AFTER four general elections within nine years, many will breathe a sigh of relief that the parliamentary ballot boxes look set to gather dust in a cupboard for four years or more.
While the politician in me is always hungry for the next chance to try to win a Labour government, the parliamentarian in me acknowledges that a period of presumed respite from national elections at least gives the opportunity to progress some really important issues through parliament.
There are many ways to do that, even if you’re not in the governing party. MPs can submit written parliamentary questions every day. I tend to pop in several a month on the state of our rail network!
MPs can also apply for adjournment debates which occur after the main business of the house has finished, often late at night, but a minister has to stay and respond.
I brought one forward on access to disabled toilet facilities after a local resident had a bad experience, and have contributed to adjournment debates on the Mottram/Tintwistle bypass, universal credit, and the extension of Metrolink (I’m keen to bring it to Stalybridge), to name a few examples.
Backbench MPs can also try to secure 10 minute rule bills, which make the case for new legalisation, but – you guessed it – you only get 10 minutes to make the case.
When I was a backbencher I brought forward 10 minute rule bills on co-operative housing and electoral reform. Neither made it to the statute books unfortunately but I was undeterred.
Westminster Hall debates are another avenue for ensuring a government minister hears you out.
This week I spoke in one on national productivity, making the case for infrastructure investment in the north.
All Party Parliamentary Groups are another great way to push important issues up the political agenda. They dissolve at general elections, so I’ve spent much of January in meetings to reconvene the groups on relevant issues to the constituency.
These include the groups on manufacturing, which remains a significant industry here; the group on autism (this has long been close to my heart, with greater understanding and resource still needed); the one on ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), which affects several local residents, with quicker diagnosis and improved support necessary.
The group on hormone pregnancy testing, issued by GPs in 1960s and 1970s, after which some courageous constituents now seek justice for potentially related disabilities their babies were born with; the group on financial education for young people, which I’ve done a great deal of work on as shadow economic secretary and the group on infant feeding, an issue which Tameside HomeStart and NCT do a good job of highlighting.
Perhaps highest up my agenda is the group on leasehold reform. Regular readers of the Correspondent will know that going to war on rip off leasehold practices is a major constituency priority for me, with some truly shocking local examples coming forward, like homeowners of flats in Hattersley being quoted £32,000 just to paint the hallways of their flats. I stood up in parliament and said I’d expect them to be painted in gold for that much.
This month I also met housing minster Esther McVey, MP, to ask what this Government is actually going to do on leaseholds. There are three things we need, a ban on selling new leaseholds; a straightforward formula giving everyone with an existing leasehold a transparent price to buy it and for people in flats with communal leaseholds, fair charges for the delivery of maintenance services.
The minister said she accepted these changes and will bring forward legislation. This is excellent news and a real victory for our campaign. She could not give a timescale at this stage however, so we need to keep making noise until the law is changed.
I will keep using the groups and every other method at my disposal to keep up the pressure!