When I set out to write this article I was planning two articles; one for Sharma and the other for Wilson. However, within only a few moments of my research it became very clear that there was no need to write two articles. Sharma and Wilson are identical! With the exception of only a few minor issues, Sharma and Wilson have consistently voted with the Tory whip without a thought for the views of the people of Reading.
In this article I intend to explore the voting record of each of these MPs with brief analysis around key issues. I will, wherever possible, relate this back to the views of the people of Reading. In addition, this article will make occasional reference to the 2015 Conservative manifesto to outline where our MPs have voted directly against the platform that they were elected on.
Of course, there is not time to consider every vote they have cast since becoming MPs so I have identified some key issues that I believe would be of interest to the people of Reading. If you would like to know more, or are interested in digging deeper into the voting records of both these men, I recommend the website www.theyworkforyou.com as a reliable and unbiased source of information.
Reducing central government funding of local government
The funding of local authorities has been a key issue since the Tories first formed this government in 2010. Built on an ideology of small government, limited social support and centralising all services to prevent a bespoke local approach, the Tories have attacked local authorities across the country. Unfortunately, as we see countless public services here in Reading being diminished, and at a time when the people of Reading need this support, both Reading MPs have voted constantly to reduce local council funding.
In 2011-2012, both MPs voted to reduce funding by 4%. In 2014-2015, they voted to reduced local authority funding by an additional 25%. The following year stripped our council’s funding by 24.6% and this year they have both voted to reduce your council’s funding by 44%! There can be no doubt that this is not in the best interest of Reading and certainly does not represent the people of Reading.
Mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities
This section primarily relates to the ‘Snoopers Charter’ (Investigatory Powers Bill) that gave the UK intelligence agencies unprecedented powers to spy on British Citizens. This legislation largely dismissed the long standing principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and through mass surveillance of all communications (phone calls, texts, instant messenger, social media, etc.), violated the right to privacy. According to a poll conducted by ComRes in April and May 2016, 90% of the UK and 88% of the South East of England opposed the contents of this bill (ComRes, 2016).
Despite such overwhelming opposition to this legislation, both nationally and in our region, both our MPs voted for this bill and publicly endorsed it on several occasions.
The rise in rail fares
This is an issue that has effected all of us. No matter who you are, or what part of our society you come from, the extraordinary increase in rail fares has impacted every person in this country. Since the Tories took power in 2010, the average train fare has increased by 27% – more than twice the inflation of wages in the same period (The Guardian, 2017).
I think Andy McDonald, Shadow Transport Secretary, said it best earlier this year, saying “Passengers have faced truly staggering fare rises of over £2,000 since 2010. Fares have risen more than three times faster than wages, and passengers on some routes have also been hit by stealth fare rises of up to 162%.”
And yet when a bill was laid out in Parliament to limit this rapid increase, it was rejected by both Sharma and Wilson without explanation. Both voted against capping the increase in rail fares and both voted to allow fares to increase past the lacklustre cap that does exist!
Publicly owned railway system
In recent years there have been a wide number of polls taken to ask the public if they would like to see the railways renationalised and the results vary quite significantly. What doesn’t change however is the actual result. Almost all polls have indicated that the public are in favour of nationalisation of the railways. Here is just a sample:
- YouGov Poll: 66 % support re-nationalisation
- Mirror Poll: 92% support re-nationalisation
- Unilad Poll: 93% support re-nationalisation
- Sunday Express Poll: 60% support re-nationalisation
- Guardian Poll: 93% support re-nationalisation
- MSN User Poll: 75% support re-nationalisation
- GfK Poll: 70% support re-nationalisation
If we take an average of those as our basis for public opinion we can assume that over 78% of UK citizens are in favour of the renationalisation of the railways. So, with such clear public support for this issue you would assume that our “representatives” would have voted to encourage nationalisation, right? Not quite. Both Sharma and Wilson have consistently voted against the renationalisation of the railways in direct contradiction to the people they claim to represent.
The right to legal aid
Legal aid exists to assist with the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal. Of course, this is an essential part of our legal system and limiting it would bring into question the entire British judicial system.
Amazingly, this is exactly what has happened over the past 7 years, supported by both Reading MPs. Between 2010 and November 2016, the legal aid budget was cut from £2.1bn to £1.6 billion – a reduction of almost 25% in less than 7 years! The effects of this has been a huge legal disparity between those with the means to afford legal representation and those without. A report published at the end of 2016 concluded that “The narrower scope of legal aid has seriously damaged the ability of the legal system to uphold the principle of equality under the law, and thus the rule of law itself.” (The Bach Commission, 2016).
Human rights and equality
This section could of course include a wide range of terrible things that the Tories have done over the past 7 years. However, for the purposes of this article I wanted to just focus on a few points that our two MPs have directly voted on that have aimed to limit our human rights and equality.
In the realm of discrimination, Sharma and Wilson both voted against making it illegal to discriminate against people because of their caste. As we know, this is an issue that has effected millions across the world and for our government to refuse to fight against this discrimination is in direct contradiction with the manifesto they were elected under. In 2010, the Conservative MPs of Reading were elected on a manifesto that claimed a dedication to “promoting equality and tackling discrimination” and yet here, and on many other occasions, they have failed to do so (Conservative Manifesto 2010, P.35).
On another occasion, Sharma and Wilson voted to abolish the foundation stone of our civil liberties legislation, the Human Rights Act 1998. This is yet again in blatant contradiction with the public opinion. In a poll conducted by ISideWith.com, with over 1.5 million responses, 76% of people said that they were against scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998 (ISideWith.com, 2014 – present).
Guaranteed jobs for unemployed young people
Towards the end of 2016 a study into youth unemployment by EY found that the South East of England had one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in the UK. Unfortunately, the report also details great disparity across the South East region, noting Reading, Brighton and Southampton as key areas of high youth unemployment. In comparison to the South East average of 12.6% youth unemployment, Reading averaged at 13.5% (EY, 2016). With a population of around 156,000, and a youth population (16-24) of around 24,650 this suggests we have almost 3,400 unemployed young people in our town (Reading.gov.uk, 2016).
Since 2010 there has been a series of bills proposing to ensure young people suffering with long-term unemployment are given jobs. Our Tory Reading MPs, however, would not vote to promote these bills. Both Sharma and Wilson have consistently voted against such legislation and have therefore voted against the young people of Reading.
Of course, corporation tax has become a key focus of the 2017 Election campaign. Labour have promised a significant rise in taxes for big businesses and the Tories have attempted to cover up further planned tax breaks for corporations.
But this is not a new thing. Corporation tax has been rapidly dismantled under the Tories; from 30% in 2008 to only 19% today. As you might expect then, Sharma and Wilson have voted in favour of these corporation tax reductions time and time again.
In 2012 when tuition fees were trebled by the Coalition Government, I was doing my A-levels eagerly awaiting university. Imagine then my horror on finding out that I would be in the first year to pay the increased rate of £9,000 per academic year (9 months). The impact of this has not been a decrease in university applications, quite the opposite. However, it has led to considerably more students from low income families dropping out of their course or achieving disproportionately low grades. This is due to a significant rise in part time jobs during university and students picking courses to ensure they can live at home (The Guardian, 2015).
Education is still theoretically accessible to all young people however in practice the increase in tuition fees has led to clear divisions between those with wealth and those without. Of course, it goes without saying, both Reading MPs voted to treble tuition fees, despite numerous predictions of these effects.
I hope you have found this article interesting and most of all I hope it has helped to shed a little light on the Reading MPs appalling voting record. It is abundantly clear that neither Sharma or Wilson have the interests of Reading in mind and do not represent the views of the people that elected them.
In this election, we have an opportunity to hold them to account for this lack of representation. Reading Labour Party has been praised time and time again for their loyal service on the Council, there community activism and public engagement. It is time that our town gets the representation it deserves and from members of parliament that will fight for Reading. I therefore ask that for the good of Reading you vote for Matt Rodda (Reading East) and Olivia Bailey (Reading West) to act as your representatives on a local and national scale.
To find out more about Matt and Olivia, please find see our GE17 page here.