I struggle to imagine how the confusion and toxic atmosphere of Westminster could get any worse but this week it surpassed itself. After losing the vote on the Withdrawal Bill a second time, Theresa May tabled a motion to allow MPs to indicate whether they would be prepared to leave the EU without a deal.
It was initially trumpeted as a free vote but amid truly chaotic scenes the government suddenly whipped its own MPs to vote against. In the process four cabinet ministers abstained along with a further eight second tier ministers, and we’re told that none will be sacked. This despite going against their own government’s instructions. Unheard of in the entire annals of British political history. The immediate next step normally after such a shambles, would be for a PM to call a general election. And despite the fixed-term Parliament Act I suspect it would get through the House but, and here’s the rub, who on earth would lead the Conservative team into an election? I cannot see her MPs allowing Theresa May to do it a second time. I also wouldn’t envy those given the job to write the manifesto as the Tories in Westminster are completely split over Brexit. Perhaps they could do two versions? It must though be a tad frustrating for the PM because despite her own party’s chronic travails, they remain ten points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the opinion polls.
The reality of it is something’s going to have to give very soon. She either tries a third time to secure her Withdrawal Bill and, against the odds it passes, we crash out of the EU without a deal or Parliament takes the Brexit reins away from the government. The latter would be unprecedented of course but so much is at the minute. Meanwhile I kept my promise to Eastbourne and voted for the Withdrawal Bill and against a No Deal outcome. The readers of the Herald well know that if I give you my word, I keep it.
I also spoke in two other debates this week. Firstly on trying to secure ring-fenced funding for further education teachers. Shockingly over the last few years many at our own college and others across the country, have seen their incomes drop by upwards of 20 per cent less compared to school teachers. This is simply wrong and it will obviously lead, ultimately, to a decline in standards for those studying A levels and vocational subjects. I quizzed the minister and they’ve agreed to see me to follow up my concerns. The other issue was on legal aid. I am sure you can detect my lack of respect at how this government is running the Brexit process, but what they have done in the Justice Department over the last few years is also nothing short of scandalous. A recent proposal is to cut all legal aid for criminal applications in the Magistrates Courts, effectively removing fair access to our justice system from an entire tier of the law. They’re still in consultation over the proposal, so I made my objections clear in Parliament.
Congress Theatre opening soon: locally things are going from strength to strength. I paid a site visit recently with Cllr David Tutt to see the finishing building works taking place at the Congress Theatre and a lot was going on! The site manager told us they had 270 plus people working that very day. The theatre/conference complex formally opens with a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra on March 24, so they’ve a deadline to meet. The new Welcome Building was also beginning to look fantastic. I can see it becoming a leading conference venue across the whole of the south coast. Along with the beautifully rebuilt Congress we’re going to attract a lot of new business to Eastbourne, I am sure of it. It has been a huge task and alongside the total refurbishment of the Beacon it’s also been a long haul for all of us. Bit like living on a building site for the last couple of years.
However we are so nearly there and Eastbourne is going to look absolutely stunning this summer. And in the current economic and retail climate where so many other seaside towns are, sadly, facing a difficult future Eastbourne, because of all the efforts of so many people over the last seven or eight years is set to prosper. Why? Because we had a plan for the future, your future, and we all worked together to make it happen.
As I walked around the still teeming building works I felt real pride at what has been achieved despite, at times, formidable barriers. Thank you for your patience, and thank you to all those of you who have worked so hard to ensure our lovely Eastbourne has a prosperous future.
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.