A letter to my MP on cuts to the ESA

This week the government forced through a cut to the Employment and Support Allowance – what used to be incapacity benefit – and overuled objection in the Lords by claiming ‘financial privilege.’ Members of the upper house had expressed concern and were seeking an impact assessment but this is now forced through as yet another step on the Conservative government’s path to dismantling the welfare state and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. Read More »

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A letter to my MP on the UK Steel Industry

The recently announced job losses in the UK steel industry are a disgrace, While our chancellor is courting China, seeking investment in HS2 and encouraging their companies to bid for infrastructure contracts in the UK, the steel industry in this country is going to the wall. Cheap chinese steel is “dumped” in this country and thousands of jobs are being lost yet our government is turning a blind eye to it. What can we do? Like with the tax credits cuts I believe that one answer is to let your MP know how you feel. A ground swell of dissent might bring it home to MPs that many in this country are not happy and that THEIR JOBS might be at risk.

Here’s my letter to my MP, sent via writetothem.com

Please take a minute and do the same.

——

Dear Mel Stride,

a couple of weeks ago (30th September to be precise) I wrote to you regarding our government investing £3m into grassroots Chinese football and you kindly replied that you were making enquiries on my behalf with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

However since then there have been the announcements that several steel plants will be closed, downsized or mothballed with the loss of thousands of jobs, including at the Tata Scunthorpe works which is not too far from my place of birth Cleethorpes.

While my original letter outlined my worries for Torquay United and also other lower league teams, I also mentioned that I was concerned that we as a country were throwing contracts to Chinese firms rather than British or even European companies. As you know, our steel industry is suffering due to the strength of the pound and British based firms are undercut by Chinese and even German firms who can be more competitive due to support form their governments or in the case of the Chinese, lower labour costs and less restrictions on due to poorer workers’ rights.

I understand that we might need to court China as the world’s 2nd largest economy but I am struggling to understand the sense in offering them what would seem like sweeteners while our own industry needs support and we could be servicing our need for materials such as steel nearer to home. Should we be wining and dining the Chinese president right now or should we be looking to support our industry?

Right now the recently announced job losses account for approximately one sixth of the steel industry workforce but is this just the start?

I therefore ask you and your ministerial colleagues:

Is it out of the question to support the UK steel industry? Surely we will need steel for HS2, power stations and other projects as well as day-to-day construction.

Does the government perhaps have a plan to provide jobs for those workers informed this week that they are to be out of work? The affected areas do not seem to be particularly blessed in terms of alternative employment.

Given the recent cuts to tax credits and other benefits, how are the affected families expected to provide for themselves?

Does this situation not make a mockery of the much heralded ‘Northern Powerhouse’?

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A letter to my MP on Torquay United and UK investment into Chinese football

If you’ve been following my blogs recently you will have seen a couple of pieces on the fortunes of Torquay United:

The decline of Torquay United – a cautionary tale

Torquay United part deux – support your local team

I also wrote about it in my regular diary for independent Grimsby Town site Codalmighty:

It’s but a dalliance, nothing long-term – 24 September 2015

Yep, I’m a Grimsby fan (it’s a birth thing) but I feel the plight of Torquay and other small, lower league clubs is something we should be concerned about as if they are lost then a key part of a community is lost.

When I saw that our chancellor, George Osborne was investing £3m into grassroots football in China, the world’s 2nd largest economy I had to take a deep breath. Yes, I understand that palms need greasing in order to attract investment but to label it as for ‘grassroots football’ and to say that it might bring more money into the UK football sector shows a lack of understanding of that ‘football sector.’ In all but the Premier League, perhaps the Championship and some of the Scottish Premiership times are quite tight.

So, like with all things I get a little tetchy about I wrote to my MP and I encourage you to do the same. About anything. Drop them a line, be polite and ask them what they’re doing about it.

Letter as follows:

Dear Mel Stride,

Recently I have been concerned to see my local football team Torquay United struggling financially.

Now finding themselves in the Vanarama National League (the Conference) with gates down substantially on the seasons before they were relegated from League 2 there is a possibility that the club might not be able to fulfil its fixtures this season. I, like many fans (and not just of Torquay) fear they might be forced into administration and if that happens then there is a good chance that a club with over one hundred years of history might cease to be. Obviously this would be a bad
thing, for the local community and the people of wider Torbay but also their neighbouring teams in Exeter and Plymouth who benefit from local rivalries. The loss of a team mid-season would also affect teams around the country who would lose gate receipts if fixtures are not played.

Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you as an MP and indeed Torquay United is not even in your constituency, instead it sits in your colleague Kevin’s Foster’s Torbay patch. Why would the government be interested in bailing out a football club which to all intents and purposes operates as a business? Businesses might go bust every week.

The reason I am writing is that I saw just recently that the chancellor is offering £3m to China in order to grow grassroots football, and “increase awareness of the thriving football sector in the UK,” (according to gov.uk) but I question whether this is really needed given that:

  1. China is the world’s second largest economy and still growing rapidly;
  2. Raising awareness of Premier League club’s through the promotion of the British Council’s Premier Skills product does little for the football sector in the UK other than potentially bringing a little more money to a league which is awash with it;
  3. Any keen football fan in China will already be more than aware of the Premier League and while not the largest market for the PL it will undoubtedly grow to match that in other Asian countries when it is renegotiated at the end of the current deal.

I understand fully that there are sweeteners and deals required in order to pave the way for Chinese investment in UK infrastructure as well as encouraging Chinese firms to bid for contracts in our new power station and HS2 projects although I would prefer to see UK or European firms given preference rather than money and profit leave the UK and maybe taxes not be paid due to some offshore status but that is another matter!

One might argue that it is market forces which define whether a club survives, that if the fans and the community want it then they will turn up on a Saturday in sufficient numbers but I believe that the spread of money within the league structure is disproportionate and this plus aggressive positioning of the PL product by Sky and now BT Sport has left us with the smaller clubs and lower leagues unable to compete. Is it a monopoly? Maybe so.

Torquay’s plight is good example of the absurd nature of Premier League vs lower league fortunes. By my reckoning their current shortfall at the turnstile equates to something in the order of £75k over the season but a top PL player, let’s say Wayne Rooney, can earn £300k in a week. In simple terms less than two days of Mr Rooney’s pay would keep Torquay United afloat.

In real terms, in modern footballing terms, £75k does not seem like a huge amount of money but if a board does not have money to invest, new investment cannot be found and cost cutting measures cannot be implemented quickly enough it might as well be a million pounds. And that is why I am writing to you, my MP about the plight of a local football team. The government is investing money into grassroots football in China when that money invested in grassroots football at home would possibly secure the short term futures of a number of clubs, maybe even every club with troubles in the Vanarama Conference and League 2. These clubs might not be tempting to overseas investors but they are crucial to their communities, to their employees and also clubs around them and that is why I believe the investment is misplaced.

I don’t know if you are a football fan or even a fan of any sport but I hope you can see that this might be more than just a sporting issue and rather a community issue and therefore something which might be considered. If there is another cabinet or committee member more appropriate, please forward this to them.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Benefits System

Dear Mel Stride,

Just a quick note to say that as a constituent and citizen I am shocked
and disappointed that the way the chancellor has proposed to implement
cuts to the benefits system.

I pay tax and have paid tax for many years and am more than happy to do
so. I believe that a society has a duty to support those in need but I
strongly resent changes to taxation which benefit those who are wealthy
enough to not need additional help whilst those at the lower end of the
pay spectrum bear the brunt. The assertion that “we are all in it
together” and that we must all contribute in order to reduce the
deficit rings a little hollow while cuts to the incomes of working
families seem to offset changes to inheritance tax and the higher rate
of tax.

Surely the way to implement this would be in a way which supports
rather than penalises families and workers – to drive changes to
employment and to raise the minimum wage to the point where as much
employment as possible pays a true living wage? As wages rise then the
demand on the benefits system would surely decrease as families would
need and claim less but instead we seem to be making cuts based on an
ideology and rhetoric rather than supporting those worst affected.

The token announcement of a living wage to be in place by 2020 but cuts
and changes being in place long before seems like a token offering to
soften the blow but one which few are falling for.

I know many people see those depending on the benefits as “scroungers”
and that it is a lifestyle choice, a life of “something for nothing”
while the rest of us work to support them but I believe that view is as
outdated as it is incorrect. The austerity of the last 5 years and
further measures coming our way despite warning by organisations such
as the IMF, has left many struggling to get by. I find myself donating
more to charity than ever before but to charities nearer to home, to
organisations plugging the gaps such as foodbanks rather than animal
welfare. The fact that we as a wealthy nation have so many living in
poverty, including children (and changing the way we classify poverty
does not change a thing!)  is surely a disgrace. We should be ashamed
and like with many things rise above party politics and aim for a
stronger, more inclusive society.

I know that you cannot influence this directly of course nor are there
are votes or debates imminent where this might be discussed but as per
previous correspondence if I do not write then my voice won’t be heard.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Hunting Act

There is a lot in the news right now about changes to the 2004 Hunting Act, specifically to allow hunters to use a full pack of hounds to flush out foxes for the purposes of pest control. Currently only a pair of dogs may be used.

Dr Brian May and many others are campaigning tirelessly on this as many, myself included see this as a way of returning to full hunting with dogs. A cynic might also think that this is a change being pushed through by a Conservative party looking to appease landowners, donors, friends and countryside voters still aggrieved since the act became law 10 years ago.

If the government wants to repeal the act then propose to do it in full rather than weaken and dilute it and then debate it and vote freely!

I’ve written to my MP to let him know my feelings, as below. Take the time to do the same if you feel strongly about it or they will never know what you think.

Dear Mel Stride,

I hope this finds you well. I am writing to you regarding the forthcoming vote on changes to the hunting act. As I understand it the amendment is to bring us in line with Scotland where a full pack of hounds can be used to flush out a fox before shooting it rather than a pair currently.

I agree with many campaigners that this will lead to a return to full hunting rather than aiding pest control; that hunts will quickly be able to return to the old ways of full, traditional meets chasing down a fox rather than a scent trail.

The argument seems to be framed as “the countryside” vs. “lefty” animal rights campaigners, that those in towns don’t understand the need to manage the countryside and its wildlife and that can often lead to it being a left vs. right argument or Labour vs. Conservative which i think is wrong and also a shame that either side might look to simplify it so.

As I remember, the vote on the hunting act in 2004 was complicated and the culmination of many years of proposals but now it is law I believe it would be a backward step to ease the law and potentially allow full hunting to resume.

I understand the need to control certain species but believe that this can be done humanely, with no element of “sport” and without a sense of enjoyment in the hunting to exhaustion and killing of a terrified animal with a pack of dogs. I also do not believe that any of the previous arguments about tradition, a country way of life or the economic impact of not hunting can apply any longer given that it is now 10 years since the act became law.

I obviously don’t know your thoughts on this, you were not an MP at the time of the original vote, but I do know that you like to know and will bear in mind your constituents feelings when voting or discussing with the Whips office.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

My thoughts on my MEPs

I wrote a letter to my MEPs recently as I was concerned that as we approach a referendum our position in Europe was seen largely from a negative viewpoint, a drain on resources and something that the main parties used to score political points off each other.

I noted (in a comment) that I have 6 MEPs representing me in the South West:

Ashley Fox (Conservative)
Clare Moody (Labour)
William (The Earl of) Dartmouth (UKIP)
Julie Girling (Conservative)
Julia Reid (UKIP)
Molly Scott Cato (Green)

I also wrote to my MP, Mel Stride on the subject.

Since those letters I have received replies from Fox, Moody, Girling and Scott Cato as well as Mel Stride but I see the lack of response from either UKIP MEP as quite frankly disappointing. Whether or not one believes it’s hypocritical to stand as an MEP on an anti-EU ticket, surely if they are taking the salary and expenses they should fulfill their responsibilities and engage and represent their constituents.

To take a the salary and to not attend, to disparage, to undermine while smirking and passing it off as a political statement is dishonest and quite honestly I see them as taking money under false pretenses. UKIP MEP’s salaries are the biggest waste of EU money by far.

William (The Earl of) Dartmouth and Julia Reid, pull your bloody fingers out, do your jobs or stand down.

A letter to my MP on the EU Referendum

I wrote to MEPs yesterday about their roles and the upcoming referendum on EU membership. I also dropped a line on teh subject to my MP, Mel Stride (Conservative, Central Devon). Yer ’tis!

—-

Dear Mel Stride,

Thanks again for your recent reply to my question on you balancing party interests with those of your constituents. I hope that this email finds you well and you are back in the swing of things following the election.

During the election campaign, our membership of the EU was used as something of a political football and simplified to some extent into something which would polarize opinion and win votes. The Labour party, Greens, SNP, Lib Dems and Conservatives all seemed broadly in favour of membership with only UKIP taking their traditional “black & white” anti-Europe stance. The Conservatives had their commitment to a referendum in 2017 following some renegotiation of the terms of our membership and I believe that this was over-egged a little (perhaps understandably) in order to win back Euro-skeptics who had been swayed by UKIP but on the whole it seemed quite pro-Europe.

Since the election though I can’t help but think the government’s line has moved a little further away from Europe and even the Labour party has seemed a little less firm than previously. I believe that governments role is to present complex issues such as EU membership in such a way that the electorate can see past the simplistic view of money going to the EU or European citizens entering the UK to work here and better understand the bigger picture and the benefits that membership brings.

While we are still a couple of years away from a referendum, I worry that a consistently negative message will take hold and will be hard to replace with more positive feelings in the run up to a vote on the matter. Mr Cameron’s strong message in Riga might “stick” more than an explanation of how money also flows back to the UK for example. That might be a problem when he needs to “frame” the membership question for the electorate. Perhaps I am worrying too much and two years is a long time in politics but I strongly believe that EU membership is a good thing for the UK and will be good for my children too!

Perhaps the mainstream parties are gearing up to this but in the meantime I thought it best to drop you a line to let you know how I as a voter feel. I have also written to my MEPs on the subject asking about their roles and also what they do to report back to the electorate what they do for us. How many of us know we have 6 SW MEPs let alone who they are and what they do?!

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

Letter to My MP, Monday 18th May 2015 – How do you balance your party’s interests with those of your constituents?

Dear Mel Stride,

firstly congratulations on your being re-elected for another term.

After listening to your answers at a couple of the hustings events in the lead up to the election I have a question which is this;

“How do you as an MP balance representing your constituents with your role as a party whip?”

For example, if your government proposes a rise in the rate of VAT. You stated at a hustings that you are strongly against a rise in this parliament but if such a rise was proposed and your role as a whip is to ensure government support, how would you resolve such a conflict? (Presuming it wasn’t a free vote)

No real reason for choosing VAT, other than it stuck in my mind. I guess in a way it is really a question as to how any MP balances party loyalties with what might actually be best for their constituents.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills