Heading to London for a new parliamentary session

Monday September 6th 2021


Midlothian MP, Owen Thompson, writes his monthly column for Midlothian View

I’m writing this on route to London for a new parliamentary session. When I say ‘new’ it’s more like a return to the old-school ways, before Covid forced a reluctant British democracy to become that wee bit more modern. It baffles me why we are now throwing away the super-efficient electronic voting and hybrid debating systems that the IT teams developed at tremendous pace. It allowed MPs to fit in a lot more work and be closer to constituents, saving time, public money and wasted journeys. Instead the antiquated old rule books have been dusted down and we will all go back to scurrying about those dark halls, cramming physically into lobbies to vote and squashing together in the chamber bear-pit for more rounds of partisan baying and hollering. No wonder the public feels removed from its political processes.

The ridiculousness of its procedures aside, we can expect this to be an incredibly busy time at Westminster, with many critical issues to address. I spent the summer talking with constituents across Midlothian and my in-tray is already bulging with matters to take up on their behalf. First up is the continued impact of Covid on our lives, jobs, health and wellbeing. There are businesses and freelancers who have gone under already and many others who don’t know how they’ll survive the next few months as toxic debt builds. The poorest are about to be hammered again with a cut in universal credit, and we can expect regressive tax changes to hurt the lowest paid and the younger generation far more than those with the broadest shoulders. I will be doing my best to fight for fairness throughout, and be a voice for those who don’t have privileged access to the echelons of power.

On top of this, there’s the reality of Brexit coming home to roost. It may have been conveniently masked by the sheer scale of the Covid crisis, but its impact is biting harder as the months go on. Contrary to what the Leave campaign claimed, Brexit has massively increased bureaucracy and its new rules and regulations are badly hurting essential trade with our nearest neighbours, something that a dodgy deal with Australia will not fix. Industries like Scotland’s food and drinks sector were a huge and growing success, but we are watching this good news story be needlessly destroyed by a reckless decision we did not vote for. Scottish hospitality businesses, which have already suffered enough from Covid restrictions, are unable to find the staff they need to keep going and recover. Crops can’t be picked, supermarket shelves can’t be filled, blood tests are being cancelled and HGV drivers are put on the endangered species list.

It’s not just the aftermath of terrible decisions like Brexit we have to deal with; there’s appalling foreign policy disasters too. The ongoing chaos of the evacuation in Afghanistan was an avoidable mess which has tragic consequences. Like most MPs I have outstanding cases of people who helped our side and whose lives are now at risk. They have every right to safe passage, but I am struggling to even get a response from the Foreign Office about their plight, let alone coherent action. It is both heartbreaking and shameful.

Then of course there is COP26 in Glasgow coming and an urgent need to come together, across the UK and internationally, to agree meaningful action to tackle climate change before it is too late. Party political point scoring will not go down well as the planet burns.

As the country struggles you would expect any leader to roll up their sleeves and get on with things, but I suspect we will see Boris Johnson huffing and puffing on smaller issues, seeking distractions, polishing his sound bites and heading off on jolly photo shoots. He may do his best to avoid any serious democratic scrutiny but I and my colleagues will be working every day to shine a light on the issues that impact on the lives of constituents, offer constructive solutions and ensure Boris Johnson and his government are held to account.

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