Food banks and rough sleepers, Tories should heed John Major – Tom Richmond

Sir John Major was Prime Minister from 1990-97.Sir John Major was Prime Minister from 1990-97.
Sir John Major was Prime Minister from 1990-97.
THERE are many Tories who still dismiss Sir John Major as a tired old Remainer who is no longer welcome in the Conservative Party due to Brexit.

They are wrong. Unburdened by office, he’s in a position to speak far more clearly – and with far more candour – than he could when he tried to hold his party together in the 1990s.

And he’s the first leader – past or present – who has dared to speak about the “national conscience” post-Covid and how this can, potentially, change Britain for the better.

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I suggest everyone interested in politics and policy-making takes off the Brexit blinkers and listens to Sir John’s insightful interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Social care reform has been named as a national prioruty by Sir John Major.Social care reform has been named as a national prioruty by Sir John Major.
Social care reform has been named as a national prioruty by Sir John Major.

First he explained how all crises throw up opportunities and he cited the example of rough sleepers. “They’ve been there for 20, 30 and 40 years and yet for health reasons it has been absolutely necessary to take rough sleepers off the street,” he said.

“That has happened and I think that it is very welcome. We now need policy to keep them from returning there.” Agree?

Sir John then ventured that the pandemic, and 100 days of lockdown, will bring about “a tipping point in our values system” because the “virus has showcased inequalities and, as a result of that, public opinion may change and, I think, priorities may change”.

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As well as the NHS and its staff being in the front of the queue for future funding, he went on: “We’ve learned that there are many unglamorous jobs in our economy, often lowly paid, that are crucial to our way of life.

Boris Johnson during his 'Build, Build, Build' speech in the West Midlands earlier this week.Boris Johnson during his 'Build, Build, Build' speech in the West Midlands earlier this week.
Boris Johnson during his 'Build, Build, Build' speech in the West Midlands earlier this week.

“I have in mind care workers who are generally lamentably paid, cleaners, porters, delivery men, the refuse collectors who have a health interest in collecting our rubbish, shop assistants, a huge number of people who we tend not to realise the extent to which we depend upon them in our daily life.”

Speaking with raw emotion about those who have lost their health, and lives, helping others, Sir John went on to assert: “It has become evident a lot of people have been left behind by the changing nature of modern life.

“Common decency suggests that this has to be put right and I think the national conscience post-Covid may demand it.” Agree?

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Then social care, a challenge that has beaten successive governments. “I think it has been undervalued and I don’t think it is possible any longer to undervalue it – and that may be an advance,” said Sir John. Agree?

And then this aside. “It is truly shocking we have food banks in 2020,” he ventured. Agree?

A riveting interview, Sir John accepted that it was even harder coming up with policy solutions. He advised that the Government take advantage of historically low interest rates before having to put taxes up.

But he was on the money when he spoke about the “national conscience”. And the articulation of compassionate Conservatism was far more thoughtful than Boris Johnson’s ‘build, build, build’ speech in Dudley when the PM became embroiled in a pointless debate about whether he was a communist or not.

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For, if that was so, what would that make an elder statesman like Sir John Major? I digress. But the point is this. Sir John’s wisdom should be welcomed by his party if it has a ‘national conscience’ – this has nothing to do with Brexit.

YOU can tell when a Prime Minister is 
in trouble – they promise to simplify 
the planning system and Boris Johnson 
is no different to Sir John Major and others.

Yet it never happens. It is a gesture politics. However, while the PM was speaking in Dudley, a backbench Bill was being presented to the Commons that could make a lasting difference.

Tabled by Tory grandee Sir Geoffrey Clinton-Brown, and backed by Sheffield MP Clive Betts amongst others, it would require residential developers to meet minimum standards when it comes to the provision of insulation, broadband connectivity and electric car charging points for all new homes.

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I agree – homes should be future-proofed. But I would go further. All new properties should be flood-proofed too.

SPEAKER Sir Lindsay Hoyle was straight to the point when Labour had to table an urgent question to get a Minister to attend the Commons to explain the changes at the top of the Civil Service.

“At some point the Government ought to be coming to the House with statements, rather than me granting UQs? Can we bear that in mind in future?” Sir Lindsay told Michael Gove. I hope Ministers heed the warning.

If it had been left to Sir Lindsay’s predecessor John Bercow, we would not have heard the end of it.

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TALKING of Parliamentary courtesies, why did Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and his officials brief a national newspaper over the steps schools will be expected to take in September to resume lessons before informing MPs or, more pertinently, teaching and local authority leaders?

Given this plan involves overhauling the curriculum, staggering break times, grouping children into “bubbles” and staggering the start and end of the day, this was another own goal by Mr Williamson at a time when he should be building bridges with the teaching profession. Has he learned nothing?

SOME lockdown relief has been provided by a pair of mute swans in my local park and their six cygnets whose white plumage is beginning to show.

Yet, as the weeks have passed, they’ve taken to spending more time sleeping on the grass – and foraging on the cricket pitch – than in the water. Any explanations to my ‘swan lake’ curiosity?

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