It has been a tumultuous year since the UK referendum in June 2016, with barely a day to sit back and enjoy life’s pleasures. Thank you to everyone who continues to campaign at each and every opportunity - with your help and under Jeremy’s leadership we are slowly but surely winning the argument and I believe that a Labour administration is within our sights.
Although the European Parliament is now in recess for the summer, MEPs continue to carry out a multitude of duties. My offices are open and my staff continue to be at your service. I myself am volunteering at various youth empowerment projects such as The Children's Press Centre with whom I am working to make the European Parliament more child friendly and CATS where for the third year running I have had the opportunity to meet inspirational children and young people such as Merseyside teenagers Alex and Olivia who are children of prisoners and benefit from the work of the social enterprise Person Shaped Support to help them cope.
Each year since I have been elected I have been involved in supporting children and young people in occupied Palestine. In particular, I join with The Big Ride who combine a love of cycling with activism and fund-raising. This year I was pleased to speak at the very start of The Big Ride in Liverpool, sharing the stage with Unite Community Organiser & Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman and children's author Alan Gibbons. I rode the first leg of the journey to Stockton Heath, Warrington, with 100s of activists from across the UK. Big thanks to my friend Faisal Rashid, recently elected Labour MP for Warrington South who gave us a big welcome. I was very muddy! The fundraising page is still open so please donate if you can to help support healing sports projects for the children of Gaza.
With the school holidays upon us it is time to recharge our batteries before the conference season begins in the autumn. We may find ourselves in election mode again so taking a break is important. I hope therefore that you can enjoy being with family and friends. If you are going abroad you will be pleased to know that mobile roaming charges across the EU have now been abolished due to the hard work of MEPs over the past few years. It is not yet known how Brexit will affect this new legislation in the long term so do take advantage of this EU benefit whilst you can.
As an inveterate bookworm and as a member of the European Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee I am involved in a MEP Library Lover’s group. I and many of my colleagues have therefore contributed summer reading recommendations to a public libraries campaign website. I have chosen books by North West writers Qaisra Shahraz and Gulwali Passarlay along with an anthology of stories, poems, testimonies, photos and drawings by Syrian artists. Please have a look at the website, tell your friends about the initiative and get down to your local library. We know that the Tory cuts are affecting this vital service so your interest and enthusiasm will mean a lot to hard-pressed staff who do far more than stack shelves and stamp books, for example lending a sympathetic ear to the lonely, encouraging family learning, helping the unemployed, providing a safe space for vulnerable people, and so on.
With ongoing job insecurity and the uncertainties of Brexit affecting the exchange rate many constituents will be looking for cheaper holiday options and alternatives this summer. I am proud that the North West region is home to many world-class events and excellent festivals, with something to suit all tastes. I was able to catch a few events at Manchester International Festival recently and I also joined the amazing samba parade at Liverpool’s Brazilica Festival. I hope to catch the Just So Festival in Cheshire this weekend and C-Art in Cumbria next month. Please do support our region’s cultural initiatives as the arts are another area where Tory cuts have been devastating with more to come, I fear. You can find comprehensive listings for outdoor arts at home and abroad here.
I had a lovely time recently at a Bastille Day summer fair in the Lancashire village of Croston. I was invited by Cllr Alan Whittaker of the Town-Twinning Association to open the annual event where I presented a European Beech to the Croston Together group which was set up after the devastating floods of winter 2015/16. Croston residents have been friends with the people of Azay le Rideau for 3 decades and they are determined to maintain and strengthen these relationships despite the disappointment and difficulties of Brexit.
I believe that people-to-people contact is even more important in the current times, with hate speech on the rise, attacks on mosques and dreadful acid attacks on innocent citizens. You might like to read my report on Intercultural Dialogue for Education, Diversity and Fundamental Values which was voted through the parliament in January 2016 in response to terrorist attacks the year before. The report sets out a vision for a tolerant pluralistic society that recognises the richness that refugees and migrants bring to our society, and the importance of sharing one another’s culture.
You may have heard on the news recently that the Lake District is to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining our other world class sites in the North West, Hadrian's Wall and Liverpool's Maritime Mercantile City, and others across the UK including, Stonehenge, the City of Bath, the Forth Bridge and many more.
The north west European parliamentary constituency stretches from Crewe and Nantwich in Cheshire all the way up to the Scottish border, encompassing Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria. I am pleased that the unique heritage of the Lake District is being given such a prestigious status. After the devastating floods of recent years it is great to see Cumbria in the media because of a good news story. The increased visibility conferred by the UNESCO status is estimated to bring in an additional £20 million into Cumbria, a region that already sees £1.2bn into it's local economy from the 18 million people that visit each year. This is money that will be sorely needed as Tory cuts continue to bite and the flow of EU money comes to an end.
As a member of the European Parliament’s Regional Development Committee I have seen first hand the huge difference made to peripheral areas as part of EU targeted pro-active policy to invest in poorer regions. The North West, along with other peripheral regions such as the North East, Cornwall, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Scottish Highlands and Islands, have all been net gainers in respect of the EU, and there is no guarantee that a government in London will ever match the high level of funding we have experienced through our membership of the bloc. However, we remain a Member State until we actually leave the EU and it is still possible to apply for EU funds, and indeed there are organisations set up to help potential applicants such as the Cumbria Growth Hub.
Finally, I am honoured to announce that I have been nominated as President of Stand Up To Racism (Greater Manchester). As many of you will know I was elected to be your MEP in 2014, winning a third seat back for Labour and getting rid of Nick Griffin, the BNP Holocaust-denier, in the process. I am thrilled that my friend and fellow anti-racist campaigner Wajid Khan from Burnley has just joined Theresa Griffin and myself in the European Parliament, replacing our colleague Afzal Khan who is now MP for Gorton Manchester. All three NW Labour MEPs remain at your service as we continue to represent you and our diverse region in our committee work, in plenary debates and in the difficult complex times ahead.
Have a well-earned break. Meanwhile, I hope to see you at various conferences and events over the next few months. And if you would like me to come and talk at a CLP meeting or similar please get in touch with my office here.