This time next week Parliament is dissolved, and the election campaign is officially underway. There’s a lot to get through in the short amount of time before then, and this week has been a particularly busy one.
In addition to the budget announcement (which was followed by three days of debates) I celebrated the official launch of my re-election campaign, spoke in a debate on the Modern Slavery Bill, spent hours out knocking on doors in Islington and sent out hundreds of letters to constituents.
Wednesday’s budget announcement was probably the low point. In what I hope will be his last time at the despatch box, George Osborne delivered a budget that was overloaded with gimmicks while offering absolutely nothing to the Islington residents who badly needed a break.
The so-called economic “recovery” hasn’t worked for Islington and we still have higher than average levels of youth unemployment and child poverty. Extremes of rich and poor aren’t new to Islington, but trends over the last five years have shown a bad situation get worse.
Just today the Gazette reported that since the current government came to power, houses in our borough have earned almost twice as much as people have. Everything – house prices, rent costs, electricity and gas bills, transport and child care costs – has gone up except for incomes.
Not that I expected this government to understand that or to fix it. But it was hard not to be taken aback by the Chancellor’s hubris when he claimed, without any regard for objective facts, that living standards had gone up on his watch.
But it wasn't all bad news. Later that same day I celebrated the official launch of my campaign at St James’ Church in Clerkenwell. The gathering was a perfect reminder of what makes our community so resilient in spite of of all the challenges we face.
One of the things I most love about Islington is its community spirit. We’re one of the most diverse communities in London – not just in terms of wealth and income but in terms of background too. We have people from all over the world and all walks of life. We all rub shoulders and we like it that way.
The government’s efforts to drive a wedge between people hasn’t worked here, because we also have a sense of resilience and optimism. We know from experience that there’s a better way, that there are solutions to the problems we face and that our greatest strength comes when we collectively confront our challenges.
People were energised that evening. Although it will be too late to undo this latest budget after May’s election, it’s now clearer than ever what we’re up against and what we’re fighting for. The government that brought us the benefit cap and the bedroom tax, cut the affordable housing budget by 60% and pushed the NHS to the brink of privatisation now wants to ask for our votes.
George Osborne may think he can hoodwink people into giving them, but Islington knows better and we won’t let him get away with it.