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A Fantasia surprise as my group is the largest in history

By Alison Cameron

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Jamie Stone
Jamie Stone

Do you remember the Walt Disney movie Fantasia?

Do you remember the bit when Mickey Mouse is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice - and magics a broomstick to start carrying buckets full of water?

It all ends in nightmarish chaos as the broomstick and buckets of water keep multiplying, and Mickey is nearly washed away. It’s a real case of “beware what you conjure up”.

Well that’s what the last few days have felt like for me.

A fortnight ago last Tuesday I formed an ‘All-Party Political Group’, an ‘APPG’, called ‘ExcludedUK’ to campaign for the roughly three million working people in the UK who have received no financial help from the Government during the coronavirus pandemic.

I knew that a decent number of MPs had said that they would remotely join the meeting via Zoom - so I knew that the new APPG was going to fly, not least because MPs from all the political parties were supporting it.

That if you like was my one solo broomstick. Everything was under control.

“Jamie, er, I think we are going to have more MPs than you expected for the meeting...” said my most excellent assistant Sarah two and a half weeks ago.

Cue a muffled thud as J Stone fell off his seat in front of his iPad as it became apparent that 150 MPs actually joined that first meeting - this was out of the 208 MPs who had agreed to put their names to the APPG.

Two hundred and eight! Out of a total of 650 MPs in the House of Commons! I really hadn’t expected this - and to be absolutely honest I was absolutely astonished by the way the APPG had taken off. I hadn’t seen this one coming. We’ll not like this. Chairing that first meeting, was, how shall I put this? - really rather testing. Afterwards I had to have a seriously strong cup of tea. Perhaps you can now see the Fantasia comparison.

This Tuesday the second meeting took place - this time chaired by my co-chair, ex-Coronation Street star, Labour’s Tracy Brabin. At the time of writing the group’s membership has risen to 242 MPs, 37 per cent of all MPs, making it the largest APPG in the history of the House of Commons.

In addition - and as a background fact - it now seems that our group really has its work cut out as the number of “excluded” now appears to be nearer five million rather than three million in the UK.

So what’s next?

At this week’s meeting we agreed to draw up a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer describing the kind of people who have been missed out, what we propose should be therefore done to help them, and finally suggesting a face to face meeting with the Chancellor to thrash out the finer details of the financial assistance that these people so desperately need. Even as you read this paper I very much hope that the agreed text of the letter will be winging its way to 11 Downing Street.

We virtually meet again on August 4 - and with this column due again in a fortnight’s time I would hope to have a bit more to tell you about this APPG and our doings.

Meanwhile, as the ink dries on this piece and I lean back in my office chair, as I reflect on these last days, that old saying comes back to me - “in politics always expect the unexpected”...

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