It has been wonderful to welcome seven refugees – and their four dogs – to my home in Suffolk. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Ukrainian food and picking up the basics of the language. It’s humbling living with three generations from one family who have escaped war with little more than the clothes on their backs. It brings perspective. They video-call family and friends left behind who live under the threat of bombardment, and it’s striking just how close to home this conflict is. The teenagers staying with me study by remote learning at their college in Kyiv while the shells fall. The Suffolk community has been so helpful. Within days we had bikes, places at schools and college, and a Volvo from the local car salesroom, while the wonderful team at the Bedford Lodge Hotel have offered not just training but jobs. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a town to welcome refugees – and towns like Newmarket are stepping up to the plate.
In parliament my campaign for better screening and support for us dyslexics landed me with an invitation to the Royal Palace in Stockholm for the World Dyslexia Assembly. The same problems exist throughout much of the world, with late identification meaning people don’t get the support they need. Princess Beatrice was there, eloquent and passionate about a subject close to her heart. It was at another event with the Prince of Sweden that I spoke of my own dyslexia. I was about as nervous as I have been about anything: it takes courage to be vulnerable. But the reaction was so positive. People now increasingly see different ways of thinking as an asset not a curse. Quite right. My campaign here has support across the spectrum, from John McDonnell to Iain Duncan Smith. Nadhim Zahawi, the impressive new Education Secretary, has taken up the cudgels. Nadhim is so capable and his life story is the one we should want to tell about ourselves as a nation. One day he’ll go far: my Newmarket constituents would have him down as the outside bet.
Back in Suffolk, the big focus is free movement of racehorses. Since Brexit the EU has dug its heels in, requiring ridiculous paperwork for the transit of these well-managed animals. We need to simplify things too: HMRC has somehow not classified racehorses coming here to race as ‘working’ – or brood mares coming to breed. There are endless pettifogging rules that need sorting out. Under David Cameron we had the ‘one-in-two-out’ rule: to introduce any new regulation, you had to remove twice as many old ones. But that never covered the whole panoply of regulations imposed by Europe, or the Treasury, which was busy re-regulating the post-crash City. Neither of those excuses apply any more, so there’s plenty to do. Come on, Jacob Rees-Mogg!
Being on the backbenches means you can choose what to focus on. My other campaign is for the UK to learn to love cryptocurrencies. Most people have heard of Bitcoin, but the coming revolution is much bigger than that. Britain has always thrived when welcoming the latest innovations, and these new financial technologies have the power to disrupt finance like the internet disrupted retail and social media disrupted newspapers. We can’t stop it. Thankfully Rishi Sunak has got the message and is making all the right noises. I know the Chancellor is down on his luck right now, but he is a huge talent and, just like the Prime Minister, shouldn’t be written off.
This has been the week of local elections, and I’ve been doing my bit arguing that, for all the troubles that politics has been through in recent weeks, everyone should get out to vote. Ideally, vote Conservative. Democratic debate can be cacophonous, with newspaper investigations and all kinds of drama. But this is vigorous, accountable democracy in action. We know what happens without democracy and a free press. From the biggest questions that affect everyone’s lives to the siting of a speed bump, the past few months have shown how we must never take these precious gifts for granted. Of all the western leaders, Boris Johnson gets this. His impressive speech to the Ukrainian parliament showed him at his best.
Over the bank holiday I took the children to see my parents and we went to Chester Fair. It’s wonderful, if somewhat stomach-churning, clean fun. I hadn’t been since I was a teenager and it hasn’t changed a bit. The Waltzers are still my favourite. On the way home we cried with laughter at the coverage on some of the papers’ websites. ‘Matt Hancock got battered by a nine-year-old on the dodgems’ was my favourite. It’s amazing what counts for news these days. But it’s their choice, not mine. That’s a free press for you.
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