Richard Holden: The Japan trade deal, future CPTPP membership – deliverers of wages, prosperity and work to my Durham constituents.

26 Oct

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

Maddisons Cafe, Front Street, Consett

In the year I was born, 1985, Consett had unemployment of 35 per cent – multiples of the average across the country.

The decline and, finally, the end of heavy industry and mining in the hands of a few, nationalised employers, poor management and poorly led, often over-politicised unions brought down the industrial North – and the demise of these industries decimated communities that had been reliant for generations on an increasingly small number of large employers.

By the time of the last election, employment in North West Durham had recovered to around the national average. A significant part of that is down to Nissan and its supply chain in the region.

This is why the agreement that Liz Truss has signed with Japan last week provides a very much-needed good news at a very difficult time, particularly for North East England but, more widely, for the whole country.

Trade deal signings come with plenty of fanfare and diplomatic niceties. But, beneath the pageantry, these agreements are a fundamental catalyst for delivering growth and investment of the type that we will need to ensure that our economy recovers from Coronavirus. This is especially the case for places in the Blue Wall, including my constituency in North West Durham.

The Prime Minister was right when he said trade can help us build back better, and make Britain a leader in modern areas like the green economy, high-tech manufacturing and technology.

The Japan deal is proof that we can strike good trade deals for Britain, despite the derision of arch-Remainers. Britain is out there and we’re winning.

It proves we can go further and faster than the EU in such areas as digital and technology, including enabling the free flow of data, a commitment to uphold the principles of net neutrality and a ban on data localisation that will prevent British businesses from having the extra cost of setting up servers in Japan.

The agreement also goes much further than the EU deal in terms of food and drink. We have secured a deal which benefits our farmers and fishermen as British meats, cheese, and fish will face lower tariffs in Japan.

It also contains over 70 geographical indications – compared to seven under the EU deal – that will mean iconic British products from all over the UK such as Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Cornish Pasties, Welsh Lamb, Scottish Salmon, and Wensleydale Cheese receive legal protection from cheap imitations in Japan.

It helps provide critical continuity for businesses and secures many thousands of British jobs, not least those at the Nissan plant down the road, where many of my constituents’ work and which I recently visited with the International Trade Secretary.

And the Japan deal is just the start.

It is a signal not only of our capability as an independent trading nation, but also of our intent to strike great deals around the world and move well beyond the EU – particularly with Commonwealth countries and parts of the wider Pacific.

British industry, innovation and intellectual leadership shaped the world of international commerce that we recognise today. The work of Smith, Ferguson, Cobden and political giants like Robert Peel established Britain as the world’s pre-eminent trading nation, and set the stage for the creation of the international rules-based system a century later.

This Government’s ambition is to reconnect with that heritage, and re-establish Britain as a pre-eminent global trading nation that looks well beyond its own shores.

Leaving the EU gives us the chance to do that, and to lead the world in areas like the green economy (with hydrogen set to play a major role down the road in Teesside) services and technology.

The Japan deal is an important staging post in that journey. As well as driving economic growth across the country, it paves the way for us to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), one of the world’s largest free trade areas, covering 13 per cent of the global economy (and growing), comprising 11 major Pacific nations.

Membership of CPTPP is vital to our future interests and vision for Global Britain and, more broadly, we must decrease our reliance on large dictatorships whose ‘actions short of war’ – like intellectual property theft and cyber warfare – leave us under permanent attack.

By joining a high standards agreement with countries who play by the rules, we will strengthen the global consensus for free and fair trade at a time of heightened global uncertainty and rising protectionism – keeping markets open and trade flowing. Increased trade and connections with such countries is vital not only in economic terms, but also in geo-political and strategic terms.

Diversifying our trade and supply chains will also help our economy become more resilient to future shocks, and put us in a stronger position to reshape global trading rules alongside like-minded allies, including old friends such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia.

Strategically, this diversification is an exciting part of the Government’s plan to put Britain at the centre of a network of modern free trade deals, making us a hub for services, technology and cutting-edge manufacturing and green technology.

Ultimately, CPTPP membership delivers gains that would be impossible as part of the EU. And do so in a way that doesn’t impinge on our sovereignty. There is no ECJ, no harmonisation of domestic regulation and no ceding of sovereign powers.

All of this matters. Trade – and the notion of Global Britain – can seem divorced from the everyday worries and priorities of people here at home. But at its heart, trade is a powerful way to deliver the things people really care about.

It means more opportunities for local people, higher-skilled jobs, better standards of living, and happier, wealthier, more vibrant local communities in places like North West Durham, building on relationships abroad, as with Japan, to deliver local jobs so that we never again return to the bad old days of decay and decline that ultimately cost jobs and communities.

Liz Truss, who I recently spent time with on the production line at Sunderland, and the Government are working hard to secure CPTPP accession, and am pleased to see that a lot of the groundwork has been laid already – including exploring membership with all eleven countries in line with the official process.

Britain is at its best when it is an optimistic, outward-looking nation that engages with the world. CPTPP membership is the next logical step in the fulfilment of that vision.

It will show the world we are back as an independent trading nation and that we are not only a major force in global trade, but a major force for good across the globe.

Richard Holden: Access to cash. Here in County Durham, it matters to voters. Sunak should help to guarantee it.

28 Sep

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

“Cash is King”. In the City of London that means liquidity, numbers on paper – but what it boils down to is freedom of action when things get tight.

For many of my constituents, it means something slightly different: it means hard currency and it means control. When I’m away in Westminster, I rarely use notes and coins. Transactions happen at the touch of a card or, more likely, at the push of a few buttons on my phone.

In the ‘real world’ of my constituency, though, cash is still very important. Recently, while I was queueing outside the Golden Fish Inn on Delves Lane to pick up fish and chip, mushy peas and some cans of pop for the team who’d been out leafleting, I remembered that the chip shop is still cash only. A quick dash across the road to get some money from the cash machine and all was well.

But for many in my community – particularly those on tight budgets, pensioners, and people trying to manage their way out of debt – cash is what they live by. It’s easy to manage because once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can take £20 to get some shopping for the next few days, or take £10 out with you to get a few pints (yes, London readers: you really can get ‘a few pints’ for £10 in Consett) and go home not having spent more than you intended to. Access to physical cash remains crucial.

There has been a big shift under Covid-19, and the Golden Fish Inn is now unusual. Shops and businesses which were ‘cash only’ are fewer and further between.

Even my Wolsingham local, the Black Lion (where during the election campaign the regulars didn’t bat an eye as the Education Secretary and I grabbed a couple of pints, picked eggs and played pool poorly one evening) a staunchly cash-only wet pub until lockdown has now got a card machine. But in North West Durham generally it’s cash-and-card, not just card. Card only is exclusive of those in the most need, as the recent transformation away from cash in Sweden has shown.

The issue of access to cash was highlighted a few weeks ago, when I got a call from a small local shop in Billy Row, a small village near Crook in the south part of my constituency. The shop is basically open from first thing until late evening, seven days a week, provides essentials and has a cash machine inside.

It also has a post office counter, open dor much more restricted hours. Post Office Ltd had got in touch with them to say that the contract with the cash machine operator had expired, and the machine would be coming out for good in a matter of months. The result, the shop keeper told me, was that it would probably end the business and the shop in the village.

Why? Because a lot of local people budget use cash, and they don’t want to only be able to withdraw it at certain times on certain days from the Post Office counter, when to check the balance means it being printed off and passed over before they know if and how much they can take out.

It also means the workers who swing by on their way by in the morning to pick up a can, paper, packet of fags and grab some cash for lunchtime wouldn’t carry on doing so. And for the pub across the green, it means a lifeline for the business (being able to deposit and do basic banking) and access to cash for customers would go too.

A short, local campaign, a bit of local media, touching base with LINK (who were superb) and a few letters to senior management all helped – and the Billy Row cash machine will stay.

But it got me talking to people about how important cash is more broadly. I discovered that in one of the least affluent parts of my constituency, the only nearby cash machine charges £2 a go. That’s a lot to get access to your own money when you’re on a tight budget, and just want to grab so cash to pay to top up your electric meter, pay your hairdresser or grab some bits and pieces from the local shop or sandwich shop. So I’m now campaigning to get a free-to-use machine there to replace it and reduce what has been called in some quarters the ‘poverty premium.’

In the months since I was elected, it’s often these day-to-day issues: cash machines, speeding, unadopted roads, street-lighting, potholes, low-level crime and anti-social behaviour that I’ve noticed my Labour predecessors didn’t try (or at least not very hard) to do anything about.

Either they felt it was beneath them (and too many Labour councillors think these issues are beneath them still), or they were too busy concentrating on planning the revolution to deal with the issues that mean so much in people’s everyday lives.

Throughout the global pandemic, the Government has stood up in an unprecedented way to support jobs and businesses across the country. My constituents know that nothing comes for free, and that the colossal short-term support that has been provided to save jobs and businesses cannot be provided in the long-term.

The broader levelling-up agenda – the defining mission of this Government – needs to be the focus, and delivering on key manifesto promised on hospitals, police numbers, nurses and doctors must be the overarching focus post-Coronavirus.

But now that the budget is delayed until spring, we have a window of opportunity for the Chancellor and his team to also step back, and target support for schemes and policies that can really deliver those smaller changes that make a difference to families and communities in the ‘Blue Wall’, and also pockets in every constituency.

Not all of it needs to cost the earth – and in some cases, need not cost anything. Access to cash is one of these issues in the broader Treasury remit, and needs to be looked at. With a bit of time, we can drill down into the long-term issues that make communities feel left behind, isolated, ignored and yes, ripped off.

By listening to them, rather than talking at them, we can avoid the fate of our Labour predecessors across the newly Blue constituencies by getting things done on the ground that make an immediate difference to people’s lives, alongside our broader ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Richard Holden: The Government must hold firm and stay on course as the Commons returns this week

31 Aug

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Baa, Edmundbyers, Co Durham

In Edmundbyers they came en masse – well, en masse for a small village. It was the 30th or so stop out of 50 on my constituency summer surgery tour of the communities of North West Durham. Fifteen or so constituents were gathered, questions and comments at the ready, on village green.

As at other stops, some came to raise specific local issues. Some came to mention national policy. Many just came to meet their MP; put a face to the name, or to get the measure of someone they sometimes see on local telly or in the paper, who they elected last year. And, of course, many constituents just wanted to get a couple of things off their chest.

The interactions reminded me of visiting The Grey Horse, Consett for my “ask the candidate” session back in November. That “ask the candidate” was an interesting event because I came under very heavy questioning from the start.

What I learnt from the interrogation I got then, aside from a couple of Labour activists who’d been sent along, was that the toughness wasn’t really directed at me; I was just the person stood there who was taking years of pent up frustration. A deep frustration that came from years of resentment, not with me or even the Conservative Party, but with politics generally; at not having had any opportunity to speak to and question their elected representatives, or those seeking election, before.

This was rammed home time and again on my summer tour and, perhaps more tellingly still, when I attended a parish council meeting and was informed by those present, including by a Parish Councillor who’d been on for the best part of half a century, that no previous MP had ever reached out them, let alone attended one of their council meetings.

In many of the villages I visited in the last fortnight people said things like “I’ve never seen or heard of my councillor, never mind my MP in my village before.” Speaking to so many people in my constituency over the summer has reminded me of the deep sense of detachment many have felt from those they elected to represent them over many years, but also the impact an active local MP or councillor can make to people’s feeling of dislocation.

That initial reaction, as I found at The Grey Horse, is just that – a reaction. It’s the first thing that happens when presented with someone who you’re then able to ask a question of. What it isn’t is a response to you or a guide in any way to how people might vote or how they necessarily really feel.

I learnt several weeks after my grilling at The Grey Horse that people had been impressed by my clarity, honesty and the fact that I’d turned up in a heavily Labour part of my constituency without a massive entourage; that I had stood my ground and given as good, if not better, than I’d got. In fact, a good number of those present had their vote tipped in my direction on the strength of that session when compared with the other candidates they saw.

As MPs leave their constituencies at the end of the summer recess and head back to Parliament, it will serve us well to remember the difference between the initial reaction and the response, especially to those who seek to discern what the public want from polling them.

There is frustration out there at everything relating to the global Coronavirus pandemic. There is an acknowledgment that the support the Government has provided to the economy has been substantial and will need to be paid for. There is still, rightly, a lot of fear out there about the virus, but also a desire that we don’t let it unnecessarily continue to impinge on our lives more than is necessary.

The next few months in politics in the run up to Christmas and though the new year are going to be challenging. There are major issues on the table. Our future relationship with the EU negotiations, which are likely to go down to the wire. There are also multiple complex international trade negotiations with Japan, the US, Australia and others.

There’ll be a very difficult budget for our Chancellor. And a Fisheries Bill that’ll set out our post-EU fishing regime as well as other contentious legislation. These will all be set in the context of the ongoing impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic on jobs and the economy.

Internationally, the situation with China and Russia is increasingly charged. The United States faces what is set to be a potentially both bruising and close Presidential election. Even normally calm Japan, an increasingly crucial international partner and ally, is in the midst of a change, following the departure of their respected Prime Minister.

As all these things play-out, we Conservatives must not get distracted too by the initial reaction because things will be choppy. We’re in a political battle for the long-term future of our country. What’s important is the leadership we show as we look to where we want the country to be in the years ahead. In early 2016, who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now? In fact, at the general election eight months ago who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now?

What we’re crafting together in Parliament is a response to the question at the next general election: “who do you want to be governing the country for the next four or five years?” to the people in The Grey Horse in Consett and on the village green at Edmundbyers. There are many staging posts as we slowly make our way there, and through the first anniversary of the general election.

In the tumult of the next few months, the adage that a week is a long time in politics will be seen again to be all too true, but we’ve got to hold firm to delivering a very clear response to the only question that matters – one that will be answered way down the line in the ballot box.