Today, the 6th May, marks the 10th anniversary of Mark Garnier’s time as our Tory MP.
Is it an occasion to celebrate his ‘achievements’?
Is Wyre Forest better off because of his term as MP?
To answer those questions, I’ll be looking back at his record.
Last week, Mark appeared to be in celebratory mood himself by employing one of his expensive and colourful wraparounds in the Kidderminster Shuttle declaring it a “Mark Garnier MP Coronavirus Update”. It gave an upbeat message of a Government and MP doing something.
What it did not contain however was any new information on coronavirus. It was a compilation of things we already know. To the inquisitive mind it all appeared somewhat pointless.
It served its purpose though, because as well as the positive vibe, it complemented the two articles inside the paper, which allowed Mark free rein to express his ‘opinion’ including on the NHS PPE scandal.
So, it was all about name checking Mark, and reinforcing the “look what I’m doing for you” illusion. This approach has been a hallmark of Mark’s time as our MP.
The PPE scandal is big news, but even in that story, like always, we rarely get Mark expressing his true opinions in public. For that you have to check his voting record.
This all happened in a week that we were subject to the Government’s dodgy made up virus testing figures of hitting self-made targets; and worse, a real death toll according to Chris Giles of The Financial Times and based on ONS data, of 50,000 coronavirus deaths. You’d hardly notice Mark’s concern for any of this.
The Government needed a distracting “good news” week to hide their shambolic handling of this crisis – and we duly got it.
WHAT DOES MARK STAND FOR?
Before I tackle what Mark’s legacy means for many of the people of Wyre Forest, I just want to remind you of some of the things he has said and done in his time as an MP, as well as expose his Parliamentary voting record.
- He referred to you as “dog end voters”.
- He called his previous secretary “sugar tits”
- He said sending his secretary to buy sex toys was just “high jinks”
- He predicted the early demise of the Euro.
- He said the UAE has “huge advantages” like “the rule of a benevolent dictator”.
- He defended PIP reassessments causing financial hardship to many disabled people in Wyre Forest as a mere “statistical anomaly” (it wasn’t).
- He has never condemned the closure of local mental health services.
- He has never condemned the closure of local addiction or dependency services.
- He has never condemned the closure of respite care for families with disabled kids.
- He has never condemned the closure of social care facilities.
- He has never condemned the closure of Fire Stations.
- He has never condemned the closure of Police Stations.
- He has never once condemned the loss of Home Care Services for the elderly & vulnerable.
- He voted for the caravan tax then immediately started a petition against it.
- He voted for more tax cuts for the rich.
- He voted against the Equal Marriage Act.
- He voted to privatise Wyre Forest and the other national forest spaces we have.
- He voted to privatise the NHS.
- He voted for the Bedroom tax.
- He voted for welfare cuts.
- He voted for Universal Credit.
- He voted to restrict worker rights.
- He voted to restrict trade union rights.
- He voted for Police cuts.
- He voted for Fire & Rescue Service cuts.
- He voted for cuts to council services.
- He voted for cuts to adult care
- He voted for cuts to Children’s Services (also includes Sure Start Centres)
- He voted for cuts to school budgets.
- He voted for cuts to elderly & social care.
- He voted for cuts to the NHS.
- He voted against a pay rise for nurses as Tories cheered.
I hope his inbox gets filled with queries asking him if he feels any shame when he claps for our NHS on Thursday’s at 8pm?
THE TORY ESTABLISHMENT VERSUS THE NHS:
In my dealings with Mark Garnier, he has always fundamentally believed in the establishment and how it works. Even when I set up the now defunct cross-party Kidderminster Hospital Alliance to save our local hospital services, he believed that public bodies always do the right thing. This was despite it becoming increasingly obvious to many that the consultation about the re-organisation of Worcestershire Acute NHS was a sham. Namely, because the NHS simply didn’t have the money and the Government was starving it of necessary funds.
Eight years on and our local NHS is in a right state, in special measures, £70million in the red, A&E unable to cope, ambulances stacked up outside. That was the result 8 years on from the Alliance trying to protect services. It was an uphill struggle, doomed to fail, but it looked good for Mark being involved and to cement his ‘Save The NHS’ credentials. He never once joined us on a ‘Save The NHS’ rally in London though.
The local NHS debt may have now been written off due to coronavirus but the core problems remain – underfunding and privatisation. This won’t simply go away overnight, it’s now systemic and will be so until our NHS is properly funded and the privatisation of it is stopped. Sadly, coronavirus has seen an acceleration of NHS privatisation as cronyism abounds with things like the “NHS tracing app” contract going to a mate of Boris Johnson’s advisor, Dominic Cummings, instead of being handled by our local public health bodies.
WEALTH VERSUS POVERTY:
Mark is a wealthy privately educated ex-Investment Banker who was born into and moulded by the establishment. His job is to defend it even when it works against the poorest in our society. Apart from voting for tax cuts for the most wealthy, which has seen the top 1% accumulate another £500billion, and as our services crumble, he is in favour of poverty pay. In May 2019, he denounced a suggestion that young workers should get a living wage of £10 per hour as he continued to draw his MP salary of £79,000 per year. He also once said he gave up a well-paid career in investment banking where he was on a “higher salary in his twenties” than now to become an MP. So, maybe we should just be really grateful that he decided to become ‘our’ MP? He clearly thinks we owe him something.
Sadly, for most, inequality is a pre-existing condition, just as wealth is a pre-existing privilege. Where you start out in life tends to dictate where you end up. Removing opportunities like Mark and his Government have done for the poorest to climb the ladder will mean problems arise – and we now have plenty in Wyre Forest. Mark will be fine, whatever happens, he’s seen to that, he uses taxpayers money to pay his wife to be his secretary and will remain wealthy. Many of you don’t have that ‘opportunity’.
THE MAGICIAN’S HAND:
Mark Garnier has a magician’s hand when it comes to hiding his own opinions from the public to garnish your vote. In fairness, it has been a highly effective strategy and his weekly column in The Shuttle proves it. His ability as a staunch Remainer to increase his vote share in 2019 in a massively Leave voting constituency is testament to this. He deserves credit for that.
However, so you know, in a rare candid moment on the eve of the referendum he told me and others in an Alliance pre-meeting that it was only about silencing Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers in his own Party. So, it was not actually ever about ‘taking back control’ then?
Two things in particular stand out and sum up this talented ‘magician’s hand’ of his:
- That he voted for the caravan tax then immediately started a petition against it when he realised the damage it would cause to his reputation with local business.
- That he sent his secretary into a sex shop to buy 2 sex toys because he didn’t have the courage to be seen doing it himself.
Of course, one of these things worked out better than the other for him – but he’s still there and our MP isn’t he? Nonetheless, whilst it may all be mere “high jinks” to him, for thousands that live in Wyre Forest it is far from “high jinks”.
The following list is the physical manifestation of what his opinion really means for many in Wyre Forest:
- Wyre Forest schools are £2million short of the money they need with 10% of children leaving school with no qualifications and 80% having less than 5 GCSE’s
- Our local NHS has constantly been on the brink of collapse underfunded by about £70million since 2010
- Wages have remained at around 2008 levels with a consequent drop in living standards (cumulative inflation since then tops 28% = wages down prices up)
- Median pay stands at £24,700 (the lowest in Worcestershire and women fare worst at £22,800, versus £26,800 nationally for women) and well below the national median pay of £29,800
- Wyre Forest has an economy based on the retail industry with its plethora of insecure working practices leading to issues of poverty and deprivation
- Shops are closing and our main High Street in Kidderminster is depressed, only bolstered by a growing number of much needed charity shops
- There is a housing waiting list of 3,500 with at least 6,000 households in actual need
- There is a chronic lack of affordable housing
- 1400 homes in the private rented sector are unfit and in need of urgent repair
- There are insufficient houses being built due to Government policy prioritising the needs of privateers and a rentier system at the expense of those in need
- Wyre Forest is fifth in a list of shame for homelessness in the West Midlands
- 34% of kids live in conditions of “financial distress” with the highest child poverty rates in Worcestershire (End Child Poverty Coalition figures)
- Foodbank use has risen 25% in the last year alone with 2,348 food parcels issued in a six month period to the end of 2019 (Trussell Trust) and 60% of foodbank users are from working families
- Welfare cuts have impacted deeply with the disastrous Universal Credit and the ‘Bedroom Tax’ hitting families hard as they struggle with the break in the link between housing support and inflation.
- Worcestershire County Council report states that our health and wellbeing rates are amongst some of the worst outcomes in England, with life expectancy 10 years less for men and 6 years less for women than those in less deprived areas
- Hospital admissions for self-harm are well above average and Wyre Forest is in the top 15 for depression rates (The Guardian/House Of Commons Library/GP Reports).
I have to say, before I am criticised for this seeming negativity, all of these real issues for real people were addressed in the 2017 and 2019 Labour Manifestos. Our policies were designed to rebuild our economy and lift hard working people out of poverty. A poverty of not just wealth, but of aspiration caused by 10 years of Tory rule.
Sadly, whether it’s an expectation that nothing can be done to improve things, that Labour somehow broke a global economy causing the global banking crash because teachers, doctors, nurses or council workers were paid too much, or that the 6th richest country in the world doesn’t have any money to pay for public services, or that poor people, foreigners, the EU, or any other scapegoat is to blame – it’s all been normalised to the extent we accept that this is the status quo, so that we seemingly don’t care anymore, we cannot make a difference even if we try.
Mark has played a willing role in all of that. This is his true legacy, this messaging has made all of these cuts, all of the pain, and the transfer of more wealth to the top 1% possible. That was always his mission.
NO CELEBRATIONS FOR THE MANY:
Without equality of opportunity, and fair wealth distribution, then any society will collapse in on itself eventually. That is what has been slowly happening. Coronavirus has demonstrated this and accelerated it exposing the things we should really value.
Since 2010, I have been beating the equality of opportunity drum in the various campaigns and issues I have been involved with to try and save our local services and improve things. What I have noticed is that Mark only gets involved in local issues if he sees it as safe bet for votes, and not in conflict with the political narrative of his party and austerity. If the going gets tough, he’ll retreat to the establishment position and shrug his shoulders. So be prepared for that reality if you ask for his help to save or do something important for your local community.
Nevertheless, the 2017 and 2019 Labour Manifesto policies are still needed, more than ever in fact. It’s probably why the Tories are nicking so many of them right now to bridge the current crisis. These policies need more permanency though.
If coronavirus has taught us one thing, it is that we cannot go on the way we have been. Mark Garnier and his Tories represent an old way of doing things for the wealthy establishment elite and their tax dodging friends, who exploit the workers, the planet, and our very existence. And coronavirus has ruthlessly exposed that reality.
Key workers are more important for us than hedge fund managers.
Remember that as we eventually exit the coronavirus crisis and you have a future opportunity to vote for change.
Ultimately, whilst Mark Garnier will be celebrating 10 years of being Tory MP for Wyre Forest on 6th May, and he deserves some credit for that achievement, many others in Wyre Forest won’t be celebrating. They instead face the daily grind of trying to make ends meet and dealing with a system increasingly rigged against them, thanks to Mark’s best efforts. Efforts he’s very keen that you know little about. But now you do know.
Wyre Forest Labour Press Officer, Stephen Brown