Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami: “I refuse to play political games” on Brexit

Bim Afolami at the interview with reporter Franki Berry. Picture: Archant

Bim Afolami at the interview with reporter Franki Berry. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Harpenden MP Bim Afolami speaks to Franki Berry about Brexit, Thameslink trains and school funding.

Bim Afolami has defended his Parliamentary voting record, which has drawn criticism from pro-EU group Harpenden for Europe, insisting that despite voting Remain in the 2016 referendum, his manifesto promised he would work towards implementing the Leave result.

He said therefore he is in support of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement: “You have got the Labour Party who are opposing it for political reasons. They want a chaotic situation so they can benefit from it politically.

“I criticise them, but this is opposition politics. It is pointless me whinging and saying the Labour Party’s job is to make our lives easier.

“The Liberal Democrats say ‘We want to save our jobs, investments, universities, etc’, and yet they are the people, by voting against this [Withdrawal Agreement], dragging us to a No Deal Brexit.

“So that is the choice. I refuse to play political games with people’s jobs and lives. That is why I am backing the efforts to get this agreement through.”

Bim, who has recently been appointed parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to the Secretary of State for International Development, said he also does not support a People’s Vote: “To be honest, the British public and MPs don’t really want one. It hasn’t caught fire.

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“So the responsible thing to do now is say, ‘I haven’t got what I want’ - you don’t always get that in politics - ‘but how do I contribute positively to this and to the country?’

“That is what we should be focussing on. How do we make this exit the smoothest, most effective, most profitable, most prosperous, that we can?”

He is also “very angry” following a recent meeting with Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR).

In May last year, amid chaotic schedule changes along the line, Harpenden Station saw services to London slashed at peak times.

Bim Afolami said statistics show that trains should be redirected back to Harpenden away from Luton, because there are significantly less London commuters boarding further down the line.

However, at the meeting Bim said GTR would not shift the schedule planned for May 2019.

He said: “I was very angry because they effectively used this [meeting] as a shield not to act.

“I think this is completely unjustifiable. They got everybody there for a meeting, they heard everything, they see all the evidence, and yet they refuse to act. I am very, very peeved about it.

“Ultimately this is GTR’s decision, all I can do is to continue campaigning, continue to make their life difficult.”

Mr Afolami also believes the current structure of Network Rail should be decentralised: “I need to have a phone number and I need to know personally the Network Rail person responsible for, say, east of England services.

“That person needs to be all over what happens with signalling and timetabling in our area. At the moment Network Rail is too big, it is too distant, and the relation between them, the operator and the passenger doesn’t work well at all.”

However, he also said the 2.97 per cent fare increase across the GTR and Great Northern lines is “something we can live with”, because it is in line with inflation.

Mr Afolami stressed however, that £15 million is being redistributed into passenger benefit projects.

In response, a spokesperson from GTR said: “Everyone at the meeting agreed in advance that no decision would be made unless there was unanimous agreement amongst all participants. However, we are still looking at all possible alternatives.”

Bim also spoke about school funding: “There is a real difficulty around a lot of our rural primary schools because frankly, we are not in a deprived enough area to get lots of top up funding.

“A typical primary school in a rural area, in my constituency, gets half the funding that a school in London might get of the same size per kid. That just isn’t sustainable at all, we need to really readdress the balance here.”

Teachers and headteachers should also be allowed more freedom to experiment with the curriculum and in lessons, Mr Afolami said.

“We also need to think about how we conduct lessons.

“Are we really training young people in the ways the modern workforce is going to require? We are still operating in a world where a lot of preparing for exams is rote learning. Is that really, in all instances, what we need to be doing?”