Politics is all topsy turvey, trust in our is democracy being deliberately eroded, and inequality and poverty are the rise. Here’s my ten predictions for 2020:
1. Glorious Mayflower year ahead
In 1620 the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to America. This was one of the thousands of voyages that set sail from Plymouth that went on to make history. As the Chair of the Parliamentary group on Mayflower 400, I’m looking forward to the Mayflower commemorations in September, not only for a good party, but for the creation of a legacy for investment in our city. In remembering the Pilgrims, the Mayflower Compact, the journey towards the US constitution, religious freedom and our city’s role in the Mayflower story, let’s also remember the impact of colonialism on Native American communities. There’s more than one side to every story and in this Mayflower year we must tell both sides.
2. More people in poverty and using foodbanks
The growing level of poverty and hunger in our city is shameful. One third of children in Plymouth are growing up below the poverty line. That means they’re going to school without enough food in their belly to learn properly, clothes that fit them or homes heated to keep them warm in the winter. Poverty will continue to rise until we take meaningful steps to stop the rise. That means dealing with the causes of poverty: low wages, deliberate assault on welfare, high cost of accommodation and persistent public and mental health issues being ignored. I fear that in 2020, more people in our city will be using foodbanks and more of our kids will miss out on their potential as they go to school hungry.
3. We will leave the EU on 31 January but Brexit won’t be done
I think Britain is best in a reformed EU – but that’s an argument that’s already been lost. The hard-right Tory majority means that Britain will leave the EU on 31 January. Brexiteers will celebrate, but Brexit won’t be over – it will just have begun. For those sick and tired of Brexit 2020 will bring more of the same. Debates about trade negotiations, Northern Ireland, customs unions and the single market will rage on. Why? Because the Brexit we have been promised is a myth.
The Conservatives’ promise to get Brexit done by 31 January and not talk of it again is pure fiction. I cannot see a scenario where Brexit makes Plymouth better off – far from it in fact. The hardest of this hard-right Tory Party will be arguing for a no deal Brexit by the end of the year, with more uncertainty ahead. I can’t see how a comprehensive trade deal can be put in place on the Government’s terms by the end of the year, which means either we crash out of the transition period without a deal – the worst of all worlds – or Ministers have to break their much-flaunted promise and extend it. Either way, Brexit won’t be over.
4. Argyle will stay up and start challenging for promotion next season
Argyle are a club on the rise. The new Grandstand will draw more in at Home Park, and the non-match day income will make the club more sustainable. Investing in players will come from sound finances. Simon Hallett, the club’s owner, deserves considerable credit but so does James Brent, who passed the baton onto Simon. Without James we wouldn’t have a club. I also expect there to be an increasing and overdue focus on Argyle Ladies who will continue to enjoy success.
5. The Defence review will see changes to the size and shape of our Armed Forces
The last two Strategic Defence and Security Reviews (SDSRs) have been rubbish. They’ve been a cover for cuts and have left our armed forces stretched and under-resourced. As we leave the EU, we need a new direction for our country. I believe Britain is a force for good in the world. I want to see a foreign and defence policy that recognises the Britain’s unique role at heart of NATO and as an example for the world to follow. I expect considerable realignment in defence strategy in the SDSR. That could mean big cuts to the Royal Navy’s amphibious capabilities, more investment in cyber at the expense of the Army and further base closures.
As someone who believes in a strong defence, I will be watching the lead up and the publication of the Defence Review closely. I honestly don’t think Boris Johnson has much of a view on defence, which means those around him will be playing a bigger part. I won’t accept further defence cuts to Devonport, and I’ll be fighting for our fair share of investment as our armed forces are reshaped to face increasingly uncertain global threats.
6. The PM will slash the number of government departments and continue to limit oversight
I am a big believer in doing Government differently. I think government should an enabler of action, with a laser focus on addressing the great challenges our country faces: the climate emergency, globalisation, automation, rising poverty, a demographic timebomb and the need for massive investment in our creaking public services. I want to see the climate crisis put front and centre of a reshaped Government machine. So, I would merge the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade into an empowered Department for Business. Put the climate emergency, transport, housing and energy into a new Department for Infrastructure to invest in the green economy we need. I predict Boris Johnson may well beat me to it!
I predict the Foreign Office will absorb the Department for International Development – but watch out for a dilution of the 0.7% GDP commitment to foreign aid. Expect a big reshuffle in February or March that will see the size of the Cabinet (and Shadow Cabinet) cut. It will be a message that the public will support: more politicians are rarely the right answer and the Cabinet has grown bloated and inefficient. You can only really hack apart the machinery of Government at the start of a new administration, and so Boris Johnson only has the opportunity to do this now.
7. Fisheries will become the first test of Brexit in the summer
I have never been interested in the Brexit headlines – the detail is what matters to me. And the first example of whether Brexit will deliver on its over-inflated promises will come in the summer when the fisheries negotiations take place. Will we get control of our waters back? Will promises be kept? I doubt it. Fishing has been let down by Ministers before. But, and whisper it, the power to massively invest in our coastal communities and support small boat fishing is already in the Ministers’ hands; you don’t need to leave the EU to do that, just the political will.
Labour’s policy is to redistribute fishing quota away from international businesses and back towards small boats. Two thirds of employment in fishing comes from just 6% of the quota held by small boat fishers. Redistributing just 2% of the overall quota held by international fish barons to small boats could create hundreds of jobs at sea. But for every one fishing job at sea there are ten on land. That is why Ministers should also enthusiastically adopt Labour’s policy of requiring at least 50% of fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in a UK port. That would create more jobs in ports like Plymouth, Newlyn and Brixham, as well as supporting UK fish processing.
8. Labour hold Plymouth City Council after new leader bounce
May’s local elections look difficult for Labour after the election drumming we got in the General Election. But a few months after a new Labour Leader is elected, I expect Labour to hold onto power in Plymouth. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a churn in seats, it means it will be a close fought contest that I predict Labour will win. Plymouth’s Labour City Council has a good record of delivery despite losing 60% of its budget in Tory cuts. Two thirds of what remains goes on social care which means every other council service from street lighting to libraries comes out of a tiny slither of the original budget.
9. Work will start on Pounds House – a new library for Peverell
The campaign to save Peverell Library from being closed down by the Tories was a success. We must ensure that Peverell library is sustainable so the Tories won’t ever be able to close it again. That’s why I joined forces with Peverell’s brilliant Labour councillors, Jeremy Goslin and Sarah Allen, to campaign for the library to move to a refurbished Pounds House. The jewel in the crown of Central Park has been left empty and closed for far too long. 2020 will see Pounds House used as the base for the Wampanoag tribe during the Mayflower commemorations. But after that, I expect work to begin on creating a new library, community café and community space there. It will bring a new life and energy to this most wonderful corner of Plymouth’s green lung.
10. The government will continue to ignore the climate emergency
The impact of the climate crisis will be felt by more and more people at home and abroad in 2020. I worry that moving towards using less carbon will remain a hobby for those who can afford it, with those on low incomes locked out of lower carbon lives. We must ensure that climate justice and social justice go hand in hand. But I fear that connection will continue to be lost as governments, here and around the world, adopt the language of responsibility but still refuse to take meaningful action. Net zero carbon emissions by 2030 must remain the rallying call for climate activists like me and my colleagues. We must not allow those in power to park much needed investment in green technologies. The case for a green industrial revolution gets stronger every year. Change is needed at a pace that will be uncomfortable for some but it is necessary – that is why we must all make sure that decarbonising is a shared community pursuit not just an activity for the wealthy.