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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I guess Paul didn’t actually want to be judged after all. (31st December 2020)
“Biased nonsense.”(Paul Holmes tweet)