We have discovered that my niece, Aimee, who has just had her fourth birthday, has taken to watching the news. My sister was a little surprised to have a horror-struck child with a trembling lip arrive in the kitchen. Woolworths was closing. Aimee has been a loyal and trusted customer of Woolworths on Wanstead High St for much of her life. Its shop was full of wonders for a little girl and could always be relied upon to have that little toy that she absolutely needed. Now this important part of her life was going to close for ever.
Woolworths has reportedly been in trouble for some years and it would appear that this current economic climate has finally caused its closure. The high profile collapse of such a long-standing High Street retailer is a very conspicuous reminder to us all of the severity of the problems we are facing. More and more of you are talking to me of the concerns you have for the future and how uncertain it feels.
And yet amidst this economic uncertainty, Westminster has been somewhat transfixed by the arrest of the Conservative Immigration Spokesperson, Damian Green, and the subsequent search of his offices by the Metropolitan Police.
The Damian Green story began when the police were asked to investigate leaks from the Home Office. It is not the first time a Government has asked for leaks to be investigated. Sometimes, the police investigate and sometimes they refuse. This time they investigated. I can only assume that they did so, because the Home Office has genuinely sensitive information and is responsible for issues like national security.
There have been genuine concerns expressed about how this incident impacts upon Parliamentary Privilege, which protects MPs from the power of the state, when going about their duties as Members of Parliament. The excellent Channel 4 series, The Devil’s Whore, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was an excellent reminder of just how long and bloody the battles were that gained independence for Parliament and established freedom from the Monarch that we enjoy today. These privileges do give MPs the right not to be arrested in the Palace of Westminster on civil matters, but MPs are not protected from arrest at Westminster, if they commit a crime and nor should we be.
This row over the search has overshadowed all else these past two weeks. It has eclipsed the Queen’s Speech and distracted Parliament at a time when Parliament and Government should be single-minded in their focus on the economy: on saving businesses and jobs.
I have already had letters about how the Recession is impacting upon you, both at home and at work. I’m keen to receive more letters, so I can tell Ministers what is happening to our economy locally, when changes in the tax or benefits system help or hurt. The Government needs real-world information, so it can act effectively and fast and I want to make sure the Government gets its information directly from you.