Derbyshire County Council elections
Locally, the biggest story of the year was our winning back Derbyshire County Council with a spectacular
result that put Anne Western in as Council Leader and Kevin Gillott as Deputy in Matlock. It is testament to
their campaigning zeal and efforts that we achieved one of the best results in the country.
HS2 and Chesterfield canal
This is another cause that I am continuing with. HS2 destroys most of Renishaw and large swathes of Killamarsh.
It stops dead the Chesterfield canal project which, in terms of our local economy, really does regenerate, bring
jobs and money. The national economic arguments used by the government for HS2 will not benefit people in
North East Derbyshire but rather the project will create a double disadvantage by having to pay the tax for it
(£42bn and rising) and with the impact on people’s homes.
We are still fighting for decent bus services in the north of the constituency, especially Apperknowle. But we had
a great victory on the 253 service when, using a survey and letter-writing campaign in concert with the hard work
of local councillors, especially Brian Ridgway and Michael Gordon, the new Labour County Council transport portfolio
holder ensured that the service was saved. Thank you to Andy Botham.
Another success for now has been stopping the opencasting at Hilltop on the A61 by Tupton going in to Clay Cross.
Particular thanks are due to Brian Wright who has led the campaign and worked closely with the Hilltop Action Group.
Fire station closures
The most recent campaigns have been around Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service’s consultation on fire station
closures. All fire stations are affected but Dronfield is particularly hard hit losing the best-performing fire station in the
whole county in the most populated part of the constituency. I am working closely with Graham Baxter on this issue.
We are fighting with everything to make sure that this goes no further than consultation. Details of how to take part in
the campaign, sign petitions and write letters can be found on my website.
Backbench Business Committee
I have continued to chair the Backbench Business Committee in Parliament which schedules backbench debates about one
day a week. We have continued to select debates which have proved awkward for the Government and have often forced
them to change or drop their policies. Most notably, we tabled a motion to tell the Prime Minister to return to Parliament
and vote before taking any military action in Syria. This meant that in the summer recess, rather than being able to call
air strikes, Cameron had to recall Parliament. In a devastating blow to him Labour defeated him and as a result we did
not go to war in Syria. This also had the effect of stopping America from bombing and as a consequence, we have now
seen independent monitors stripping Assad of his chemical weapons facilities. But without the Backbench Business
Committee, the original vote to force the Prime Minister to return to Parliament would not have happened. We also
scheduled an important debate on deaf children. This was part of a national campaign including an e-petition that reached
100,000 signatures and is particularly close my heart as I used to write subtitles for deaf and hearing-impaired people and
learned sign language to find out better what it was that deaf adults and children needed when they were watching
television with subtitles.
After campaigning for a change in legislation covering Park Home sites for the last eight years, we finally saw the
introduction of the new Mobile Homes Act which gives people who live in park homes greater protection from
unscrupulous site owners. We are still fighting for more changes but this has been a significant victory for us which
was helped by a very vocal group of park home residents in North East Derbyshire. Congratulations to them.
It was also the year when the Tory-led coalition Government decided to have a badger cull. This one issue raised
more correspondence from constituents than any other. We have also seen the results of the cull. It has been a
disaster seeing the random slaughter of many perfectly healthy animals. North East Derbyshire is, of course, very
rural and there are many farmers concerned for their livelihoods because of the threat of TB to their cattle. But even
they would have their doubts about this mindless policy.
I have continued to work with UCATT and the GMB to expose the horrors of blacklisting. We are now calling for a full
inquiry into blacklisting as many people who are on blacklists do not even know they are. It has ruined so many lives,
is illegal and must be exposed.
Interest Rate Swaps
After several constituents came to see me about their businesses being affected by being mis-sold Interest Rate Swaps,
I have taken up the campaign in Westminster. I have worked closely with the All-Party Group on Interest Rate Swaps and
will be taking a delegation to meet the Minister about it in the next few weeks. This is an issue which neither the banks,
the Treasury nor the FCA are taking responsibility for while thousands of viable businesses are going to the wall because
they have been mis-sold these financial products.
Work and Welfare
I have continued to campaign on work and welfare issues which have always been my greatest interest in Parliament.
The contract that the Department for Work and Pensions has with ATOS to carry out its Work Capability Assessments is
actively encouraging ATOS to find people “fit for work” when they are clearly not. They say that if someone is found fit for
work and isn’t, then they can appeal the decision. There are so many appeals that it takes months (and up to a whole year
in some cases) to have the appeals heard. Meanwhile, people who are not fit for work are forced to sign on at Jobcentres
which they are often too ill to get to and as a result are sanctioned. We even have the tragic examples of people found
"fit for work" who are dying while waiting for their appeals. People are being forced into abject poverty, into foodbanks and
then into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks.
TEDx talk: Democracy and the Tea Towel Test
In the summer Parliament held its own TEDx talk event in Westminster and invited me to do a talk. I spoke about political
engagement and the dangers of a widening rift between politicians and the people who elect them. You can see the talk
by visiting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGlhwvjYhig
This year I also chaired an All Party Group that looked into electoral conduct and found shocking evidence of third-party
campaigns that used racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism as tools to defeat opponents in elections. We made
several recommendations about how to make improvements to ensure that good candidates are not put off putting
themselves forward for election. The report can be found at:
UK Youth Parliament and Votes at 16
I have continued to campaign on lowering the voting age to 16. The announcements that 16 and 17 year olds will be able
to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum as well as Labour’s support for the issue, is bringing success ever closer.
Once again this year, I wound up the session when the UK Youth Parliament held its annual sitting in the Chamber.
I continue to support the campaign for a referendum to be held on our continued membership of the EU. I have joined the
newly-founded Labour for Referendum and vote in favour of a referendum whenever I can. I did not support the Tories’
Private Members Bill to have a referendum in 2017, however. This is quite clearly a gimmick to get them through the election
without losing too many voters to UKIP. All being well, the Tories will not be there in 2017 and it’s so far off that it really
does create uncertainty. I think we should have a referendum as soon as possible and get the issue over and done with.
These are just a few of the highlights from the past year but if anyone would like any more information on any of the
above or on anything I have not mentioned, please get in touch. If you have not received my e-bulletin but would like to
please email me at the address below.
01246 439018 (Eckington)
020 72191015 (Westminster)
House of Commons London SW1A 0AA