Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson pays tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh and Baroness Shirley Williams
Julie Marson, MP for Hertford and Stortford, writes for the Indie...
The passing of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a very sad moment for our whole country.
He spent his entire life devoted to public service and the betterment of this country, first as a naval officer, decorated for bravery, and then as the Queen's 'strength and stay' who supported her for so many years.
He was a member of the war generation with its reputation for resilience and duty, but was also a modernising innovator who ushered the Royal Family into the 21st century and was quick and determined to identify the potential for good that technology could have on society.
He will be missed by his family and his nation, but his legacy across the world will endure for many years to come.
We have also just learnt of the loss of Baroness Williams. Shirley Williams had a long and distinguished political career with strong links to Hertfordshire.
She was first elected to Parliament as the member for Hitchin and subsequently for Hertford and Stevenage, the predecessor constituency for our current Hertford and Stortford. Indeed it was Bowen Wells, former member for Hertford and Stortford, who succeeded her in that role.
I am a believer in the ideal of public service and it seems to me that we have lost two exceptional beacons of that ideal in the Duke of Edinburgh and Baroness Williams.
Last week marked 300 years since the establishment of the office of Prime Minister as we understand it today. In 1721, Robert Walpole simultaneously held the roles of Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the Commons, the consolidation of which effectively made Walpole Prime Minister for the first time and ushered in a new style of leadership that still stands today.
Interestingly, the title Prime Minister was originally a term of abuse rather than a description of his official role and implied that Walpole had risen improperly above others in the royal circle. Throughout his time in office, Walpole fought against the notion that he was a Prime Minister, even telling the Commons when under attack for the nature of his government in 1741, "I unequivocally deny that I am sole and prime minister".
The role has changed since then, and I certainly can't remember any Prime Ministers of my lifetime wanting to downplay their role as leader of the Government. Quite the opposite in fact, especially since the advent of 24-hour news media and the subsequent personalisation of politics.
It's anyone's guess what style of leadership will exist in another 300 years, though with all the challenges we already face today, it's a question I'm happy to leave for those who will be around at the time!
The second reading of the Finance Bill will be held in Parliament this week. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the Finance Bill will form the platform for our recovery and growth.
The context for the Bill is obvious to all of us and, as the Chancellor announced at the Budget in March, the Government faces a cost of more than £400bn from interventions made to support businesses and the economy during the pandemic over the past 12 months, borrowing 17% of our national income which is the highest level since the Second World War. This means the Government's principal focus must be on enabling stable, sustained growth to kickstart the economy, create new jobs and to start collecting the tax receipts we need to eventually repay this crisis debt.
I hope to be called to speak in the debate and will be supporting measures that enable local growth, like the super deduction to cut the tax bill of businesses and encourage development, and the pensions cap review that aims to encourage more investment in UK businesses for the purposes of long-term growth generation.
Between May 28 and June 13, the Keep Britain Tidy charity is asking everyone to pledge to clean up and help it achieve a million miles of litter-picking with its Great British Spring Clean campaign. The campaign wasn't run last year for obvious reasons, but in 2019 more than half a million 'Litter Heroes' collected just under a million bags of litter, weighing around 4,300 tonnes.
Litter has become more of a problem locally in recent weeks - I have had a significant increase in the number of people reporting litter problems to me. Part of the problem is that the grass on public land has just been cut, so old bits of litter have re-emerged and are visible again, but it is a big and ongoing challenge that we need to tackle with both prevention and remedial action. It's an issue that local councillors have been very hot on and I discussed it with the leader of East Herts Council and others last week.
The Great British Spring Clean campaign is a demonstration of what we can all do to help our own local environments. I really do encourage everyone to drag along a couple of friends or family members and spend a bit of time collecting litter, whether it's for five minutes or five hours. You can find out more about how to get involved at www.keepbritaintidy.org/gbspringclean.
I was enormously honoured and pleased to cut a ribbon in Bishop's Stortford town centre on Monday (April 12), to symbolically 'reopen' the high street. I enjoyed a lovely walk around the town centre with the mayor and the BID (Business Improvement District) team to welcome back non-essential retail and outside eating and drinking. I felt a real buzz around and it was joyous to see people having their hair done, browsing around the shops and enjoying a drink and a meal - though it was slightly chilly at times!
I have written before about how I am so inspired by our town's overwhelming optimism and good will in the face of huge challenges, and Monday was no different. The sense of relief at finally being open again was palpable and, based only on what I saw that day, there are early signs of customers returning in strong numbers which can give us real hope for recovery over the summer months.
That kind of local activity is what will be key to our recovery in the coming months. All going well, we will enjoy much greater freedoms in the coming weeks that will allow us to get out and start spending with our fantastic local businesses and services.