Robert Halfon: Boris Johnson Must Show Real Contrition Over Partygate To Win Back Voters

"Rather than Operation Red Meat let’s have Operation Cut the Cost of Living,"
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Without doubt, we have all been upset and let down by the Downing St. parties. Given the sacrifices made by the public during the lockdowns, it is hardly a surprise that so many people feel upset and angry. The question is whether they will forgive the Government.

Speaking to my constituents in Harlow, I believe there is a chance this may happen, that is, if real contrition is shown and full responsibility for what has occurred is taken.

The Cabinet also needs to relentlessly focus on the major issues facing the nation - dealing with the cost of living and social justice, transforming education and skills and building affordable housing.

For millions of people, a cost of living crisis is somewhat of an understatement. Everything is going up, from food to petrol to utility bills, in my own constituency alone 1/10 are living in fuel poverty.

At present we have a Social Mobility Commission (SMC), which is largely a talking shop and simply acts as a poor man’s version of the likes of the respected Sutton Trust or Centre for Social Justice.

Just as we have the Office for Budget Responsibility that is responsible for the public finances, the SMC should be transformed into an institution that assesses most domestic policy for its impact on the cost of living and alleviating social injustice.

It should publish regular statements predicting key cost of living indicators and suggesting policies that would assist. Examples might be putting the £4 billion saved from cutting the overseas aid budget into a special fund to introduce a tax cut for the lower paid, or even a revamped SMC could be useful in the advance analysis of energy price rises and the impact on household budgets.

On education, there are major challenges. Firstly, the damage caused by Covid needs to be repaired, particularly in terms of helping the disadvantaged, who are lagging behind in all the main education indicators.

Secondly, the mental health epidemic amongst young people needs to be solved, having been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Thirdly, it must be ensured that the catch-up programme reaches the most disadvantaged and putting mental health professionals in all schools would be a significant start.

The Education Secretary is doing some great work with the Skills Bill currently before Parliament, but Education needs a long-term plan, with a secure funding settlement, led by the Prime Minister.

It is time the prime minister faced down the nimbies to build hundreds of thousands of genuinely affordable homes. Over ninety-percent of our land is not built on, I am passionate about right to buy and help to buy schemes, but one in four of the population have less than £100 in savings, so even the generous Government subsidy towards deposit schemes is out of reach to millions of people.

That is why a shift towards affordable housing is so important. A million people live in overcrowded accommodation. Millions more live in poor quality housing.

The Government policy should be to build, build build. Tax reductions and other financial incentives should be given to Housing Associations to build more affordable housing.

Big Developers should not be able to sit on land for years on end. Financial support should be given to housing associations to buy such land, slashing red tape on planning permission to encourage such development.

There is a cost-benefit to the Treasury as every person in genuinely affordable housing, reduces the multi-billion pound housing benefit bill, as these residents will no longer need to be in more expensive private accommodation.

Rather than Operation Red Meat let’s have Operation Cut the Cost of Living, Operation Education and Skills and Operation Affordable Housing.

They just might get the Government back on track and the public might just get back on side.

Robert Halfon is the Conservative MP for Harlow and the chair of the Commons education committee.


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