Paul Holmes asks Health Secretary if he will instruct GPs to get back to work


Portrait of Paul Holmes MP

On the 14th September Paul Holmes insinuated that GPs in Eastleigh haven’t been working

may I emphasise to the Secretary of State the amount of anger there is in Eastleigh about not being able to get a face-to-face appointment with a GP? He stood at the Dispatch Box and encouraged GPs to get back to work. If necessary, and if that uptake has not happened, will he instruct them to get back to work, so we can at least have face-to-face appointments for my constituents?

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2021-09-14c.809.0&s=speaker%3A25808#g829.4

He referred to the pandemic easing when he publicised his question on social media, and talks about returning to normal on his website. Unfortunately this complacency, when deaths are still averaging 1,000 per week and cases are rising alarmingly in schools, is likely to prolong Covid related issues getting face-to-face appointments. Surgeries and schools are not getting the investment they need to improve ventilation and control the virus, and the government seem to have all but abandoned proportionate public health measures to keep cases down going in to winter.

Three days after Paul’s question in Parliament, four members of staff were injured in an attack on GP surgery in Manchester. The BMA said,

The narrative that GPs are refusing to see patients face-to-face is dangerous and inaccurate and it has to stop. We call on the health secretary to speak up openly and unequivocally in support of general practice…

https://twitter.com/TheBMA/status/1440236346434482184?s=19

Paul hasn’t issued an apology publicly but has apparently said this on an Eastleigh social media group,

Let me make clear from the start that I respect and thank our GPs for the work they do. I am the first to admit that I was called near to last in that statement after two colleagues raised the same issue. I wasn’t expecting to be called and had to quickly speak. It was unwise to say get back to work. I should have said get back to physical appointments more quickly, and I apologise for the implication of the question.

That seems like a pretty weak excuse to me and, while any apology is obviously welcome, it certainly doesn’t go far enough to counter the narrative that GPs are refusing to see patients face-to-face. They are seeing patients, and have been throughout the pandemic. He should be apologising in Parliament and asking the health secretary to condemn the scapegoating of GPs rather than reinforcing the myth that they aren’t working.

It’s also somewhat misleading to just blame the pandemic for the lack of access to GPs. Thanks to the Conservative party, it has been difficult to get appointments for a long time. My own GP practice has had issues and had to merge with other GP practices to survive. While Paul complains about practices merging as if it’s nothing to do with his government, I’d rather they merged than closed completely.

Somewhat strangely for an MP in the ruling party, Paul is apparently campaigning for better access to NHS services. He shouldn’t be campaigning, he should be demanding to know why his government is failing to deliver. The prime minister personally guaranteed 50,000 more GP appointments in the 2019 general election. They would help. Having fuel to get to appointments would also be useful.

Perhaps the 6,000 new doctors are just like the 50,000 new nurses, or the 40 new hospitals. Just another broken promise from Paul and his party. Just keep blaming someone else for the problems.

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Paul Holmes Annual Review 2019/20


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.

Promises

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.

More promises

Other than the 40 new hospitals, and replacing the 20,000 police officers his party cut, Paul’s election campaign focused heavily on getting Brexit done (by Christmas). In January I pointed out that Brexit wasn’t done. It wasn’t. Here’s what Paul said:

“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.

Pandemic

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.

In contrast, our previous MP still seems to be taking the pandemic more seriously.

National Politics

It’s difficult to tell what Paul really thinks about most national issues because he always votes how he is told to by the government whip. Check out Paul’s record on the TheyWorkForYou site for more detail. (The only time it looked like he rebelled was actually for a free vote on abortion in Northern Ireland.)

One issue you might expect Paul to say more about is Brexit, however he barely says anything about it apart from the occasional outburst about people trying to thwart it. Here’s what he said back in 2017 about why he supports Brexit:

“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.”

(Wessex Scene interview)

People did not just campaign and vote for an economic trading bloc in 1975. Paul didn’t vote in 1975 though so if he wasn’t standing to be an MP, I could forgive him for not checking that assertion. As for the referendum in 2016, he has no excuse. Deal or no-deal, does he really believe a majority of people really voted for what we’ll be getting in the new year?

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.

Local Politics

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.

Constituents

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.

Conclusion

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.

Biggest achievement: opening a constituency office.
Biggest disappointment: broken election promises.

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.

Updates

I guess Paul didn’t actually want to be judged after all. (31st December 2020)

“Biased nonsense.”

(Paul Holmes tweet)

Move along, move along


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.

“Dear James,

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.

Kind regards,

Paul”

Stay elite.

Taking the country for fools


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.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

James Taylor

Stay safe.

Decisions, decisions


I was caught unprepared by an actual parliamentary candidate knocking on the door this evening! Unfortunately I was about to bath the kraken so I didn’t have time to come up with any sensible questions. Still, it’s about time I took an interest in the election…

It’s not long since I last got to vote for an MP and, like last time, I’m undecided. Unfortunately there aren’t as many candidates to choose from this time, with the final list being:

  • Declan Clune (TUSC)
  • Patricia Culligan (UKIP)
  • Mims Davis (Conservative)
  • Ray Hall, Beer (Baccy and Scratchings)
  • Mark Latham (Labour)
  • Ron Meldrum (Green)
  • Mike Thornton (Lib Dem)

There’s more information about all the Eastleigh candidates on YourNextMP, which was handy for finding most of them on twitter. At some point I hope to get round to contacting all the candidates with a few questions and, if I do, I’ll post any responses in case it helps anyone else. The first source of inspiration I’ve spotted is the Open Rights Group general election party manifesto wiki.

Early impressions are:

Hopefully I’ll have more to go on by 7th May! If anyone has any thoughts, including any of the candidates, please leave a comment.

Digital House Arrest


The Digital Economy Bill is exactly the kind of ill-considered law I have come to expect from the current government, however I am very disappointed in the apparent lack of opposition from the other parties.

Today I received a reply from my MP, Chris Huhne, following my email and letter to him about the bill, unfortunately I had already read the same response on the Liberal Democrat Voice before his letter arrived. I appreciate the time he took to reply but the LibDem team will only be getting half a cheer from me, and here’s why.

Chris begins his letter by largely supporting the Digital Economy Bill, stating that many aspects of the bill are vitally important to the UK’s creative industries. Having read the bill, I just don’t believe that. For a start, the bill has very little to do with a digital economy, containing a pick ‘n’ mix of barely related clauses (‘wide ranging’ in politician speak):

Tinkering with Television and Radio Broadcasting Bill

Chris is happy that the bill changes Channel 4’s remit, changes regional news on ITV and plans to make all my analog radios useless. Apart from buying new radios to listen to the same thing, will anyone notice? There’s also some stuff in there on radio licenses and it looks like the days of teletext are numbered.

Are you Really Old Enough to be Playing that Video Game Bill

Chris also supports classification of computer games. Well at least anyone who isn’t old enough will know which games to get hold of to impress their mates.

We are Aware There are Some Problems with Copyright Laws and This is the Best we Could Come up with Bill

The Liberal Democrats support the creative industries, so I’m puzzled that Chris doesn’t even mention the “Extension and regulation of licensing of copyright and performers’ rights” clause. Strangely, some current copyright holders don’t seem too keen to get this kind of support. I’m not surprised given how little respect some creative industries have for copyright already. Public lending also gets a spit and polish for audio books and e-books.

So from my quick flick through, that’s all the vitally important parts of the bill (?) leaving…

Enforcing Copyright Yourself is Just Such a Bore Bill

Before going any further, I should make it absolutely clear that I am not fundamentally opposed to copyright law, and I actually work in an industry where copyright protection is important. That said, I personally think that copyright laws should be an incentive for the creative industries to, well, create new content. I have been concerned for a long time that neither the public nor creative individuals get a particularly fair deal from the current arrangements. As with the law in general, the odds are stacked in favour of people with the most money and this bill only makes matters worse.

Without any new legislation, the creative industries should already be able to take action against illegal downloading using the internet, in the same way they can take action regardless of how the illegal copyright material was obtained. Apparently that’s not good enough, so under the guise of a digital economy bill, they want new powers to protect the old economy.

There are plenty of things the creative industries could do to help themselves. I suggest that first on the list for them to try would be to stop treating their paying customers with such contempt. I hope they’ve already stopped installing dangerous software on my computer without my permission, but how about competing with the pirates to make watching a DVD more enjoyable, or allowing me to watch a DVD I’ve paid for where ever I want to, or not changing your mind after you sold me something? With this kind of behaviour I would expect any changes of the law to include more regulation for the creative industries, not more protection for them. It’s ironic that none of the quarter of a million creative people who’s jobs are allegedly at risk can come up with some better ideas, especially given that they really should have the most to gain from a digital economy.

Access to the internet may not be a fundamental right, but how can you seriously expect to have a digital economy if people are at risk of digital house arrest? As I told Chris Huhne, I don’t believe disconnection is a proportional response even if it did only effect one person, who was proved to have downloaded something illegally beyond reasonable doubt. Would you stop someone leaving their house if they came home from the market with counterfeit jeans? How can we have a digital economy when a single industry has a veto over whether any other industry can do business with their customers over the internet? Access to online government services? No. Online bank account? No. Paperless billing? Think again. Internet shopping? Not any more. Working at home? Time for a holiday. NHS Direct? Please phone… unless you’re using Skype of course. Smart metering? The lights are on but no-one’s home.

This is by no means a full discussion of the issues, but then I’m not in parliament where all of these issues and more should be getting some serious debate. Sadly there’s a chance no one will be able to have that debate in parliament. Oh well, good luck UK plc, you’re going to need it.

Update: A few related posts generated manually to go with the ones WordPress found. (28 March 2010)

Update: A couple of Guardian articles on the Digital Economy Bill (31 March 2010)

Update: A depressing day following the #debill debate, but a found a few more articles along the way. (6 April 2010)

After today’s idiotic debate in parliament, I wonder if more people might be tempted to stand for election to show politicians that they can’t just push whatever they like through parliament when no one is looking. The close of nominations is 4 pm on Tuesday 20 April 2010 and for a coordinated effort there’s a deadline of 12 April 2010 to register a new party. Just a thought.

Update: No big surprise that the bill went through the washup, demonstrating the poor state of the UK democracy along the way. (8 April 2010)

Let’s just hope that candidates get some tough questions on the subject when they’re out campaigning.

Update: The morning after… (9 April 2010)

And finally, someone who will be keeping my vote: TalkTalk!

So you want my vote…


Tomorrow morning I’ll be walking down to the local polling station and I still have no idea who to vote for. The first problem is finding out what the choice is, luckily the Eastleigh council web site at least has a bunch of PDFs listing who’s standing.

It looks like I’ll be able to choose from this motley collection for the European election:

  • British National Party
  • Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
  • Conservative Party
  • English Democrats
  • Jury Team
  • Liberal Democrats
  • No2EU: Yes to Democracy
  • Pro Democracy: Libertas.eu
  • Socialist Labour Party
  • The Green Party
  • The Labour Party
  • The Peace Party
  • The Roman Party. Ave!
  • United Kingdom First
  • United Kingdom Independence Party

There’s been barely any discussion about what the MEPs will actually been doing in the European parliament. I don’t need a European election to send a message to Gordon Brown (sorry Gordon, but I have just never been able to take you seriously as PM), and it seems fairly pointless to vote based on whether I think we should be in or out of Europe. I kind of like the idea of a pan-European party improving the system but I don’t know enough about Libertas to guess whether that’s what they’ll actually do. (And it will always be a guess, since I bet a few people were expecting a referendum from Labour.) The Jury Team idea sounds interesting but probably not that constructive in practice. Maybe if the party membership were the party whips, voting throughout the term of the elected MEPs in a kind of ongoing referendum… but I suspect people would get bored of that fairly quickly. The Roman Party is in with a chance of getting my vote if I could find out a bit more about Jean-Louis’ plans. (Not much out there, but I did find this leaflet.)

Possibly even less interesting is the council election, with only the usual suspects lining up:

  • Conservative Party
  • UK Independence Party
  • Labour Party
  • Liberal Democrat

Ignoring the Labour Party (who don’t even seem to try here, which is fine by me) and UKIP, the choice between Conservative and Lib Dem is hardly great. The two of them seem to endlessly blame each other for exactly the same local problems and say very little about real solutions. One slight difference is that the Conservatives just turn up at election time, which is I suppose at least efficient.

Oil, gravel, houses and the crematorium NIMBY moaning is just annoying. Hands up anyone in Hedge End who doesn’t live in a house under 40 years old, use a car and isn’t planning to die? No, didn’t think so. As for the tap in the council offices; it’s not for a kitchen sink (which would be a bit extreme), it’s a pretty sensible way to provide drinks for employees. I’d go on but I think I’m well in to ranting territory already. If I vote Conservative, it will be at least partly because they haven’t had the front to tell me that one of the other parties can’t win here. And if I vote Lib Dem, if will be at least partly down to @mpntod – more MPs should be connecting with people like Martin.

On balance though, I’m very likely to be voting Limbo.

That was a political broadcast on behalf of a grumpy old man. We now return to our normal service.