All parliamentary candidates receive a large number of emails asking their views on a huge range of topics. Most of these are automatically generated through online petitions. In such a short campaign, I’m afraid I don’t have time to reply individually to each one, so you can find below my responses to the subjects I’ve received the most emails about from constituents (rather than emails from campaign groups and lobbyists).
Schools funding. I understand the concern about the proposed funding formula and the changes it would have made to Hackney’s schools: as a primary school governor in Hackney I’ve seen the numbers first-hand. However, these were only ever a proposal – and the Conservatives have listened to the concerns which were raised. Our manifesto very clearly states that “we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula. We will increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022, representing more than a real terms increase for every year of the parliament. We will continue to protect the Pupil Premium to support those who need it.”
Homelessness. We have committed to implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which was brought in by London Conservative MP Bob Blackman and which helps to stop people becoming homeless and strengthens the safety net for those at risk. Our manifesto also commits to “halve rough sleeping over the course of the parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027. To achieve this we will set up a new homelessness reduction taskforce that will focus on prevention and affordable housing, and we will pilot a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping.” The Conservatives have invested £500 million since 2010 to prevent and relieve homelessness and have protected homelessness prevention funding that goes to local authorities, which will reach £315 million by 2020. I hugely admire the work of charities like the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, which my church supports, and will do what I can to support them if you elect me as your MP.
Social mobility. A number of people have contacted me about Teach First’s Challenge the Impossible campaign. As a Teach First Ambassador, I remain a strong supporter of their work – it was what brought me to Hackney, after all. Our manifesto says that “to help new teachers remain in the profession, we will offer forgiveness on student loan repayments while they are teaching” – which is one of the proposals in the Teach First manifesto. The one thing I would gently take issue (and I've told Teach First) with is the overwhelming focus on university as the best outcome, when vocational or technical training or going straight into work can be a better option for many young people. That’s why I’m pleased to see that our manifesto includes a commitment to improve and streamline technical qualifications into new ‘T levels’, as well as more investment in further education and new institutes of technology.
Voting system. I’m a strong believer in the first past the post system for Parliamentary elections – it means we all know exactly who represents our area and gives us a direct link to the decisions taken in our name. I want to see the voting age remain at 18 – the same legal age for other adult decisions like getting married, smoking and drinking.
Medical campaigns. I have received many emails about supporting research into various medical conditions and diseases, from brain tumours to arthritis to tooth decay. Of course I will do what I can to ensure that our NHS continues to be world leading in its treatment of different diseases. I am particularly committed to supporting research into Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as I have seen first-hand the tragic impact of this terrible condition, and our ageing society means that this is likely to become an even bigger challenge in future.
Animal welfare. As an animal lover (especially of dogs), of course I want to ensure that people who are cruel to animals are appropriately punished for their crimes. The UK has a strong track record on welfare, for example, leading the way on the banning of battery cages for laying hens, sow stalls and veal crates. On top of that, we have banned cosmetic testing, are tackling the international illegal wildlife trade and cracking down on backstreet puppy breeders – our plans will make it completely illegal to sell puppies younger than eight weeks old and require anyone breeding and selling three or more litters of puppies a year to apply for a formal licence. To ensure the highest standards of animal welfare, we will make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory.
We have announced an additional £13 million for tackling the illegal wildlife trade, doubling our investment to £26 million. This investment has seen the British military provide training for anti-poaching rangers in key African states and is enabling UK law enforcement to share their expertise and work with our international partners. We have also set out plans to ban the sale of ivory produced in the last seventy years, making UK rules on trading ivory amongst the toughest in the world. In 2018, we will host a global wildlife conference to drive forward further action in this area.
I don’t think that fox hunting should be a priority for any new government – with Brexit and the current security threats we face, we will have quite enough to be going on with.
EU citizens. I want to see rights guaranteed for EU citizens in Britain and I support the Prime Minister’s decision to negotiate this alongside the right of British citizens to remain in EU member states. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that she wants to come to early agreement on this issue: it is the EU which is dragging its feet.
Refugees. The UK is one of the most generous international donors to supporting refugees from Syria fleeing their terrible civil war and the evil of IS - we are investing an extra £1.2 billion in the region, bringing the total we’re investing to more than £2.3 billion. More than 5,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the UK under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement (VPR) scheme since October 2015. In 2016, a total of more than 8,000 children were granted refuge or other forms of leave. This included more than 900 unaccompanied children from Europe. I believe it is right to focus our support for refugees on those in Jordan and Turkey, for the following three reasons:
1.Supporting people close to home means that we can hopefully deter them from making the dangerous journey across Europe, during which they are at risk from smugglers, slavers and other criminals.
2.It means we can support the neediest – the very young and very old, and the sick or disabled – who are the least able to travel.
3.Most refugees ultimately want to be able to go home and rebuild their countries when the war is over – the closer they remain to home, the easier it will be for them to do that.
I therefore support the Government’s commitment to welcome refugees who apply to come to the UK from Syria, rather than those endangering themselves and others in the north of France. I know that a number of community groups in Hackney, including Hackney Citizens, are already supporting refugees and I hope they will welcome our manifesto commitment to “make sure our councils get the help they need to deal with people as they arrive, and establish schemes to help individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to provide housing and other support for refugees”.
Pledge for Israel. I strongly support the right of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, to exist and oppose the BDS movement. Having visited Israel last year, I am very happy to commit to continuing to strengthen ties between the UK and Israel, including through a trade deal once we leave the EU. The Conservatives will ensure that the international community redoubles its efforts to support a comprehensive peace agreement that delivers an independent Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel.
Equal civil partnerships. It seems odd to me that we have gone from one inequality (where gay people were unable to get married) to another (where straight people cannot have a civil partnership). Supporting the love and commitment between two people should surely be open to everyone in both of the forms currently recognised by the state, so I support the campaign for equal civil partnerships.
Walking. Having worked for the national tourist board and being a keen walker myself, I know how important our natural environment is to our tourism industry and to the health and wellbeing of all who enjoy it. I’m really pleased that, as well as protecting 118,000 miles of public rights of way in England, and developing a plan to get more people walking and cycling, we are investing in the English Coastal Path. The Wales Coastal Path has been a great success in encouraging more visitors to Wales (including me on a holiday to Pembrokeshire last year!) and being able to walk all the way round England’s coast too will be a great innovation.