Sunday, November 05, 2017

Let’s not forget the Budget

Sunday afternoon, cup of tea and settling down to write my 400 word column for the Oswestry and Borders Chronicle.

As I set about writing this fortnightly article, which I like to be about happenings at Westminster, the only issue on everyone’s lips is the seemingly non-stop cascade of sexual harassment stories about politicians - of all parties and in all British parliaments. While I disapprove of the usual course of British justice being reversed - with everyone being accused seeming to be deemed guilty until proven innocent! However I do approve of what is happening. It is totally unacceptable for anyone in a position carrying with it ‘power’ and ‘patronage’ to be using that position as a platform for sexual harassment - or any other sort of ‘bullying’ and harassment for that matter.
However, one aspect of the way this ‘harassment’ is being portrayed is mistaken. I don’t doubt that it happens, but in 7 yrs as an MP, I’ve not witnessed it. As a general rule, MPs are ferociously ambitious individuals, and are very focussed on their work. In years past, when votes took place in the middle of the night, and there were not long lens cameras scanning every nook and corner, improper behaviour may well have been more common. It’s a much more rare occurrence today. And so it should be. It shouldn’t happen at all. Everyone at Westminster wants proper reporting systems in place, where anyone guilty of a misdemeanour is held to account. We all want to feel proud to be a Member of Parliament. 
A consequence of the current focus on ‘sexual harassment’ is that it has driven out debate and discussion about the Budget, which takes place on the 22nd of this month. It’s a very important statement of Government intent. The first budget at the start of a 5yr Parliament is more than just about money. It’s about direction. And it’s the toughest challenge facing any Chancellor since the early 1990s. I’ve no doubt the Chancellor would like to take decisive action to boost the economy  has and help the vulnerable cope with the extra challenges they face. But he has to decide where the money is to come from! 
Let’s consider some of the issues that Philip Hammond will need to decide on. The UK Govt still spends around £1,000,000,000 per week more than it has coming into its coffers. This is not as bad as  it’s been over last decade but it still means National Debt is growing ever larger way too quickly. And he will want to promote more housing, help with roll-out of Universal Benefit, boost infrastructure spending, consider lifting public sector pay cap and give yet another funding boost to the NHS. It’s a very difficult circle to square. The future of our country, (as we leave the European Union) depends on the Chancellor getting it right. It’s what MPs should be focussed on.

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