It’s definitely election season again. The first clue was the local MP dusting off his campaign against local housing. I feel fairly certain all the local parties will be campaigning to protect our green spaces but only one party I know of thought filming a campaign video in the middle of the third national lockdown constituted a reasonable excuse to leave home.
Talking of the pandemic, the Conservative Government have got a lot wrong as they repeatedly failed to control the virus and save lives. In fact we are at the relax lockdown restrictions too early phase of the UK Covid19 groundhog day. Soon to be followed by the Eat Out to Help the Virus Out reboot. Not to mention the “why aren’t you all back in the office?” accusations in June. While the NHS is doing an amazing job rolling out the first dose of vaccines, it’s worrying that those vaccines seem to be giving everyone a false sense of security. Let’s hope we’re not just creating the perfect conditions for a world-beating vaccine resistant UK Covid variant.
Anyway, despite all that, one thing the government hasn’t been accused of mishandling through the pandemic was not being tough enough on leaflet deliveries. Not introducing effective quarantine has been mentioned. PPE has been mentioned a lot. Why won’t they stop people delivering takeaway leaflets not so much. Strange then that election leaflets should be such a hot topic of debate in Eastleigh political circles. Is it just Eastleigh?
Paul told us we should judge him if he was lucky enough to win the election, and that seems like something which is too important to leave until 2024 so here is Paul’s first annual report.
To be frank, I didn’t vote for Paul and I was skeptical that he would be any better than Eastleigh’s previous MP, who had left us so unexpectedly. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised when he replied to my email shortly after being elected. It wasn’t the usual cut and paste response which Mims might have sent. It was a genuine, direct, reply to the question I had asked, and it confirmed unambiguously that he would stand by the commitment he had made in the election campaign. Perhaps he wasn’t going to be a Mims clone after all.
“For me, it is a question of integrity and honesty.”
(Paul Holmes election campaign)
Unfortunately that pre-election commitment didn’t even last a year. For me, Paul has failed on the question of integrity and honesty, but how did he do otherwise.
“Stop lying about what I said I said I’d vote for a deal by Xmas. Which I did.
(Paul Holmes tweet)
Unfortunately Paul has never replied to my requests for him to explain why he thought I was lying.
Even now Brexit still isn’t done and, despite initially voting to sign the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, Paul has even voted to break that international agreement. The irony of openly threatening to break international law while complaining that China and Iran should stand by their international commitments seems to be lost on Paul.
Whether or not the Prime Minister eventually manages to agree his bad deal, we face the most damaging interpretation of the EU referendum result possible. I don’t think it’s acceptable to shrug off the government’s abject failure and carry on as if they have in any way respected the result of the 2016 referendum, or the 2019 election. They have not.
It’s only fair to acknowledge that Paul faced a public health emergency which would have stretched even the most competent government. Unfortunately our government was not selected for its competence and has largely failed to protect lives or the economy.
I actually think Paul started off strongly when it came to the coronavirus pandemic: he set a good example working remotely; he worked closely with the local council, despite their differences; his pinned tweet told constituents to stay at home, “No ifs no buts.”; he produced a fact sheet; he kept at it, reminding people to follow the rules even in the glorious lockdown weather; he sent a leaflet to all his constituents; and he celebrated the achievements of a local school as they stepped in to help with his government’s lengthy struggle to provide protective equipment. For me it was the highlight of his year.
Unfortunately it didn’t last beyond Barnard Castle.
Paul’s statement was mildly critical of the Prime Minister’s advisor and he admitted that situation had undermined the wider messaging around the public health emergency. I agreed and asked him to respond by reinforcing the rules and remind people what resources were available to help them. Basically to continue the good work he had started. His reply was rather abrupt:
“You can find the rules on http://gov.uk as you know well. So look there.”
(Paul Holmes tweet)
He appeared to give up taking Covid19 seriously after that, and even had his own minor Barnard Castle moment later in the year. At least Paul had the sense to apologise on that occasion.
“For me, growing up, it was nothing to do with immigration; I am pro-immigration. It was purely a sovereignty issue. I do not think that we should have stayed part of an organisation which we voted to join in 1975 as an economic trading bloc in which we slowly had the erosion of the sovereign basis to make our own laws. A majority of people who voted in 1975 did not vote for greater European interference and I think that culminated why I voted to leave.”
One issue I think most people will agree with Paul on, is his opposition to a pay rise for MPs. He agreed with Kier Starmer that MPs shouldn’t get a pay rise this year, however Paul appeared to believe that there wasn’t anything MPs could do about it. While it is true that his pay is set by an independent body, MPs could make changes to that independent body through legislation. Parliament is sovereign after all, although I guess that would spoil the illusion of independence.
Perhaps the biggest criticisms for Paul came when he defended the government’s opposition to Marcus Rashford’s free school meal campaign. Aside from some unnecessary party politics, Paul’s statement explains all the things the government are doing, as you would expect. Unfortunately focusing on some superficially impressive sounding numbers isn’t as helpful as concentrating on outcomes. With news that Unicef will be feeding children in the UK for the first time, I think the government has some work to do. Hopefully they will work more constructively with campaigners like Marcus Rashford in the new year.
MPs have some sort of agreement that they will not deal with issues from people outside their own constituency. Unfortunately they don’t seem to afford the same courtesy to local politicians, so Paul frequently seems to get distracted by issues that he doesn’t need to get involved with. Of course some local issues benefit from being championed in Parliament, and it was good to see him raise the long running issue of Hedge End station accessibility in a debate.
Too often though he just uses his platform in Parliament to complain about Eastleigh Council and the Eastleigh local plan. It’s almost as if he’s trying to thwart the local democratic process for some reason.
Other than the Eastleigh local plan, Paul’s most visible local campaign has been in support of Southampton Airport’s application to extend their runway. This is an issue where he actually agrees with the local council however he is still impatient to rush through the planning process and, quite remarkably, he even appeared to suggest that the government should use a special development order. So much for local consultation.
One area that Paul gets positive reviews for is where he has helped Eastleigh constituents with various problems, and obviously it’s a good thing for those people if his office can help.
What’s less obvious is whether the problems he helps with are best suited to an MP. Apparently Paul and his team answer over 100 cases a day, of which around 5% relate to pot holes. That could just be because it’s not obvious who should deal with pot holes, or it could be that Hampshire council doesn’t have the funding it needs to maintain roads.
Similarly, there will be other cases that could be dealt with by Eastleigh council, or Citizens Advice, or some other organisation. Unfortunately MPs are not covered by freedom of information requests but it would be really helpful if Paul could publish a breakdown of what topics constituents contact him about, and how many he is able to help with.
Paul has done a difficult job in a very difficult year, and he is far from the worst MP in Parliament. Overall though, Paul’s support of a dishonest Prime Minister who is clearly not up to the job far outweighs any good he might do locally. Hopefully that might change in the new year.
Most importantly, these are just my personal observations about how Paul has done this year, and I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of things out. If you’d like to add anything, positive or negative, please leave a comment below.
I guess Paul didn’t actually want to be judged after all. (31st December 2020)
If there was any doubt about why Paul Holmes was dropped in as the Johnson candidate for Eastleigh, there isn’t any more.
Strangely MPs seemed to be debating an extension to the transition period even though the deadline for extending it has already passed, and Paul’s contribution, which he tweeted about, was similarly detached from reality.
“We are here all over again. The ability of SNP Members to focus on their narrow-minded, party interests at a time of national importance is becoming legendary.”
The SNP has a way to go before they can compete with the Conservative party’s world-beating track record of focusing on narrow-minded party interests.
This is a time of national importance, with a great many more lives at stake as winter approaches. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on improving the government’s handling of the current public health emergency, the Conservative Prime Minister decided to waste time, money, and effort on a self imposed deadline that the country will not be ready for. The oven ready deal seems to have been substituted for a no deal Brexit which is certainly not what the majority of people voted for in Eastleigh, Scotland, or the UK.
“If there was ever a sight that shows why we must protect the Union, it was the vision of a Labour party that could not be bothered to show up, with SNP Members behind those Benches. If the Labour party ever has the opportunity to form the next Government, it will be at the price of a referendum on independence to get the SNP onside. Conservative Members do not back that at all.”
I would be very interested to know why Scotland should even need to ask permission to have an independence referendum, when the UK was able to hold the EU referendum without asking.
“The SNP has not changed much in not respecting referendum results. It lost the 2014 referendum, and yet it pursues that agenda, with no thought to getting on with the day job in Scotland. SNP Members lost the 2016 referendum, but they are now trying by any means necessary to thwart the will of the British people.”
The SNP may or may not have changed much since 2014, but plenty of other things have changed. Most obviously, as a result of the 2016 referendum, the UK has left the EU. (Just to clarify that once more, given the accusations of thwarting, the UK has already left the EU.)
It’s also now very clear what Scotland’s place in the Union is.
“This debate is once again a thinly disguised attempt by SNP Members to undermine democracy—nothing else. The irony of that is not lost on me.”
The current Prime Minister unlawfully shut down parliament in a blatant attempt to undermine democracy—nothing else.
“If they voted for a deal when they were offered one—three times—we would not be here today.”
I’m not even sure what Paul is complaining about here. Is he complaining that, like the current Prime Minister and large numbers of Conservative MPs, the SNP didn’t vote for Theresa May’s bad deal?
We would not be here today if David Cameron hadn’t gambled the country’s, and his party’s, future to settle an internal political argument.
“Knowing them, however, we probably would be.
Like any good Unionist, I read the newspapers north of the border. In these difficult times, we all have to spend a few more hours at home, and humour plays an increasingly important role in making sure that we can all get by, so you can imagine my reaction, Mr Deputy Speaker, when browsing The National, I found the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) was quoted as saying that Scottish taxpayers were “footing the bill” as the UK prepared to leave the EU. Indeed, without a hint of irony, SNP Members are trying to claim that they would somehow save money by being out of the Union and part of the EU, when we know that public spending in Scotland is 17% higher than the UK average. Treasury figures, verified by the House of Commons Library, show that per head of population, Scotland receives £11,200; England, £9,200; and my constituents in Eastleigh, £8,600.”
I’m not entirely convinced putting a border in the Irish Sea is the action of a good Unionist. I seem to remember Theresa May having quite strong views on that before the current PM made a sudden u-turn to sign the EU Withdrawal Agreement at the last minute. (Hopefully Paul stands by the international agreement despite comments from one of the previous Brexit secretaries.)
It seems somewhat ironic to be complaining about SNP Members saying they would save money by being out of the Union, when that’s exactly the claim made on the side of a bus in the EU referendum.
“I will always lobby for resources for my constituency, but I accept that that difference is the price that my constituents pay because we are stronger together—and we are stronger together as one United Kingdom.”
I wonder if Eastleigh constituents accept that is a price is worth paying.
“We are stronger together culturally, with our shared history, and we are stronger together economically. It was this Government who introduced the coronavirus job retention scheme, which has protected the income of 630,000 people in Scotland. It was the Government of the United Kingdom who have supported 146,000 self-employed people through the self-employment support scheme, and it was this Government—the United Kingdom Government—who have provided over £2.7 billion to the Scottish Government for rates relief, small business grants and grants for businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector.”
That’s all very nice but it makes no difference if people in Scotland choose independence. It’s not up to Paul or me what people in Scotland want, and I’m sure they would know what they were voting for.
“We need to ensure that we are prepared for Brexit and that our borders are fit for purpose. That investment will help us to maximise the opportunity created by Brexit as we continue to trade with our European partners and to forge new and exciting trade deals across the world.”
Paul seems to be confusing one small part of the ongoing cost of administering a border with more friction, with an actual investment. He is also somewhat vague about what the opportunity created by Brexit is. Eastleigh’s previous MP was unable to explain what the benefits of Brexit were when I asked, and I doubt Paul ever will either.
“While the SNP like to reject referendum results—the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said that it was a narrow gap, but I do not think that 10% is a narrow gap—I take the expression of my constituents’ will seriously. It is a shame that the SNP do not do that for their constituents. My constituents in Eastleigh voted to leave the European Union, and I will support the Government as we make good on our promise to leave the EU and seize the opportunities presented by global Britain.”
Just to clarify, here’s some of what Eastleigh constituents voted for over the last few years:
2015 – Five years of Mims Davies as MP and David Cameron as PM (something about not wanting chaos if I remember correctly)
2016 – To leave the EU (54% which polling showed had dropped to 49.3% by 2018)
2017 – Five years of Mims Davies as MP and Theresa May as PM (something about being strong and stable)
2019 – Five years of Paul Holmes as MP and Boris Johnson as PM (something about being oven ready)
We’re getting used to being disappointed; we didn’t even get Mims for the full five years! At no point did we vote for any specific Brexit, and certainly not Brexit at any cost.
The Conservative party has never respected the referendum result, or sought to build a consensus on a new relationship with the EU. Instead they have treated the referendum, the UK, and particularly remain voting Scotland with utter contempt.
As for promises, the Prime Minister made very clear promises to EU citizens during the referendum campaign which has not kept. Similarly, Paul Holmes made a commitment to EU citizens in the last election campaign which he has so far not kept either. The way EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU have been treated by the government since the referendum is beyond shameful.
The increasingly likely no deal end to the transition period at the end of the year is nothing like what was on offer in the referendum.
“The SNP should focus on the day job to fix the lack of educational attainment that harms Scottish children; to fix their dire record in government and public service; and to stop the political gimmicks.”
It would be nice if Eastleigh’s MP could focus on his day job instead of complaining about Scottish MPs representing their constituents, or complaining about decisions made by local politicians. There’s a likely second wave of Coronavirus coming, and the country needs to get ready for Brexit at the same time.
“We deliver; they delay.”
This would be funny if the government’s ongoing dither and delay in tackling the Coronavirus pandemic wasn’t causing thousands of unnecessary deaths.
“It is time to get Brexit done, and I will vote against the motion this evening.”
Brexit wasn’t done by last Christmas, and it won’t be done by this Christmas. We have however already left the EU, and there isn’t anything MPs can do to delay the end of the transition period now even if they wanted to. Let’s hope we don’t all come to regret that.
Well my MP has replied (below) regarding the government’s ongoing quest to undermine its own authority.
On the plus side he did say he wouldn’t have made the same decisions as Boris Johnson’s adviser. That shouldn’t be surprising because most of the country was also much more responsible and didn’t make the same poor decisions. Perhaps the government needs better advisers.
Unfortunately the rest of his reply had nothing to do with my questions, just continuing to promote the defence offered in the unusual press conference. Even so he did concede that the government’s actions have threatened to undermine their own public health rules.
Sadly that was the end of the email. Just follow the advice when some people don’t have to. No commitment to do anything to repair the damage, and not even a call for the government to apologise.
He was even more dismissive on Twitter when I pressed him on what he might do to remedy the damage done.
“You can find the rules on gov.uk as you know well. So look there.”
I had been hoping that Eastleigh’s new MP might be more willing to stand up for his constituents when the government gets something wrong than our previous MP but if he can’t even do it in the middle of a public health emergency with overwhelming public support, it’s hard to imagine he ever will.
Thank you for writing to me about the situation surrounding Dominic Cummings and the public health guidelines during the difficult times we have faced during the COVID-19 crisis.
I have over the last few days faced some hostile criticism for not instantly providing my view on whether Mr Cummings should have resigned from his position, but I do not believe in giving my opinion with half-assessed facts. I wanted some time to look into this myself with all of the evidence and information that I could garner. Over the weekend I have raised this issue extensively with the Government, sought to establish the facts, and put your views across robustly.
I know that the last few months have been tough for everyone in the country and in the Eastleigh constituency. Over the last few weeks my team and I have assisted thousands of people in need of urgent help, in clarification of the guidelines, or to access support for their families or businesses, and we have always done our best to do this as efficiently as possible. I know that you and your family will have had to make many sacrifices as you have followed the guidelines that Government has clearly set out. You have done the right thing and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so responsible.
On 24th March at the daily televised press conference, in response to a question about what parents should do if they are both sick with COVID-19, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jenny Harries advised the public that “clearly if you have adults that are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance.” This was, if I have established the facts correctly, a week before Mr Cummings travelled to County Durham. His explanation for undertaking his lockdown in County Durham is the welfare of his young son, and he isolated with his family for 14 days. It is also clear that Mr Cummings did visit Barnard Castle, and he has now given a full account of his actions and his reasons for doing so.
Whilst I have sympathy with this, and it appears to be consistent with Dr. Harries’ statement, I accept the criticism that this is at the very limit of what the guidelines permitted and is likely to be highly controversial. I can also say to you that I would not have taken these decisions myself in these circumstances, and that these rules now need to be clarified so that others do not misinterpret them.
Though I well understand much of the anger there is about this at the moment, bearing in mind the sacrifices we have all been asked to make, I do strongly oppose the behaviour of some who have sought to harass and intimidate Mr Cummings and his family. There is no justification for it. This does seem to have been part of Mr Cummings’ calculation when he decided to travel to Durham.
I have been contacted by a large number of constituents on this matter and I want you to know that I have read each of your emails and considered your views carefully. Many people have legitimate concerns about what has gone on, and so do I.
Though I believe his actions were motivated solely by the desire to protect his family, I believe that Mr Cummings has made errors of judgement, and I would have responded differently given the guidance that Government has issued.
I don’t think that the handling of this situation over the last 72 hours has been the Government’s finest hour, and I believe that the questions posed to Mr Cummings should have been answered earlier. I have raised both your and my own concerns about his conduct and will continue to do so over the coming days.
This is my assessment of the situation as it stands, and sadly I do think that this situation has undermined the wider messaging around this public health emergency. However, the fact remains that we need to continue to follow the health advice to keep people safe. Thank you for taking the time to write to me.
My MP has been relatively proactive at helping constituents with government advice during the Covid19 pandemic so, due to poor judgement by a government adviser and some jaw dropping ministerial tweets defending that lapse in judgement, I emailed Paul Holmes earlier to ask him to clarify the rules. (See below.)
Since then the Prime Minister has also, very publicly, defended behaviour which clearly goes against the rules and displayed a shocking lack of common sense by someone who should have known better.
I have been incredibly lucky so far, with a good employer and no close family or friends being seriously ill, or worse. Nevertheless, things haven’t always been easy, and there is no end to the pandemic in sight.
We have all made sacrifices in order to protect one another and the Prime Minister is taking us for fools by not apologising for the behaviour of his adviser.
What’s worse is that his, and his ministers’, attempts to defend a clear breach of the guidelines, puts us all at risk at a critical point in tackling the virus.
I sincerely hope he considers his position carefully.
Dear Paul Holmes,
I know you have made efforts to communicate help and advice to your constituents during the Covid19 pandemic so far, including working closely with the local council, which I appreciate.
Unfortunately a large number of your colleagues, including ministers, have chosen to undermine the government’s own rules by defending an adviser who has broken those rules.
The defence offered is offensive. My wife and I have worried a great deal about how we would look after our daughter should we become ill. My wife has only recently been contacted to tell her she is extremely vulnerable, and I was diagnosed with a life threatening disease last year, but we have still never considered driving any distance to put family members and others at risk if we did exhibit symptoms.
This is a particularly critical point in tackling the virus as the government tries to ease restrictions. The rules in this phase are necessarily going to be more complex than the previous stay at home message and it is difficult to see how we are meant to take any new rules seriously when the government does not appear to be serious about enforcing them.
The country can ill afford another distraction now after delays and distraction at the beginning of the outbreak look likely to have caused many unnecessary deaths.
Please could you urgently work with the council and other organisations in Eastleigh to publicly clarify what the rules are when someone in a household exhibits Covid19 symptoms, and what support and resources are available to them in case they believe that travelling to another location is justified.
I realise you will be under immense political pressure to put your party first, however I would also like you to consider following your neighbouring colleague’s example in speaking out and ask the government why it considers that different rules should apply to government advisers.