February 27th 2017
Vaz You Like It

Speaking in the wake of the Labour Party’s historic by-election defeat in Copeland last week (where they became the first opposition party to lose a by-election to the government of the day since the early 1980s) their Deputy Leader, Tom Watson spoke of: “communities that feel ignored and left behind” in the UK.

This is a recurring theme of the political rhetoric in 2017. The Brexit vote, the rise of Donald Trump in America and the debate around the French Presidential elections later this year, have all centred on the fact that the public do not feel represented by their MP’s and elected officials.

UKIP’s then leader Nigel Farage spent most of last year criticising the “political elite” while Trump’s campaign essentially revolved around the idea that his administration were going to “drain the swamp”. This feeling rather reached its peak when, in the midst of the Leave Campaign, Michael Gove declared that we were “all sick of experts.” The idea behind all these three things the same: The public knows what it wants and we’d best listen to them.

Saying these things is easy. Actually listening to people seems to be harder.

At least, it does in Walsall.

The Labour MP for Walsall South, Valerie Vaz is also the Shadow Leader of the House Of Commons and the elder sister of Keith Vaz who resigned as the Chairman of the House Of Commons Select Committee last year amid allegations about his private life. In her local work, Ms Vaz loves a sporting photo opportunity. Her website is full of them. In 2012 she “went the extra mile for Sport Relief” (nothing at all to do with the Olympics, obviously). Later that year she opened Sports Day at Rough Hay Primary School, she’s chaired meetings on inclusion in sport and on October 27th 2014 she met with the then Sports Minister Helen Grant to help increase grass roots participation in sport.

On the accompanying press release Ms Vaz made these comments: “The Minister had made welcome remarks about the positive engagement of women and the BAME community in sport.”

She continued: “The meeting was extremely positive and I am very grateful to the Minister who agreed to… help increase participation in the local areas.”

As Britain’s largest private hirer of sports facilities, we at Leisure Leagues welcome any initiative to increase participation in grass roots football. Which is exactly why we were so pleased when we secured a booking on the brand new pitch at Wolverhampton University’s campus in Walsall.

Walsall is a place where we have been proud to run leagues over decades – including at that venue. Those competitions have been vital parts of the community in the area in that time. Thousands of players from all walks of life, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds – put simply, exactly the sort of people that Ms Vaz says she is aiming to involve.

The Wednesday booking filled very quickly and we were very excited that the league was going to start when the brand new pitch opened.

Then we were given word that we weren’t allowed to have the Wednesday booking. The Football Foundation – who along with the FA had part funded the project with tax payers money – had stepped in to tell the facility when they could and couldn’t hire the pitch. Not only is this against Sport England rules, it is against the very principles of inclusion that Ms Vaz is happy to talk about on her website and in her newsletter to constituents.

So, surely she was interested that 200 of those constituents were excluded from sporting activity? Well you’d think so, wouldn’t you, but no.

She did offer us a date at one of her regular constituency surgeries. A date that unfortunately our Chief Executive was unable to make, since then, though, her last correspondence to us dated 5th December 2016 ended with the words: “I would suggest it is probably in your best interests to contact your own local MP for where your Head Office is based”.

For clarity, we are based in Warwickshire; in a location nearly 30 miles from Walsall Campus, and 45 minutes’ drive away. But even more pertinently the same distance from her constituents that are affected by this decision. It is they, after all, that we are representing. It is they, not us, that she is neglecting.

On Friday morning, as the dust settled on the fact that a Cumbrian area that had been a Labour stronghold for 80 odd years no longer was, the MP for the neighbouring seat, John Woodcock, said this: “The position that we’re in at the moment, we are not on course to victory, we are actually on course to an historic and catastrophic defeat and that will have very serious consequences for the communities that we represent and the causes the Labour party stands for.”

So Ms Vaz, consider this: if as being predicted, even from within your own party, that MP’s face losing their seats on an unprecedented level on May 7th 2020 that could mean you too.

If you are looking for a new job on the 8th, please don’t tell us you should have listened to “the community”. You had the chance to do just that and didn’t seem to care.

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