The issue of Russia’s attempt to murder two of its own citizens on British soil was a main feature this week in Parliament.
The House listened carefully to the PM’s Statement and lets be clear it was an outrageous act, whereby a foreign power attempted to murder two people in another sovereign nation. This matters as it shows firstly that Russia (Putin) believe they can act with impunity inside the jurisdiction of another country and simply ignore the international rule of law which has, broadly, been the glue holding us all together for the last 70 years. Secondly they’re sending a clear message to any Russian dissident around the world that wherever you live - we will come and get you. This is very dangerous and a direct threat to stable governance. Theresa May made a powerful statement condemning the attack and listed a number of steps the government will be taking in response. We’ll have to wait and see just how effective they are. Meanwhile, to be frank, Jeremy Corbyn had a bad session and the glum silence of his own backbenchers as he spoke was clear to all of us in the Chamber. Ken Clarke made the salient point, which I’ve already flagged, that these attacks were “a deliberate choice by the Russian government to put their signature on a killing so that other defectors are left in no doubt that it is the Russian government that will act if they’re disappointed in any way by their actions.” Chilling, and why I and others believe we must respond as forcefully as we practically can as well as secure public and actionable support from our allies. Which may prove a challenge with Trump, who appears to be somewhat reticent of ever criticising President Putin directly, but we’ll wait and see. Another important point is a number of MPs name-checked certain Russian oligarchs who live in London and are known to be close to Putin. One apparently is the Russian Deputy PM Igor Shuvalov who, bizarrely, owns a £14m flat overlooking the Ministry of Defence just up the road from Parliament. Ironically, these Russian billionaires love buying properties in London because they appreciate we live by the rule of law and contract. Something they are choosing to ignore when it suits them. In Parliament it was proposed our government make more use of its legal powers under ‘unexplained wealth orders’ to sequestrate their assets. Essentially hitting them where it hurts, in the wallet. One of the few areas we could actually make a dent in their, apparent, utter contempt of international law.
On a happier note this week, I attended a major awards event in London to applaud a fine young man from Eastbourne. Josh Babarinde, who I’ve known for a long time. Educated at Stafford, Cavendish, then Park College at Sussex Downs and off to the LSE, Josh was always someone to watch. Soon after leaving university he set up a social enterprise company called ‘Cracked-It’ in London. It’s purpose is to train young people who had been involved in drugs, crime and gangs. A lifestyle that is beyond grim and obviously doesn’t offer much of a secure future, Cracked-It, teaches these young men how to fix broken mobile phones along with all the necessary skills and kit, and then sets them up to do so for a living. The results have been extraordinary. More than 100 youngsters have already been through the six month process and the overwhelming majority remain employed or are in further training. I was absolutely delighted it won the award for best social enterprise endeavour from across the UK. Well done Josh. You’re a credit to our town and your lovely parents. Keep doing what you are doing. As the Talmud says; if you want to save the world you save one life at a time.
Last weekend I was up in Southport for the Lib Dem Spring Conference. An excellent event with over 1,500 people from across the UK attending. As the party’s spokesman on the DWP I had a very busy couple of days speaking on various issues at a number of events. With the governments benefits freeze, their savage cuts since 2015 to the Work Allowance element of Universal Credit and the rest, it’s a busy brief! It was good though to meet so many of our new members. And what a wonderfully fired-up bunch they are. With more than 100,000 party members now, the media keep saying we’ve overtaken the Conservatives, albeit as they flatly refuse to publicly admit how many they have we can’t be sure. Our numbers though are dwarfed by the extraordinary surge in Labour membership which the aforementioned Jeremy Corbyn has overseen, well over half a million, making Labour the largest political party membership in Europe by a long stretch. I also got a nice surprise when a young lass came up to say hello and tell me that she was a resident of Eastbourne, studying at Aberystwyth University. She was attending Conference as one of the uni’s young liberal group. Nice to meet you Katie (Regan) and hope you enjoyed the weekend. I go all the way to Southport and bump into a neighbour whose family lives just up the road from me in Old Town! It really is a small world.
That’s all folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to you around town.