This article is from the May issue of Total Politics
On average, motorists in the UK are now paying about £8 more a month for fuel than they were at the start of the year, according to figures from the AA. Recently, the average cost of a litre of unleaded petrol broke through the 140p mark for the first time. For many people across the UK, the cost of fuel is at the top of their list of worries at a time when household budgets are being stretched in all directions.
Robert Halfon has led the charge in Parliament to try and find some relief for cash-strapped motorists, and it is for all his efforts on this campaign that he was nominated for this month’s accolade.
The inspiration to start working on this issue was a simple one, he says. “It’s the number-one issue raised in my constituency in Harlow. Families depend on their cars to go shopping and take their kids to school. I’ve got a lot of self-employed businesses in Harlow and they depend on their lorries and vans to do their work.”
He goes on to explain that price increases are having a devastating personal effect on some. “I know people who are having to sleep in their offices because they can’t afford to get to work.
“In my surgeries, I meet constituents who are suffering because of petrol and diesel costs because it’s something that they can’t avoid. It’s not a question of whether you can afford to have a car; it’s whether you can afford not to have a car. We are, of course, still a great car economy.”
Throughout, it’s been the breadth of support that this issue has attracted that has marked it out. The government e-petition that Halfon worked on with the FairFuelUK campaign has now amassed over 140,000 signatures, making it the third-highest total since the petition system was launched. He secured a debate on the subject before Christmas, and over 120 MPs of all parties signed the motion, a demonstration of the fact that it’s not only Harlow constituents who are raising concerns about the cost of fuel. The debate itself was a big success, Halfon says, and he considers it to be a major factor in persuading the government to drop a planned fuel duty rise in January.
He’s absolutely clear that he sees himself as merely one of the parliamentary spokespeople for this campaign – for him, it’s a much bigger movement, embodied by the FairFuelUK campaign.
“I and the other MPs who are involved in it – Martin Vickers is particularly involved, for example – can bring our voices to Parliament. FairFuelUK, in my view, is one of the most dogged campaigning groups in the UK.
“I bring up fuel questions at almost every opportunity, whether it’s at Treasury questions, transport questions or business questions. That’s what we’re there for, to give FairFuelUK a parliamentary voice. It has the voice of the grassroots motorists, and we give them a parliamentary voice.”
Halfon and his fellow campaigners had been hoping that the government would respond to their concerns by putting a stop to the planned rise in fuel duty in August of this year.
However, George Osborne’s third Budget came and went with no such measure promised. Despite his disappointment, Halfon remains hopeful that motorists will get some help in the future. “I believe that this continues to be a number-one priority,” he says. “I think the government does understand it, but it needs to be an incredible priority in Parliament.”
He continues: “They cut fuel taxes in the last Budget, in 2011, and they stopped the January rise in fuel duty. They’ve also introduced a semi-fair fuel escalator, which means the prices and fuel taxes won’t go up if oil prices nationally reach a certain level.”
Despite the fact that the Budget didn’t include plans to stop August’s fuel-duty rise, Halfon is relatively hopeful that the campaign can still make progress. “FairFuelUK and all the parliamentary MPs will be doing everything we can to get the government to change its mind.”
From the editor
Despite the subsequent attention that his campaign has received, it wasn’t easy for Halfon to secure parliamentary time to ensure that the issue of fuel prices would be addressed. He appeared before the backbench business committee three times before his request for a debate was finally granted. For his determined pursuit of the matter, from his constituency surgeries up to a fully-fledged national campaign, Halfon is our MP of the Month. Even though he had difficulties securing the debate, he’s full of praise for Natascha Engel and her committee and the way it has empowered backbenchers like himself, saying: “It gives us a real chance to shape policy, and to have input on a particular issue that they have never, ever had before.”
Ian Murray - Labour MP for Edinburgh South
Ian Murray’s impassioned defence of employment rights on the delegated legislation committee on unfair dismissal and employment tribunals has won him much admiration from coalition antagonists.
So it is for this and for his reminder that the committee rooms are much more than just the backwaters of government that the Labour MP for Edinburgh South receives an honourable mention.
During one committee meeting about the relaxation of dismissal processes, his “eloquent demolition” of the argument that too much regulation is responsible for sluggish growth led to his receiving much praise from the Labour backbenchers. One MP even went so far as to describe it as “a devastating and rational critique”.
Jackie Doyle-Price - Conservative MP for Thurrock
Even Eric Joyce MP has commended Jackie Doyle-Price for her courage in the face of his fury in Strangers’ Bar on that infamous night.
In a feat of selflessness, Doyle-Price physically put herself between an angry Joyce and her colleagues, including Conservative councillor Ben Maney, whom Joyce had already punched.
Reportedly, Doyle-Price told Joyce: “Punch me before you punch a member of my staff – and you don’t want to hit a lady.”
He certainly didn’t, proceeding, instead, to turn around and lashed out at Labour whip Phil Wilson.
For the first (and we hope the very last) time a parliamentarian has earned an honourable mention for an act of physical bravery – it is well deserved for this MP.
Kerry McCarthy - Labour MP for Bristol East
Kerry McCarthy has earned approbation for her food waste bill. Now on its second reading, it would legislate against food wastage by making it a legal duty for supermarkets to donate excess food to charity.
At present, the potential legal liabilities incurred and a lack of incentives make companies unwilling to do anything about disposal of their food excess – which, according to McCarthy, accounts for up to half of edible food in Europe each year.
For her desire to address this, McCarthy’s actions has received commended across the spectrum. Conservative Zac Goldsmith is behind the idea and Green MP Caroline Lucas has called it “a call-to-arms to address the... consequences of the way we produce, consume and dispose of our food”.