I know, I know, I’m not an MP yet. Nevertheless, I had my first surgery last week with a couple of potential constituents, S&H. These people thought that the Conservative MP would not listen well to their issues and act with sympathy, so they got in touch with me instead. As I said to them at the time, there is a limited amount I can do before actually getting elected, but still I felt it was a good opportunity to listen to local issues and I am wholly glad that I did.
First I would like to say that these constituents really impressed me with how they talked about issues. I will list the subjects we talked about below in the order that they were raised, but the important thing to note about this order is that the issues encountered by others came first despite the personal impact of the final matter being huge. To my mind this speaks volumes about their character and I am genuinely proud to be asked to help and saddened that there is little I can do at this time beyond making enquiries.
Mount Vernon Catering
Mount Vernon Hospital Sign, courtesy of the Guardian
These constituents live not too far from Mount Vernon Hospital, an NHS hospital specialising in cancer treatments. As such, it is somewhere we hope never to visit as a patient, but one which we are undoubtedly all glad to have around. Neither of these constituents are patients at the hospital, but they do avail themselves of the restaurant from time to time. As part of this, they observed that the cost of food items in the restaurant was extremely high compared to the wholesale cost of the ingredients, with NHS staff still being charged a high price for basic foodstuff.
As this conversation continued, it became clear that they were worried about the impact of the cost of food combined with the long shifts that NHS workers have to endure at relatively low pay. The conclusion that we reached was that we should look after our NHS workers better than we do if we want to make sure that we have a functioning NHS for future generations.
We briefly extended this discussion to include the cost of parking for NHS staff, which I gather has now reached all-time highs following a brief holiday during the pandemic. At the end of our discussion, we agreed that there was relatively little to do at this time in terms of direct action, but that a petition to the government asking them to improve the lives of NHS workers would be appropriate.
I went away and started the following petition, and if you likewise believe that NHS staff should get free parking and low-cost meals, please sign your name to this request to the government.
A car park. Not the one at Mount Vernon, but probably looks similar.
A canteen. Again, not Mount Vernon, but this image was freely available.
We discussed the cost of catering within the NHS, and specifically at Mount Vernon hospital, and the discussion naturally led on to the subject of food wastage. I gather from S&H that the restaurant throws away a large quantity of food at the end of each day, which ultimately goes to landfill. This is, to me, a travesty when there are active food banks in the constituency.
I have therefore made enquiries with the team at Mount Vernon asking whether they have considered the option of sending waste food for distribution within the constituency at the end of each working day.
As a brief aside in the middle of our discussion, we chatted about the ongoing case of Boris Johnson and the Committee for Privileges investigation into his alleged misleading statements made to the House while he was Prime Minister (amazingly that was two PMs ago despite resigning only earlier this year). I had invited Blaise Baquiche, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, to join the conversation. As Blaise is standing for election in Boris Johnson’s own constituency, it seemed like he had a lot to add to this discussion.
Actual picture of Boris Johnson*
In short, Blaise mentioned that Partygate was a driving force behind his decision to stand as a candidate as he suffered a major personal loss – his father – during lockdown and was not able to offer personal comfort or host a significant funeral in the very week Johnson partied then lied about it. Eventually Johnson was given a Penalty Charge Notice for his breaches and therefore had to admit at least a partial level of wrongdoing.
Blaise mentioned and I agreed that the Privileges Committee investigation seemed to have stalled, so as a follow up I contacted the Committee and asked for an update on progress so far and an indication of when they would start to hear oral evidence. I will update the blog further when (if) I get a response.
Black mould example from Freepik
Without question, this is where our discussion got very emotional, and I am so glad that S&H felt able to open up to me on this subject. In essence, their complaint was that rental accommodation does not seem to have minimum standards when it comes to damp or black mould, at least not standards that are actually enforced. Clearly there is also the risk that complaining enough to get action will lead instead to a retaliatory eviction, as no-fault evictions have not yet been banned.
S&H are living in their third rented accommodation of the year, and in the ones in the constituency they have found very significant infestations of black mould caused by significant damp. As black mould has been in the media lately as a contributing cause in the death of a child, this is clearly a concern, and it is clear from both a legal and an ethical perspective that landlords have a responsibility to ensure that such homes are free from invasive mould at the very least.
I have contacted the letting agent on behalf of the residents to find out what their policy is regarding maintenance, but unfortunately this is likely an area where they feel able to hide behind the law, as Conservative lawmakers have simply not done enough to protect the rights of renters.
My first surgery really reinforced the fact that I am doing the right thing. I want to help others as much as possible, and I genuinely feel that I cannot do enough in my current position. I believe that major changes are needed to the country as a whole, and that those changes should be made in such a way that local problems are lessened.
If you have issues that you would like to talk to me (or Blaise) about, please get in touch. Likewise if you would like to add to any of the issues highlighted above, whether as an offer of help or a suggestion that we didn’t consider, please also get in touch.
* Not actually a picture of Boris Johnson.