Just over 100 days to go and we’re getting to the business end of the election campaign. At one level, it seems like an age since I was selected in a busy selection meeting at Warners End Community Centre last July; on another, it feels like yesterday, but with the national parties all launching their campaigns in the past week, the next few days, weeks and months will pass very quickly.
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks listening to the people who run some of Hemel’s most important businesses, the shops in our community shopping centres and in places like Market Square, and a common theme is already beginning to emerge: the party that prides itself on “looking after business” simply hasn’t been doing so, not the businesses of Hemel in any case.
Take Market Square: the Conservatives on Dacorum Borough Council have closed the bus stand, announced another set of fancy artists’ impressions of what the centre of Hemel might look like one day (complete with a one-day, one-off consultation on a pre-Christmas Saturday in the Marlowes), set up a builders’ yard in the middle of the Square, and closed the Antiques Market – all of this without as much as a conversation with the current business owners, some of them recently established and fighting to make a go of things, some of them genuine Hemel Pioneers, members of (or the children and grandchildren of) those courageous folk who came to Hemel 30, 40, 50, even 60 years ago and helped to make Hemel what it is.
Take Warners End, where the proprietors of no fewer than three locally owned businesses told us about the behaviour of their Council landlords: seeking rent hikes of up to 100% (no seriously) from our local businesses, presumably on the basis that if Boots and Tesco’s can afford it (apparently, Boots are challenging the proposed rise), then so can any family-run business.
And this from a Council that killed off one local entrepreneur’s plans for a Continental Christmas Market with red-tape (wasn’t that one of the cuts the Tories were going to make?), after first taking months to reply; the same Council that promised to rebuild the Pavilion over a decade ago, but which now offers a building with a ‘unit’ for a chain cinema, just as the refurbishment of Jarman Park, where we already have such a cinema, is being completed and just as Netflix and the like are (rightly or wrongly) changing the whole way we ‘consume’ (sorry, watch) film.
That’s one reason why the people of Hemel face such an important choice in May, why voting matters, and why voting Labour can make a real difference. The Tories have been in control on both Councils for a generation and in Parliament for a decade, but the fruits of their efforts are hard to spot. They’ve had their chance, and the people of Hemel, and across Dacorum, have little to show for it.
A Labour Council won’t promise what it can’t deliver but it will offer a plan to put the Heart back into Hemel. We will rebuild the Pavilion as a live arts venue that also offers meeting places and spaces for community groups and local businesses; we will tie rent rises for small businesses in Council-owned units to no more than the rate of inflation, we will halt the closure of Children’s Centre and prioritise access to childcare for working parents, and we will review all existing strategic plans, including the ill-thought out mega-development that is LA3.
And as your MP I will press Dacorum Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council to deliver, whatever their political complexion after May 7th, on these issues. I will also campaign to reinstate community A&E and maternity facilities as part of a rejuvenated Hemel Community Hospital, to save our local bus services, and against national policies, from the bedroom tax to year-on-year fare rises on the commuter trains that so many of us rely on.
In a recent conversation on the Facebook Group, Hemel Community and Conversation (which has almost 2,800 members) some respondents to my new year message contended, rightly, that some of these things are ‘not in my gift’; true, but constituency MPs need to do more than reply to letters, open fetes and feature in the local paper – that’s all important and part of the job. There is also the responsibility to use whatever influence we have to influence bodies such as local authorities and health trusts, and I shall do so. There is also the need to place the need of constituents first when matters such as health, social care, housing and education come to the fore; on this Mike Penning’s voting record speaks for itself.
Time to stop writing, time to get back on the campaign trial; if you read this as a party member or supporter, we need you on the doorstep; if you read this simply as an interested constituent, we need your support. Together, we can – and we will – put the Heart back into Hemel.