Saffron Walden Constituency Labour Party has hit out at local MP Kemi Badenoch for supporting a hard Brexit group that is causing chaos in the Tory party, disrupting the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the EU and putting local jobs in peril.
Jane Berney, Saffron Walden CLP parliamentary spokesperson, said: “The resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson have only served to highlight the utter chaos that is the Tory government’s handling of Brexit.
“Whatever you may think of Brexit, the role of the UK government is to seek the best deal for all of us, not to be side-tracked by the divisions within their own party.
“It is not just the national government that needs to be held to account, where is our MP Kemi Badenoch in all this? We know that she is a member of the European Research Group which favours a hard Brexit: by their lack of support for Mrs May she and they are only adding to the chaos.
“The local economy is anchored by the Stansted Airport and the life sciences sector, which are all highly exposed to the EU market and depend on access. Collapse of our biggest employers will have a domino effect across the constituency, affecting small and medium sized enterprises that supply them with goods and services.
“By participating in the ERG, Ms Badenoch’s championing of hard Brexit is a pledge of economic suicide for her constituency in the pursuit of a failed ideological crusade.”
Recently appointed Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party with responsibility for candidate selection, she said she launched the cyber-attack to sabotage material on a Labour opponent’s website in what she claimed was a “foolish prank”. Conservative HQ has put it down to “youthful exuberance”, although she committed the crime when she was 28.
Tom van de Bilt, secretary of Saffron Walden Labour Party, said: “What Ms Badenoch has described doing is a shocking breach of the Computer Misuse Act: a criminal offence punishable by custodial sentence.
“The Cambridge Analytica revelations show how vital it is that political campaigns stay within the law. Tory attempts to make light of this as not ‘proper hacking’ because it relied on guessing a password miss the point.
“The seriousness of the offence comes from the effect on the victim and on the reputation of our democracy, not the skill level of the offender.
“Given the current climate of concern around cybercrime, and especially in relation to electoral campaigning, Saffron Walden Labour Party further ask that local Conservatives condemn the hacking of opponents’ websites and urge Conservatives in parliament to withdraw the whip while the matter is urgently investigated.”
Since this press release was issued, the Labour MP whose website was hacked has been identified as Harriet Harman, who was then deputy leader of the Labour Party, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for Women and Equalities. She has accepted an apology from Kemi Badenoch.
In response, local Labour party secretary Tom van de Bilt said: “In accepting an apology Harriet Harman has been gracious in the extreme and I accept her prerogative as the victim if she wishes a line to be draw under the matter. However, for Kemi’s constituents this apology will do little to alleviate concerns about her personal judgement a mere two years before first standing for parliament herself; nor does the flippant manner in which she disclosed it give much confidence in her commitment to tackling cybercrime today.
“Failure to discipline Kemi Badenoch, both within the law and through Conservative party procedures, is a green light to illegally disrupt the work of opposition parties in a democracy. It would also show the Conservatives’ ‘respect agenda’ to be empty rhetoric.”
In this week’s Walden Local, local Tory MP Kemi Badenoch accused the local Labour party of lying over changes to free school meals eligibility, but totally misrepresented our position.
Kemi Badenoch said: “Labour’s claims are lies. No-one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.”
FACT: Saffron Walden Labour Party never said that entitlement would be stripped from current claimants. We stated: “It will not affect those currently on free school meals where they are in the school system (eg primary or secondary school), but will impact on struggling local families in the future. Labour had pushed to maintain free school meals for children of those on universal credit, as is currently the case under transition arrangements, but was defeated in parliament.” Labour’s general election position was to extend free school meals eligibility to all school children so that no children are left behind.
Saffron Walden Labour Party also pointed out that the changes could affect the future “pupil premium” given to schools for children on free school meals. This is worth tens of thousands of pounds for some local primary schools. Our MP chose not to answer this point.
Kemi Badenoch said: “Under Universal Credit 50,000 more children will receive free school meals than would have done under the old system.”
FACT: Saffron Walden CLP pointed out that automatic entitlement – as is currently the case – will end for all new Universal Credit recipients from 1 April and means-testing will be introduced, ending free school meals for those earning over £7,400. Universal Credit was rolled out in Uttlesford in October and in Chelmsford in December. All those moved to Universal Credit were entitled to free school meals for their children, yet the Tories want to deny it to future children in these districts.
The Children’s Society states that: “Up to now the Government has allowed all claimants on Universal Credit to receive free school meals. Introducing the proposed net earnings threshold of £7,400 represents a huge step backwards from this position.
“A million children in poverty will miss out on a free school meal under the Government’s proposal. Children are going hungry at school and the Government is missing a golden opportunity to address this.”
If it was such a good policy, why did our MP vote for a £7,400 cap on earnings for free school meals availability in her own constituency, but voted to cap it at £14,000 in Northern Ireland? It is simply a deal to keep Conservative allies the Democratic Unionists happy and Theresa May’s weak and wobbly government in power. It has nothing to do with fairness.
Kemi Badenoch claimed that Channel 4’s Fact Check “completely rebutted” the position Labour has taken, which is based on research by the country’s eminent children’s charities.
FACT: Channel 4’s Fact Check states exactly the points we have made in our press release. It says: “The government’s plan to introduce a means test to free school meals will reduce the total number of children who are entitled to free school meals to 1 million. Assuming a 65 per cent take up rate, that means only about 650,000 children will be getting a free hot meal at school.
“In short: if everyone on Universal Credit were entitled to free school meals, then by the time it was rolled out across the country, 1.8 million children would have a free school meal every day. The new means test will see only about 650,000 children on free school meals. That’s a difference of just over a million.”
Channel 4’s Fact Check simply pointed out – as Saffron Walden Labour Party did – that those currently receiving free school meals will not be affected by the changes.
Saffron Walden Labour Party requests a full and public apology from Kemi Badenoch for misrepresenting its position on the removal of free school meals eligibility for future local school children.
Research by Saffron Walden Labour Party finds that over 300 children in the constituency currently benefit from free school meals, based on Schools Guide data. Even under current arrangements for universal credit, many children living in poverty do not qualify for free school meals or their parents have not taken up the scheme. Poverty levels are a lot higher than free school meals take-up with over 3,000 children in poverty across the constituency in 2017, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition statistics.
Kemi Badenoch should start representing the poorest in our community who are suffering under years of Tory austerity, instead of dismissing any criticism of her voting record as a “personal attack”. She should stop taking offence and start working to alleviate poverty for the worst off .