Parliament to ‘use that phrase without any shame whatsoever just shows how far the Labour party has fallen’.
It is clear to me that some people are simply unable to have rational debates about these topics. I think it was right for Kemi Badenoch to condemn the attacks on the authors of the report and to fight back against the insults thrown at her from Labour MPs. Ultimately, it is ok for people to disagree about what to do with the findings of the report, but it is not ok to spread misinformation about the report or its authors.
I have sent a letter to the Queen on behalf of myself and the people of Ipswich expressing our deepest sympathies over the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh. He visited our town many times before I was the MP, to places such as Ipswich school and the Waterfront. Unfortunately, I never met him myself, but I have been touched over the past few days by constituents who have reached out to me to share some of their stories about having met him in our town.
He was a generous and humorous man who left a great impression on those who met him. May he rest in peace.