At the beginning of each week it is always encouraging to acknowledge the good things that have happened in the last few days or to set out some opportunities for positive responses over the next few days. Last week several positive items occurred that could be extended into this coming week and beyond. One was a very unique aspect and it could not be easily repeated but it did help to set out some ideas which could be adapted by other people with similar backgrounds. On Thursday night on Radio 4 the Mark Steel’s in Town programme was the first of the programmes he has recorded since COVID-19 and so it was recorded outdoors on or near the Brighton beach and one of the people he spoke with was Caroline Lucas. Clearly not everyone would choose to listen to such a programme, but the opportunity to hear from my MP on subjects and in a context that was a bit out of the ordinary was something I enjoyed. Perhaps in this time when many of our MPs have been unable to speak out in Parliament or to attend public events, as frequently as was possible before COVID-19, that they could look for other ways to communicate with us as Caroline did last week.
Another matter that arose last Thursday has a link to all of our Sussex MPs and to all of our communities. It raises some questions that ideally could be answered over the next few days if any of our Sussex MPs are willing to respond to it. An email arrived at 4am on Thursday morning written by the Department for Education that reproduced a statement that they published late on the previous day to a petition that I and over a million people signed up for. The petition was a call for food provision for the children who are in families that are currently on very low incomes. Sadly the petition which began a couple of weeks before the last half term break and a week before a debate and vote in Parliament for Free School Meals for such children did not persuade the Government and most of the Conservative MPs to agree to provide food during that break. As many of us have been informed, a discussion took place between the Prime Minister and Marcus Rashford who set up the petition, on Sunday 8th November. The conversation led Johnson to agree to take the publicly supported request on board for the future and the email that arrived last Thursday was one of the steps in that direction. However given how Sussex MPs voted on 21st October and given that the provision did not occur during that half term break, it seems to me that we now need to know what the current view of Sussex MPs are?
All of the Sussex Conservative MPs apart from Caroline Ansell and Tim Loughton voted alongside Boris Johnson to prevent the food provision for low income families in the half term to come from the Government. Given that he has now changed his mind following one conversation and has persuaded the Education Department which involves Nick Gibb and Gillian Keegan from Littlehampton and Chichester constituencies to write the email one imagines that they are both supportive of the text. It states
“We thank Marcus Rashford for highlighting the challenges facing families. On 8th November, the Government announced a comprehensive support package to help families through winter and beyond. Government have announced a comprehensive package of support to help families through the winter months, and beyond”
It is very understandable how people and even organisations such as Governments make mistakes. Clearly as individuals we often make mistakes, partly because our decisions are not in a position to be checked by anyone else and thankfully in most cases our mistakes do not become very widely observed by other people. Sadly when people are in a context where other people get very critical after spotting problems, we can feel embarrassed and in some cases try to claim we did not make an error. The reality is that the sooner our mistakes are acknowledged and we demonstrate our recognition, the more effective we can appear to be for the future. Whilst this subject has now begun to be addressed, many other problems will arise in Parliament over the next few days, let alone into the next four years of Parliament. The sooner that local MPs acknowledge their mistakes, the better their prospects for gaining trust from people they have acted badly towards. No doubt the resignation by Caroline Ansell was a hard decision for her to make to avoid a significant mistake, sadly she was the only Sussex Conservative MP who voted to support food provision for the poor families that will now benefit.