Lets choose a more compassionate, greener future as we recover from Coronavirus

Speech to Wandsworth Council, Feb 2021

This year has been dominated by the dreadful Coronavirus crisis. It’s affected every part of life in Wandsworth. And will for years to come.  

The way we work, how our children learn, how we travel and what the council can achieve. As we look at these budgets for the coming years, we face a choice about the world we want to live in. 

This crisis has shown us who the real key workers in society are. I hope we will do our part to recognise their sacrifice and respect their work. Wandsworth care workers, supporting the most vulnerable, are being paid less than the London Living Wage. That’s not right. Let’s change it.  

I’d like to thank staff for their work on this budget – and all staff for their incredible dedication throughout the crisis. It’s appreciated. 

As councillor Emily Wintle said, nearly a year into this pandemic, the UK has the highest number of Coronavirus deaths in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy. We have passed the tragic total of 100,000 people dying in the UK. Behind every death, a grieving family. My heart goes out to them. It’s a terrible illness.

It’s inspiring to see Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the Tooting MP, work shifts this week as part of the Family Liaison Team. She tells of heartbroken toddlers via a Zoom call pleading with their parents to keep fighting for life. 

I know how crucial this role is: when my father-in-law was in hospital last year we were unable to say goodbye. 

It’s plain to see the Government failed us at every step in this crisis. Too slow into lockdown, too slow to protect care homes and too slow to change the rules before Christmas. This cost lives.  

Boris Johnson has been a disaster. I first met him 20 years ago. He was regularly late, badly prepared and arrogant – he thought he could just wing it. He hasn’t changed. He’s a bad joke. Too many families are paying the price. 

As we emerge from this pandemic, we cannot return to business as usual. We’ve sacrificed too much for that. We must rebuild for a better future – with a greener, more compassionate borough where families can thrive and hard work is rewarded. 

We’ll set out our council tax position at the next meeting but let me say this – council tax is hugely unfair tax. It hurts older people, renters and those on low incomes. Keeping it low is the right thing to do.  

We all know Wandsworth is a great place to live. And you can now sense a new mood within its strong, diverse communities – people are turning their backs on the Tories’ stale Thatcherite vision for Wandsworth.  

That vision has failed. Our community as just a luxury dormitory for overseas investors. Dubai on Thames. Our council as just a bunch of outsourced contracts. Doesn’t fly anymore. 

The 1980s called and they want their ideas back.

Residents now see another way forward. A choice. This past year has shown what the council can achieve when it is focused like a laser on protecting the most vulnerable. 

Why did it take a pandemic to notice so many children lacked the devices and data to learn? That we could help all homeless people off the streets and into safe housing? Why did we need a footballer to tell us hungry children should be fed?  

We now know it can be done. We can create safer streets. We can tackle health inequalities. We can truly value the contribution of older people to society. 

Sadly, these budgets show how far the council is from being able to achieve these goals. Local government has been cut to pieces. 

Wandsworth Labour stands ready with fresh, practical ideas and a radically different vision built on fairness and common sense. The same low council tax, with the right values. 

These incredible vaccines give us hope of a way out of this dark crisis. Let’s choose a more compassionate, sustainable future for Wandsworth – one with safer, stronger communities.

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