This column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 30 December 2016.
Whatever else 2016 is remembered for, this will be the year when a new word really entered the English language: Brexit.
A couple of weeks ago I voted in the House of Commons for Brexit and for the Government to invoke so-called Article 50 – the process by which we get the ball rolling on Britain leaving the EU – at the end of March next year.
In the referendum I campaigned to Remain. I did so knowing most people in Barnsley would vote to Leave, which you may think is a little counter-intuitive for a politician.
But politicians should also do what they think is right and stand up for what they believe in – not simply go with the tide.
I was worried what might happen to the economy if we came out (with forecasts for growth being revised downwards and government borrowing set to be billions higher, I still am). When the economy goes belly up, places like Barnsley tend to struggle the most.
I also never believed the claim from some Tories and UKIP (who want to privatise the NHS) that Brexit would deliver billions more for our cash-strapped National Health Service.
Most importantly I did understand and shared many of the concerns that people had about the EU, especially the scale and pace of ‘free movement of people’ that can put pressure on communities and have a downward impact on pay and conditions. I’ve argued for donkey’s years that Labour needed to champion tough new controls on immigration, despite its undoubted benefits in some areas.
But in the end I voted for Brexit because we must now respect the will of the people.
Yes, the Government needs a proper plan. Brexit can’t mean Britain going backwards on jobs and workers’ rights.
But I think it’s our job to get on with it – uncertainty itself is bad for the economy. And it’s our job to get the best deal for Britain and for Barnsley. That’s exactly what I intend to do in 2017.
This column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 30 December 2016. Whatever else 2016 is remembered for, this will be the year when a new word really entered the...
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 9th December 2016.
150 years ago, at 1.15pm on 12 December 1866, a huge explosion was heard for miles around in Barnsley. As a powerful new exhibition at Experience Barnsley records, word spread quickly: "The Oaks has fired".
The catastrophe at the Oaks Colliery near Stairfoot remains the worst disaster in the history of coal mining in England, killing 383 men and boys - including 27 volunteers who joined the rescue effort.
Our history is hugely important to us in Barnsley. As someone who grew up in a South Yorkshire pit village close to my Barnsley East constituency, I know that we must never forget where we came from.
That's why it is fitting that there are a series of events planned to remember those who lost their lives in the Oaks disaster.
I am honoured to be a patron of the Oaks 150th Anniversary Disaster Memorial Fund Campaign which has raised the money for a statue by local sculptor Graham Ibbeson to be erected at the site in the Spring.
With the funds raised locally and with the excellent backing of the NUM, the statue will be a permanent reminder of that terrible day.
On Sunday morning, I will be joining local people at a special service on the site of Barnsley Main, which took over the Oaks Colliery workings, to remember those who died.
A total of 383 crosses, with a name of a man or boy who perished etched on each one, will be placed at the commemoration in a fitting tribute devised by Barnsley’s deputy mayor, Cllr Brian Mathers.
The disaster at the Oaks shattered a community well accustomed to the difficult and dangerous work of miners. The bodies of some of the victims were never recovered.
The youngest boy to die was just 11.
The coal industry powered an industrial revolution in Britain and it made a few people very rich indeed. But it also came at an incredible cost to many of the communities and people who worked in it.
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 9th December 2016. 150 years ago, at 1.15pm on 12 December 1866, a huge explosion was heard for miles around in Barnsley. As...
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25 November 2016.
A few months ago I was watching an old comedy called ‘Clockwise’ about a headmaster starring John Cleese. His wife in the film takes two old ladies out for a drive in the country. Although never mentioned in the movie, the two elderly women clearly have dementia.
But the impression given in the film is that dementia is almost a jolly condition: the two women are amusingly portrayed as ‘away with the fairies’, yet seemingly cheerfully happy in themselves. Sadly, this is not the reality of dementia in many cases.
A few weeks ago my grandmother, Jean Dugher, died. The woman I remember was intelligent and full of love. She was also a fine looking woman – a regular winner of the ‘glamourous granny’ competition on the caravanning holidays I remember from my childhood.
But when I saw her last, the dementia that had for years slowly devastated her mind had also in the end destroyed her body – despite the tender loving care she had received from my grandfather and from our NHS.
When I looked into her eyes for that heart-breaking final time, I saw a woman not merely bewildered, but utterly terrified.
Dementia is the worst kind of thief. It breaks into your home. But instead of robbing your stereo, it steals away a precious loved one. And it can devastate the human body like any kind of cancer.
Unfortunately, many more of us will suffer from it. There were around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK last year. This is projected to grow to over a million in 2025 and over two million by 2051.
Fortunately, research is getting better all the time – thanks to people like Selina Wray, the Barnsley-born world-renowned Alzheimer’s scientist.
Selina is also ambassador for BIADS, the fantastic Barnsley dementia charity that I’ve been patron of since 2010.
As our understanding grows, treatment is getting better too. There is some wonderful care available out there. But don’t let anyone kid you dementia is a barrel of laughs.
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25 November 2016. A few months ago I was watching an old comedy called ‘Clockwise’ about a headmaster starring John Cleese. ...
The following piece appeared on Politics Home on 17 November 2016.
This week Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, led a delegation of MPs, including Rosie Winterton, Gloria De Piero, Ruth Smeeth and Michael, to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories. At Yad Vashem, the powerful memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, Tom laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance on behalf of the whole British Labour Party. We also met with our sister party - fellow socialists dedicated to promoting peace in the region.
The backdrop to our visit with the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) was though, to say the least, challenging. The original invitation to visit Yad Vashem was made to Jeremy Corbyn by Isaac Herzog, the Israeli Labor leader, following months of grim headlines about anti-Semitism inside the Labour party back in the UK.
A few months ago in London, I remember attending the incredibly moving annual dinner for the Holocaust Education Trust (HET) where I had the enormous privilege of sitting next to Freda Wineman, one of the inspiring but sadly dwindling number of Holocaust survivors who support HET's amazing work promoting lessons from the Holocaust amongst young people in Britain today. I remembered the sense of shame as Ken Livingstone's comments about Hitler were referenced at the dinner.
Allegations involving high-profile figures like Ken Livingstone or Momentum's Jackie Walker, reports about anti-Semitic incidents at Oxford University Labour Club, the unsavoury furore over Shami Chakrabarti's controversial peerage, as well as anti-Semitic attacks on Labour MPs like Luciana Berger or Ruth Smeeth, have all been front page news in Israel.
We wanted to come to Jerusalem and say that abhorrent anti-Semitic views do not represent the British Labour party. At Yad Vashem we not only remembered the victims of the Holocaust, history's greatest crime against humanity, but renewed our determination to fighting anti-Semitism and the foul hatred that fuelled it.
On our arrival in Israel we were also reminded about the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process, a cause of great concern and deep frustration for myself and many others. Several years ago I remember Tony Blair, then Middle East peace envoy, telling a number of us that however bad things get in the Middle East, the key is to keep some kind of process alive. Sadly that is not the case at the moment.
We know that we cannot affect change from the sidelines. Britain can be a force for good when we build up strong international alliances based on friendship, solidarity and a determination to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace. That's another reason why the negative press about our party in Israel has been so damaging. You can't have any influence when you're not in the room.
Of course Labour in the UK, like our sister party in Israel, have many huge differences with the current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. We are against settlements. We defend Israel's right to exist free from terror, but we also support the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
It's incredibly helpful, positive and well-received when Labour MPs, especially senior figures like Tom Watson, seize any opportunity to engage with Israel and the Palestinian Territories and crucially the delegation will include Labour's general secretary, Iain McNicol.
But there is no substitute for engagement from the very top. Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn's office say that he is too busy to visit Yad Vashem anytime soon. That's a real shame and a missed opportunity. I genuinely think that Jeremy would find the visit moving and informative.
Yad Vashem is a place I've been to many times. Every time I go there is the almost overwhelming sense of horror about what happened during the Holocaust. Yet amongst the despair, there is always a little hope - like the stories of the 'Righteous Among the Nations' the non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews and who are honoured at the memorial.
And on every visit I see something I hadn't noticed before. This year it was some examples of very early Nazi propaganda showing how Jews were negatively caricatured in language and imagery, long before they were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. That is how it all started.
Whilst the backdrop to our trip this week was difficult, fort all the gloom and doom, our visit has also instilled a sense of hope for the future of the region. Whilst there is little improvement at a political level, at a grassroots level there are signs of a powerful movement for progress and peace in a number of impressive co-existence projects.
It was particularly heart-warming to meet a young Palestinian, Marina Burshen, and a young Israeli, Anat Gilenson, in East Jerusalem who had participated together in the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET) programme. Viewing the success of these projects first-hand has only strengthened my view that these are essential to any long-term peace, and I would urge all those supportive of this goal to support the LFI campaign for the UK to significantly increase its funding on co-existence projects like Meet.
We know that Jeremy Corbyn has had a longstanding interest in the Middle East. But there is so much to see. And a visit to Yad Vashem in particular would do so much good. British Airways, Easy Jet and El Al all do regular flights from London to Tel Aviv. So what are you waiting for, Jeremy?
The following piece appeared on Politics Home on 17 November 2016. This week Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, led a delegation of MPs, including Rosie Winterton, Gloria De Piero, Ruth Smeeth...
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11 November 2016.
Can you remember what you were doing at the beginning of July? With the dark nights drawing in and the weather turning distinctly chilly, summer seems like a long time ago.
1st July marked the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – the worst day in the history of the British armed forces in terms of casualties.
Hundreds of 'Barnsley Pals', local men who joined up together to form two “Pals” battalions in the York and Lancaster Regiment, were among more than 57,000 casualties on that terrible day.
But what most people don't realise is that the Battle of the Somme raged until 18 November 1916.
If July seems like a long time ago, what must it have felt like for those young lads fighting for four and a half long months in the trenches a hundred years ago?
To mark the centenary, I revisited the battlefield in July with my family. I wanted my children to understand the courage and sacrifice behind the tributes we pay on Remembrance Sunday.
And, like thousands of people in Barnsley, I will be honouring the fallen on Remembrance Sunday this weekend.
Every year I go to a different part of my Barnsley East constituency to support a local branch of the Royal British Legion.
This year, I will be at the Church of St Mary and the War Memorial in Wombwell.
Sadly, the membership of our Royal British Legion branches has declined as we say farewell to many stalwarts, particularly Second World War veterans.
But, did you know that you don’t have to be a veteran to join the Legion and support their fantastic work?
Their Poppy Appeal is not only about remembering the fallen, but also helping the living by providing support for servicemen and women, veterans and their families.
Summer does seem like a long time ago. But this Remembrance weekend, do spend a few moments filling in a form to join the Royal British Legion. It doesn't take long and it makes a real difference.
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11 November 2016. Can you remember what you were doing at the beginning of July? With the dark nights drawing in...
The following piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 1 November 2016:
As much as Zac Goldsmith might think otherwise, the decision over Heathrow Airport matters just as much to Richmond in Yorkshire as it does to his patch of Richmond in London.
When I was Labour’s transport spokesman, I set four key tests that Heathrow would have to pass to secure our support for its expansion.
The first was that the location must be the best option for delivering the much-needed expansion in aviation capacity.
The independent Airport Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, concluded that the strongest benefits for the UK economy would come from expanding Heathrow by focusing capacity where demand is strongest (be that from freight, leisure passengers, business travellers or the international transfer passengers needed to support a dense long-haul network). This is key to attracting inward investment.
The second test was that expansion would have to go hand-in-hand with our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and allow us to meet our legal climate change obligations. Davies found this is feasible with Heathrow, a point reinforced by the independent Committee on Climate Change.
The third test was ensuring that local noise and environmental impacts will be managed and minimised. Again, Davies found in favour of expanding Heathrow.
My fourth test was that the benefits of expansion would have to be felt in every corner of the country, not just in the South East of England, and that regional airports will be supported too.
Not least speaking as a Yorkshire MP, this final test was a critical one for me. Businesses in Yorkshire want to trade with businesses across the world. But you can’t do business with places you and your goods cannot reach.
It is simply not possible to reach every global marketplace through our nearest airports – Robin Hood at Doncaster or Leeds Bradford.
That’s why access to a major hub airport like Heathrow matters. Today, you can fly to more than 80 long-haul destinations from Heathrow. A third runway will take that to more than 120 destinations.
Heathrow is also the UK’s biggest port by value – bigger than any shipping container port. A quarter of all UK exports go through Heathrow in the hold of ordinary passenger planes.
And we know we need to help our exporters and our manufacturers find new markets, particularly as we leave the European Union.
Dithering by politicians of all parties has meant Heathrow has been full for more than a decade. As a result, Britain has fallen behind our European rivals. Even the Netherlands has more flights to China than the UK.
All of the Government’s talk of new trade deals in a post-Brexit world will be for nothing, if it’s easier for Asian businesses to fly in and out of bases on mainland Europe than here in the UK.
London has survived with Heathrow full to capacity. But the squeeze on flight slots means the rest of the UK has been badly let down, with Yorkshire taking a bigger hit than most.
Robin Hood Airport does not have a flight connection with Heathrow and the first flight from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow does not land until 10:30am.
If you want to export from Yorkshire to Asia and the Americas, it’s harder. If you want to visit Yorkshire – for business or on holiday – you can get to other parts of Britain and Europe with far less hassle. That means Yorkshire misses out on investment and on tourism.
Expansion at Heathrow is also a massive opportunity for Yorkshire before as well as after construction. The scheme will be one of the biggest private projects in Europe. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Terminal 2 were built with steel from Yorkshire. Heathrow has already committed to buy British steel again.
The new runway will relieve the pressure on the Leeds Bradford route and Flybe has said that it will consider flying to Heathrow from Robin Hood Airport.
The HS2 rail link will cut rail times to Heathrow by over an hour. That means more of Yorkshire can get to more of the world faster.
That is why the independent Airports Commission also forecast up to 11,000 jobs will be created in Yorkshire as a result of Heathrow expanding.
Of course there is opposition to Heathrow from some of the West London MPs (although many want to have their cake and eat it: they’re happy to have the businesses and thousands of jobs, but they moan about an airport that’s been there since 1946).
Heathrow will have to meet a raft of environmental conditions before work can start and the whole process will, rightly, be subject to rigorous scrutiny.
But business and union leaders have joined forces to back Heathrow, as have MPs from all sides of the House.
Heathrow is a national asset – not London’s. Expanding it is good news for UK plc and it’s good news for Yorkshire too.
The following piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 1 November 2016: As much as Zac Goldsmith might think otherwise, the decision over Heathrow Airport matters just as much to...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 October 2016:
Did you know that the word ‘parliament’ is derived from Anglo-Norman ‘parlement’, from an old French verb to ‘parler’ or ‘talk’?
I bet you’re not surprised: it’s well known that politicians like to talk!
But, importantly, being an MP is also about listening. Many of you will have seen I’ve been campaigning against cuts to our community pharmacies. I was first alerted to the crisis by Steve Lo last December.
Steve grew up in Hoyland Common and now runs ‘Lo’s Pharmacies’ across Yorkshire.
A reckless plan by Ministers to cut millions from the NHS pharmacies budget has put up to 3,000 pharmacies across the country under threat, including around 300 – or one in four – across Yorkshire and Humber.
Since Steve’s warning, I have been fighting against the Government’s plan. And 2.2 million people signed the largest ever healthcare petition. Some Tory MPs even criticised the Government’s plans.
We know these planned cuts are a false economy because many people who can’t get medical advice or help from their pharmacy are likely to turn up at our already overstretched GP surgeries and A&E units.
I have seen at first hand how pharmacies support our communities and our NHS during visits to chemists in Worsbrough, Wombwell, Kendray, Shafton, Grimethorpe, Hoyland, Cudworth and Darfield.
Last week, I forced a Government Minister to come to the House of Commons to explain their plan which could devastate our network of community pharmacies.
The Minister had to admit that he simply “didn’t know” how many pharmacies are likely to close or where the axe will fall.
The Government says it will ease the pain of these cuts with their ‘Pharmacy Access Scheme’. But my research revealed that barely one in ten pharmacies nationwide are eligible. Just seven chemists in Barnsley will be helped – out of 42 across the Borough.
That’s why I’m now demanding a vote in Parliament against these cuts that threaten the future of our vital pharmacies.
So enough of talking. It’s now time the Government listened.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 October 2016: Did you know that the word ‘parliament’ is derived from Anglo-Norman ‘parlement’, from an old French verb to ‘parler’...
The following piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 26 October 2016:
Writing in the Yorkshire Post over the summer, I warned about the devastating impact that Government cuts to pharmacies could have on our local communities and our NHS. And I invited the new Minister, David Mowat, to re-think the plan.
In September it seemed that the Government might be listening when the Minister told a conference of pharmacists that he was shelving the cuts programme so he could “spend the time…to make sure we are making the correct decision, and that what we do is right for you, right for the NHS and right for the public more generally”.
Hear, hear, we said. Mowat was right to look again at this. After all, his predecessor as health minister, Alistair Burt, admitted that that up to 3,000 pharmacies – one in four of those across the country – could shut under the drive to slash millions from pharmacy budgets between now and April 2018. That could mean the closure of 300 chemists across Yorkshire and Humber, forcing many frail and elderly people to make longer journeys to get the medicines and expert advice they need.
The National Pharmacy Association has condemned them as a “dangerous experiment”.
And the public made their opposition loud and clear when the largest ever healthcare petition – now signed by over 2.2 million people – was handed into Downing Street last May by me and cross-party campaigners.
But last week the Government announced it is pressing ahead with a bumper package of cuts that will reduce pharmacy funding by £113 million for this financial year and by a further £95 million in 2017-18 – a 22 per cent hike on the original £170 million earmarked for cuts.
Last week I forced Mr Mowat to come to the House of Commons to answer an ‘urgent question’ from me about these cuts to the crucial frontline service provided by pharmacists.
The Minister, a chartered accountant before he became a Tory MP, admitted that he just “didn’t know” how many pharmacies will close or which areas will be the worst hit. The Department of Health’s own impact assessment similarly stated that “there is no reliable way of estimating the number of pharmacies that may close as a result of this policy”.
Whilst such candour and clarity from Ministers is refreshing, it is appalling that the Government appears determined to drive through these cuts without any understanding or thought for the consequences.
Equally, the Government were unable to say – when I asked them – what the downstream costs to other parts of the NHS might be if pharmacies closed. Evidence from ‘Pharmacy Voice’ shows that one in four patients would seek a GP appointment if their local chemist faced closure. In areas of higher deprivation, like in my own Barnsley East constituency, that figure rises to four in five. This just piles on even more pressure on our already overstretched NHS at a time of another looming winter crisis.
The Government claims to have come up with a ‘Pharmacy Access Scheme’ that is supposed to ease the impact of the cuts for pharmacies that are not in so-called ‘clusters’. But my research has found that only around one in ten pharmacies nationwide are likely to be eligible for any help – and even those who do so will still have to make cuts.
That’s why I am now demanding an urgent vote in Parliament against these cuts. If the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his ministers are so confident that they have devised such a brilliant plan for our pharmacies, why not give MPs a vote on the issue?
The reason is that they might just be in for a nasty shock. It’s not just Labour MPs who have supported the campaign about the threat to thousands of pharmacies. Several Tory MPs spoke out in the Commons last week against the cuts.
Colne Valley Tory MP Jason McCartney compared the potential closures to the losses of the last bank branches in rural towns and villages. Of the Government’s plan, he told Ministers: “I am sorry but I just do not have confidence in it.”
In Yorkshire and Humber, there are 1,266 community pharmacies that dispense almost 10,000 prescription items every month, as well as supporting public health and providing invaluable medical advice and support on a range of issues. Every pharmacy that is forced to shut its doors will mean hundreds of often frail and vulnerable people having to make longer and more expensive journeys to get the help they need.
If Ministers are so confident that these cuts to community pharmacies are “the correct decision”, let’s have a vote in the House of Commons. But we should do so before it is too late and we see many of our pharmacies closed for good.
* Michael Dugher is the Labour Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and a former member of the shadow cabinet
The following piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 26 October 2016: Writing in the Yorkshire Post over the summer, I warned about the devastating impact that Government cuts...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 14 October:
One of the few things Theresa May has announced since becoming prime minister has been a backwards step towards grammar schools.
For all the foggy nostalgia, to go back to a system of grammar schools is to return to a golden age that never was. And it is an enduring myth that grammars increased social mobility.
From the mid-1950s to the mid-sixties, only around one in four kids got the chance to go to a grammar school. In the early 1960s, just 0.3 per cent of all those achieving two A-levels or more at a grammar school were children from the ‘unskilled working class’.
There are still parts of the country with grammar schools. But as was the case years ago, when it comes to getting your kids into a grammar school: money talks.
Only three per cent of pupils in England’s 163 grammar schools receive free school meals – compared to 15 per cent across all state schools. Grammar school entrants are four times as likely to have been privately educated than to be entitled to free school meals.
Families with the deepest pockets also game the system by paying for years of private tuition before their child sits the ’11 plus’. And on the basis of one exam, kids are then segregated.
To illustrate how bad the system still is, poorer children in areas with grammar schools today perform worse than pupils in non-selective areas and are less likely to get good GCSEs.
What we want is world class education, taught in well-led state-of-the-art facilities, available to all children, not just a privileged few.
This year, the proportion of Barnsley pupils getting five good GCSEs increased to 55 per cent – the Borough’s best ever results.
We want to keep on improving so we are amongst the best in the country – with a zero tolerance approach to underperforming schools.
The reintroduction of grammar schools risks this progress. Our new PM should look to the future, not hark back to the past.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 14 October: One of the few things Theresa May has announced since becoming prime minister has been a backwards step...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30 September 2016:
Compared to so many other issues, the Boundary Commission’s proposals to alter parliamentary constituencies probably seem like the last thing to worry about.
Previously, the Boundary Commission would carry out periodic reviews to reflect shifting populations. They did this entirely independently of government or politics.
But that’s not what is happening now. The government legislated to enforce an arbitrary one size for all and to cut the total number of constituencies by 50.
This has left us with a complete dog’s breakfast.
Penistone West has been put into Colne Valley in West Yorkshire. Penistone East goes into a Sheffield seat stretching down to the Derbyshire Dales. The two Dearne wards are split up, with one going into a Doncaster seat.
Barnsley East will take in parts of Wakefield and the two Hoyland wards go into a largely Rotherham seat.
To make matters worse, the new boundaries have been drawn up based on how many people were on the electoral roll last December – not how many are on today.
That means up to two million people who registered earlier this year so they could vote in the EU referendum have been ignored. The new boundaries don’t reflect the actual number of voters living there.
These plans were David Cameron’s idea before he decided to leg it.
He said cutting MPs would save money. Yet, at the same time, he has packed more of his unelected cronies into the House of Lords. So in fact we’re spending more money on more politicians – except peers don’t have to serve a local constituency and they are completely unaccountable.
And surprise, surprise, these boundary changes disproportionately take seats off Labour and, overall, benefit the Tories. So, it also looks like a gigantic gerrymander.
These changes are bad for our democracy and bad for Barnsley. People certainly do have more important things to worry about. But the ability of MPs to represent people and to focus on the things that do matter to them is under threat.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30 September 2016: Compared to so many other issues, the Boundary Commission’s proposals to alter parliamentary constituencies probably seem like the...