A Westminster Life: These local cuts are dismantling the last vestiges of civil society

In my little patch of the Valleys five libraries will close

Share

This has been the most dispiriting week in my 12 years as an MP. For years I got used to attending openings: new primary schools, a new hospital, three new health centres, a new relief road, a Baptist Chapel magnificently resurrected as a youth and community centre. There were even new Asda, Lidl and Morrison stores. There were closures too. The Working Men’s Club in Treorchy, was demolished and replaced by three new houses. Blaenllechau lost its infant school and its post office and Treherbert its baths. After a long campaign led by the GMB, Burberry closed its gates in 2007.

But nothing can quite compare with what is coming. Put simply, the Council has to find £56 million of cuts over the next four years, roughly £20 million this year. So the first list of closures is out. In my little patch of the Valleys five libraries will close, along with seven day centres. There will be no weekend Meals on Wheels, nursery school provision will be cut back, all our youth clubs will be relocated to secondary schools. Depressingly, the amount of money saved by some of these measures is paltry – roughly £500,000 from closing the Rhondda’s seven day centres – and the cuts announced thus far only get the Council half way.

And what’s infuriating is that I can do nothing about it. Oh yes, I can rant and rave. I can make a speech or two. I will excoriate George Osborne for slashing the grant to the Welsh Assembly by £1.6 billion. I could turn up for a photo opportunity at a day centre. I could stage a sit-in to try and save a particular library. I’ve just become Patron of the Rhondda Swimming Club and I might have to resort to a swim-in to save a swimming pool should the next round of cuts swing that way. But there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Not just because it’s a Council responsibility, or because Council funding allocations in Wales are determined by the Welsh Assembly, nor even because Labour is in opposition in Westminster. No, the truth is that if Labour wins the next election we are not going to have spare cash to hand out.

But why it makes me so angry is that some of these services were originally built by the voluntary subscriptions of miners. In some leafy stretch of suburbia perhaps modern charity could fill the gap. But with so many people locally on short hours, low wages and diminished benefits, that’s a pipedream. So it feels as if the last vestiges of civil society are being dismantled and a bonfire of local services is being lit on the altar of austerity.

Teenage follies need to be forgotten

I’ve not heard many disagree with Gloria de Piero’s request that people stop the crazy hunt for photos of her topless from 20 years ago. But there’s a wider point. We Labourites harp on about Boris and Dave’s adventures in Bullingdon-land. Some have salivated at the idea of kiss-and-tell stories from George Osborne’s youth. But the truth is that modern technology means that the sins, indiscretions and wild excesses of our youth are likely to hang around indelibly in the ether. Embarrassing photos, tweets and emails will probably plague the futures of many a budding politician. But the public is way ahead of the censorious press. They know that clay feet needn’t hobble a political hero, because even politicians have to be human. Gloria (pictured) has suggested that people don’t want politics to be restricted to those who planned their political careers in their teens. If anything the public would preclude from office anyone who declared such a teenage ambition.

No loyal support in Plebgate 

I don’t know what happened outside Downing Street and I don’t want to endorse high-handed rudeness to public officials, but it seems that Andrew Mitchell may have been stitched up somewhere along the way. One thing that still completely mystifies me, though, is why Cameron, who had all the facts to hand, sacked him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mitchell is now after Cameron’s job.

One way to empty the country

Although I’m no longer the Shadow Minister for Immigration (I’ve been transferred sideways to Welfare Reform) I had agreed ages ago to speak to Erith and Thamsmead Labour Party about immigration on Wednesday and it seemed rude to cancel. There was a great turn-out, giving the lie to those who think Labour people don’t want to talk about immigration. One chap called Alan told us of being harangued on a bus by a 72-year-old who thought that Britain was just too full. Alan told him “my father died at 63 and his brother at 64. If only you’d done the same there would be one fewer, wouldn’t there?” This is not Labour policy.

The Deputy Speaker stakes

The Deputy Speaker election was by secret ballot, but let me read the runes. Several Labour colleagues hoped to vote for Brian Binley, but he ruined his chances by talking endlessly about “man management” at our hustings session. A very Scouse-sounding Nadine Dorries reckoned that she would get a better reception from Labour than from Conservatives but was never in the running (if only we could all see ourselves as others see us). Henry Bellingham won plaudits for being a surprisingly good egg a la P G Wodehouse. David Amess was the funniest, not least recounting a campaign he had been involved in where his preferred candidate got fewer votes than there were members of the campaign team. Most MPs on both sides reckoned that however entertaining it might be to tweak Mr Bercow’s nose by electing Simon Burns, it would be daft to have a Speaker’s House divided against itself. And Eleanor Laing spoke the least, was the most gracious and as one Liberal told me “it would be good to have a Scottish woman in the chair during the referendum”.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there