Last week the Westminster bubble expanded with a lot of hot air about Britain’s future in the European Union. The current crop of Conservative MPs has a Eurosceptic majority, with a substantial hard core advocating complete withdrawal . They form a curious alliance with the left of the Labour party, egged on by a hysterical tabloid press.
I’m a Europhile, convinced that Britain will be much stronger as a fully engaged member of the EU. But listening to my fellow MPs and reading the newspaper headlines you’d swear that I was guilty of some treasonable offence, surrendering my constituents to the terror of rule by Brussels. Or so it felt in the unreal world of Westminster.
In the real world, I’m not convinced the issue is so important. Fewer than 20 Bristol West constituents wrote to me before the debate. I have one of the biggest mailbags of any MP so this suggests that some MPs are putting their dogma first. They’re also putting at risk constituents’ jobs. What we need now is some economic stability in Europe so the recovery can gather speed. In the Chancellor’s statement on the Eurozone I said that the secure future of the Euro currency was in Britain’s national interest and we should concentrate on strengthening the single market, to create more trade and jobs.
After the heated atmosphere in Parliament it was a relief to get back to a couple of days jam-packed with visits in Bristol, hearing the real concerns of local people. I spent Friday visiting various businesses that have taken on new apprentices. The Evening Post has done a great job encouraging Bristol firms to give youngsters the job and training that comes with an apprenticeship. I met the bosses and apprentices at four enterprises ranging from a one room recruitment agency to the BBC. There and at the digital media business and the call centre I visited in St Pauls, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the apprentices and impressed by the commitment of the employers. There are still many Bristol businesses that do not take on apprentices. The Government is putting huge resources behind the training costs so I hope this will soon change and more Bristol youngsters can have a bright future.
Saturday showed the variety of an MPs life. It was both national Make a Difference Day and Great British Pubs Week! So I spent Saturday morning on the till at the Gloucester Road branch of Marie Curie Cancer Care. They and the many other charity shops along the road raise huge amounts for good causes. But they need more volunteers. In the afternoon I was pulling pints behind the bar at the King’s Arms on Blackboy Hill.
So come on Bristol – take on more apprentices, help out a local charity and visit your local pub!
[NOTE - this was written for the Bristol Evening Post and published on Wednesday]