Much has changed since my last column in mid-September, when I raised concerns about the direction of the government’s Brexit strategy. Since then, it has become painfully clear that Theresa May wants to shut down all debate about the challenges that the UK faces as it withdraws from the EU, even though this process will affect us all.
I sincerely hope that the government will do all it can to ensure that Nissan decides to build the next Qashqai in Sunderland. But as I said in Parliament this week, we need much greater clarity from ministers about how they will support small and medium sized businesses in our region, especially in the supply chain. What of the wider manufacturing sector in the North East? How will government safeguard their interests and protect jobs? We urgently need answers.
As if Brexit uncertainty was not worrying enough, it is increasingly apparent that Mrs May believes her unopposed anointment during the summer equates to a blank cheque to implement whatever policies she likes. There is strong opposition from Labour and Conservative MPs alike to her plans to reintroduce grammar schools and to withdraw Britain from the single market without Parliamentary scrutiny.
Although I am deeply concerned about the cynical and divisive direction of the Prime Minister’s policy agenda, I know that no one in the North East will be fooled by her claims that she is standing up for the many and not the few or swallow her hollow words on ‘good government’. After all, her party has inflicted six years of punishing austerity on the most vulnerable people in our region and across the county. As a result, millions of hardworking families have seen their incomes stagnate, the cost of living rise, opportunities for career advancement disappear, and any hope of getting on the housing ladder vanish.
Theresa May cannot simply wash her hands of her record in a government that slashed taxes for the wealthy while imposing swingeing cuts on public services, waved through a sweetheart tax deal with Google while freezing public sector pay, and abandoned every single deficit-reduction target while claiming economic credibility.
Whenever she attempts to claim that she has the interests of working people at heart, Labour will not let voters forget who is really responsible for tearing Britain’s working communities apart.
This article was originally published by the Sunderland Echo on 27 October 2016. You can read the online version here.