Thank you for re-electing Paul
18 May 2015
It was certainly a close-run thing, the election, in Newcastle. With the last-minute swing nationally to the Tories, my majority more than halved.
But there were many positives to build on. After much hard work by more volunteers than ever, our vote actually increased on 2010. As a result, Newcastle’s Labour tally is now the biggest of all the twelve constituencies in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
I want to thank everyone who helped, and who voted to re-elect me. It’s a huge privilege to return to Parliament for the fourth time to represent my home town in Newcastle.
I want to congratulate, too, all the councillors who were returned in busy Borough elections at the same time and to extend a warm welcome, in particular, to Ruth Smeeth, who follows in the footsteps of the indomitable Joan Walley for the people of Stoke North.
Once again, North Staffordshire stands as an island of red in a sea of blue in the West Midlands, the fiercest battleground in every election since Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979. I had hoped this time, in Staffordshire, for more of a balance to help contest County Council cuts that have often been more about ideology than Government-forced austerity.
Before 2010, in Staffordshire outside Stoke, there were four Tory MPs to five Labour. Now, it is again eight to one. I hope, however, that my Conservative colleagues will stand with me to make sure our County gets a fair deal from Whitehall, not an unfair burden.
Chief among the challenges is our local NHS. We know from a behind-the-scenes report, which the Government tried to suppress, that – if nothing changes – in three years’ time Staffordshire’s health service will be £200 million in the red.
During the election, David Cameron promised to ‘do what it takes’ for our NHS, plucking an £8 billion figure out of the air. What we need here, as elsewhere, is to unify health and social care and invest to make sure elderly people, in particular, have the support at home not to spend so long in hospital, or queue at an overwhelmed A&E in the first place.
What we can’t afford is the accountants’ prescription – the closure of wards at our Royal Stoke University Hospital, and of Longton and Cheadle hospitals, too – which would just make matters worse.
Education is our future life-blood. What we have managed to do locally in all my 14 years as an MP is maintain pupil places, giving parents the real choice that drives up standards. Newcastle’s brand new college, too, has gone from strength to strength.
The Government’s ‘cash freeze’ for education, though, presents stark challenges for the next five years, on top of the post-16 squeeze already in the pipeline. Politics aside, we should all stand ready to challenge short-sighted cuts, which harm the life chances of young people locally.
Much was bandied about, by all parties in the election, over the need for much more affordable housing. Now we all need to work together, cross-party, to make this a reality.
Not by manifesto gimmicks, like discounted rights to buy, which will just exacerbate the situation. But by putting housing providers - like Aspire in Newcastle - in the position of being able to build more homes on land they already own, such as at Lower Milehouse in my constituency.
That investment will bring jobs and skills, too. On that score, we need to remind Government that we can again be a ‘North Midlands Powerhouse’, as well. On a visit to Stoke shortly after 2010, David Cameron promised us an Enterprise Zone to help, but George Osborne – fixated by Manchester – failed to deliver. All local MPs and our Councils, too, should strive to ensure the Government finally makes good the pledge.
In the short-run, following the election, politics will be dominated by navel-gazing: leadership elections, Scotland and the ‘in-out’ EU referendum. But Britain and an export-orientated economy like ours in North Staffordshire needs to look outwards. A withdrawal from the EU would, as people decided in the 1970s, be bad for jobs, investment and our country’s standing in the world. There’s no time to lose. Together with local businesses, we must advance that argument now.