Sad to hear of the death of my colleague Gerald Kaufman, the longest serving MP in this Parliament. The quantity and breadth of tributes to him have underlined the huge mark he made made in the Labour Party, in the House of Commons and to British politics as a whole.
I got to know Gerald through our shared commitment to the cause of justice for the Palestinians. Gerald was a a proud Jew and a Zionist who passionately believed in the creation of an Israel living in peace with its neighbours and one which embodied the social democratic principles he held dear throughout his life. He would often talk of the conversations he had in the 60s with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Yet those same principles meant Gerald always believed Palestinians have no fewer rights to self-determination than Israelis have. It was those same principles that motivated the anger he felt about how the policies of successive Israeli Governments have systematically prevented those rights being realised.
To say he was outspoken in his criticism of the Governments of Sharon, Barak, Olmert and, most recently, Netanyahu would be the understatement to end all understatements. In recent years, some of the language he used to express that anger crossed a line between criticism of Israel and what sounded like criticism of Jews more generally, prompting allegations of antisemitism. That line should never be crossed, even inadvertently, and Gerald should not have crossed it. However, I cannot accept that this son of Polish immigrants who lost family members in the Holocaust was ever motivated by antisemitism. Indeed, it was both his own Jewishness and his own Zionism that made the anger he felt towards what he thought Israel had become so profound and so personal.
My abiding memory of Gerald is, however, a much lighter one than any of this. The first conversation I remember Gerald having with me took place a few weeks after my election to Parliament in 1992. Gerald came up to me in the Lobby of the House of Commons. He asked “How are you settling in?”, “Oh fine” I replied, trying to cover up the confusion I was feeling about the many eccentricities about the way Parliament seemed to operate. “Mmmm” replied Gerald in those slow, deliberative tones for which he was famous. “There are two things you will always need to remember about this place. The first is that real life is out there, not in here,” he said, pointing to the exit. “The second is…” – he paused and then went on “that everyone here is mad. That includes me and, if it doesn’t already include you, it soon will.”
He was certainly right about where real life is. As for his second point, I could not possibly comment! Rest in peace Gerald.
The results of the Serious Case Review confirms some of my worst fears about the background to Shi-Anne Downer’s brutal murder in my constituency.
Kandyce Downer should never have been awarded a Special Guardianship Order to care for Shi-Anne and there was little or no professional supervision of what life for her looked like in practice after the Order was granted. The result was tragedy.
Even though the Review concludes that Shi-Anne’s murder could not have been predicted, the message I take from this report is that it could have been prevented if the system had worked as it should.
I am glad there has been a review of how Special Guardianship Orders are considered and approved and it is good that Birmingham Children’s Services have made significant changes to the way they do things. They must keep the changes they make under regular review to make sure that best practice is followed to make sure the safety of children is always paramount. Shi-Anne’s life should never have been “invisible to professionals” as the Serious Case Review says it was. No other child in a similar situation should be invisible in future.
None of this can bring back Shi-Anne or take away the pain of those who loved her. But all agencies must be determined to prevent a tragedy like this happening again.
More information about the Review is available to read from the Birmingham Mail here and from the BBC here.
Like all MPs, I have had hundreds of letters and emails from constituents in recent weeks about authorising the triggering of Article 50, thereby formally giving notice of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union.
Understandably, the emails I have received from constituents have come from different sides of the argument. Many of those emails are from people who, like me, both campaigned and voted to remain in the EU. Like them, I have not changed my view that Britain’s interests would be far better served by remaining in the EU than leaving. On that basis, many have urged me to vote against the triggering of Article 50 in Parliament. However, I cannot agree that it would be right for me as the MP for Birmingham Northfield to do so. Read more
Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. In my first newsletter since Christmas and the New Year, let me wish you all a Happy New Year.
In Birmingham Northfield
Birmingham Council Budget
In recent weeks, Birmingham City Council published their budget proposals. Faced with over £800m being cut from the grant they receive from Government, the Council are in an impossible position with rising demand for key services like care for older people but without the money they need to fund those services. This in turn is increasing the already severe pressure faced by our NHS. There is no doubt that the grossly unfair way Birmingham is being treated by Theresa May’s Government is at the root of the budget problems which Birmingham faces in the coming years.
I made these points at the South Birmingham budget consultation that the Council organised. In a letter to Council leader John Clancy, I also put forward concerns that local people have been raising with me about some of the choices that the Council are considering in response to the financial pressures imposed on them by the Government. In particular I have urged the Council to do all they can to protect services that serve the most vulnerable people in our city – people hit by homelessness, mental health, drug or alcohol problems, and domestic violence – as well as older people facing isolation. I am also asking the Council to reconsider the level of cuts to our parks and ranger services and to make sure the problems which parents face last year in the reorganisation of home to school transport for children with special needs are not repeated. Read more
Welcome to my latest Animal Welfare Round Up and the first one of 2017. I continue to receive emails from constituents about a number of issues around animal welfare. Here is what I’ve been doing on the issues you’ve asked me to raise.
Kitten and Puppy Breeding
This has been the most popular campaign issue among constituents in the last two months. Sadly, kittens and puppies are often bred to be treated as an ordinary commodity to be bought and sold for profit without consideration for their welfare or risk of abuse. Many of the kittens and puppies sold underage are prone to become sick and sometimes die very young. In response to this – and all of your emails – I wrote to the Government to press them for stronger standards on the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens. You can read the Government’s encouraging response here. Read more