November 2021: Remembrance, reflection and looking to the future
The tragic killing of Sir David Amess MP, his life brutally cut short at his constituency surgery, was an all too vivid reminder of the daily risks those in public life face. I didn't know Sir David personally, but from what I have read he seemed a decent man, an assiduous constituency MP who stood up for his town, his residents and beliefs. The sheer waste of life is too awful to comprehend. None of us who stand for election, of whatever political persuasion, do so lightly. We know it will be tough and that, rightly, there will be public scrutiny, a range of opinions and people who differ from the stance we take on the key issues of the day. That is part of politics. It is only right that those who put us in power have the opportunity to hold us to account. Having been in active politics most of my adult life, I have never shied away from a debate, a constituency surgery or knocking on voters' doors to gauge their opinions.
What I feel has become intolerable is the nature of the online discourse. It has become markedly worse with threats, harassment and intimidation. Enough is enough. We must all – the media, politicians and voters – play our part in ensuring the nature of public discourse is fair, balanced and not personalised. We cannot let evil win the day. Our democratic processes have always been a strong and robust part of our way of life, the institutions that are the bedrock of our society. That includes holding constituency surgeries, seeing people face to face and ensuring we are as open and accessible as possible. That important work has to go on, as we never forget the lives of Sir David and Jo Cox, another fantastic MP who was also, so awfully, taken from us 5 years ago. These are sobering times for us all. As leader of the council, my thoughts are with the family and friends of Sir David, as well as those of Jo. Our flags flew at half-mast outside Number One Riverside, Rochdale, as a mark of respect, where councillors and officers came together recently to pay tribute and reflect.
The chancellor recently delivered his budget. Once again a lot of talk of levelling up, with no real meat on the bones. Over the last decade, the government has consistently given with one hand and taken with the other. Levelling up is a soundbite, not matched by reality. It implies we have stood still for a decade. We haven't. In terms of national investment we have fallen behind. The facts are vivid. Around £16 billion has been taken from local government over that period, including over £170 million cut from our budget in Rochdale. Never mind levelling up, levelling back would be a start. My menu of wishes for our borough include a serious commitment to funding our adult care services, real investment in our transport infrastructure, addressing inequality and the growing north-south divide. The post-coronavirus (COVID-19) landscape will look totally different to our pre-pandemic society. There is a need for a radical public health programme, an investment in mental health services, and a vision to inspire our younger people, as well the improved connectivity between north and south, and east and west that is so very long overdue.
Another shot in the arm we need locally is a step up of the booster programme. I sense the government slightly took its foot off the peddle on the vaccine booster roll out, so I am pleased to read that anyone aged over 40 will shortly be able to have a booster jab. The facts are clear. The booster offers vital protection for individuals, their family, friends and the community. So, if you had your second vaccine 6 months ago and are over 50 (and from Monday, 22 November 2021, aged over 40), a health and care worker or clinically vulnerable, please book yours.
Further details, along with details of our latest pop up clinics for first and second jabs, can be found on our Vaccination page.
We have plans in place at a local level to deal with any winter pressures. You can play your part by having your COVID-19 vaccines, boosters and the flu jab. It's been a tough 20 months, but let's all continue to do our bit to get us through the winter period.
I end my latest column as I started it, with a moment of reflection. On Sunday, 14 November 2021, Remembrance Sunday services were once again held across the borough. Last year we paid our respects remotely, so it was heartening to see the community coming together again to remember those who fought to protect our liberty, freedoms and values. We will always remember them.